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The Orient Express...

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Adamn Greathead
Rank attained: Hazel Tree
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Joined: 12 Sep 2006
Posts: 44
Location: West Midlands

PostPosted: Sat Feb 10, 2007 12:25 pm    Post subject: The Orient Express... Reply with quote

"If you are ever lucky enough to visit a Japanese garden, do so..."

Most people would stereotype a Japanese garden with a cascading red maple (Acer palmatum), a dribbling pebble pool and a thicket of black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra) and Golden bamboo (Phyllostachys aurea). Although a mere handful of oriental gardens fit this bill, there is much more to the Japanese way of gardening which, we have yet to understand. The gardens' designs are themselves doused in history. The history behind the gardens is steeped in suspicion and a deep understanding is necessary to appreciate the intricate designs. A history which, if I were to delve into, would cover thousands of pages and bore thousands of readers.

The landscape surrounding Japan plays a vital role when it comes to designing a garden. Japan has a very broken coastline being a series of separate islands, seen by the typical wooden bridge linking several isolated plantations in many Japanese gardens. And, it is these solitary plantations that inhibit local treasures in the oriental form of maples and species such as Chinese lanterns (Physalis franchetii), both of which spread laterally across a weed-suppressing mulch of ash-grey slate and pebble.

Regrettably I have yet to visit a Japanese garden in it's natural setting however, privileged as one is, I have witnessed several stunning representations; the most impressive being displayed at Bicton Park. Somehow these people have grasped the true essence of Japanese gardening and grappled with it until they created the ephemeral garden that now is. All the classic points had been included as though some mental checklist had been enforced and yet something new had certainly been added to give that extra pizzazz. As expected the usual suspects, mentioned above, were planted en masse in spite of this new and exciting plants such as Helleborus orientalis and Gunnera manticum found themselves nestled next to towering pices, their blue steel metallic hue a confident backdrop to their enchanting, rather superfluous, neighbouring species.

Every Japanese garden has to, over the years, acquire some structure when the plants are at their lowest ebb. More often than not, this structure takes the form of a wooden clad bridge leading a footpath over a dry river moulded into the ground with drifts of fluent cobbles. Nevertheless, these gardens rely on other man-made structures not least the humble pergola offering an epitome of tranquillity where one can sit and admire. The well-known arbour is steeped in Japanese tradition and provides a retreat where spring blossom can be dwelled upon over afternoon tea. In fact a diverse range of arbour can be identified in a Japanese garden, the roji being the most recognised. You would be expected to take tea in the roji before leaving the garden. A custom which has never really left the Japanese garden and hopefully never will.

It is no surprise to learn that a man-made garden in Japan epitomises their stern religious upbringing. The stupa or the pagoda represents this but before you imagine a stunning pagoda smothered trachlyospermum jasminoides exuding an evocative perfume, think again. The true pagoda consists of five sections each one becoming smaller the higher they are on the structure. To each of these sections one of the five elements would be assigned so on the whole one solitary structure would symbolise the elements that are heaven, earth, wind, water and sky. Something which startled me when I was conducting my research was the pagoda takes the form of a giant lantern and the reason behind this still remains, to me, a mystery.

If you are ever lucky enough to visit a Japanese garden, do so- it is an experience that once done will fix itself into your fondest memories and will never leave you. One of the renowned Japanese gardens is Seiwa-en, an enchanting paradise engulfed in beauty and despite its four thousand visitors a month it retains its tranquillity whatever. I will just say one thing about this garden that personally lured me and that was the host of mini-islands it boasts throughout the whole garden including the crane island (Tsuru shima), the paradise island (Horaizan) and tortoise island (Mameshima). Not only do these miniature gardens add to the entire ethos of the place; they also make the visit all the more worthwhile. Although, having named just one, there exists thousands more gardens like this. Some of which depend exclusively on various shapes and styles of rocks to create a visual impact as opposed to the everyday flowers we associate with this genre of garden from abies through to azaleas. Furthermore there are those that do rely on the botanical world to create a rich garden that is capricious to the seasons.

Just a few miles away from Ryoanji lies the Heian shrine and surrounding gardens, again, well worth a visit- so I'm told. Their year begins with the brook-like babbling of the cherry blossom closely followed by the upright sparks of irises which, in summer, are working together with the menagerie of waterlilies to inspire an ignite the imagination of those wishing to replicate such a utopia in their own gardens. Finally the year culminates with the outburst of the maple, thrusting fiery crimson and ginger against the vermillion of the contiguous buildings.

Conclusively no two Japanese gardens are the same as a result of conflicting climates within a country. It is easy enough to create a unique oriental garden here in the UK because the cooler climate condones the planting of a new wealth of plants able to be combined to produce a garden different from those in Japan but having the same purposeful design techniques in mind. Basically when constructing a Japanese garden all you are required to do is imitate nature, don't defy it. After all that is what most Japanese gardens do; they fabricate their own miniature natural oasis to bring themselves closer to nature in the quest of purifying their lives. So all-in-all if you feel as though you need to purify your soul and cleanse your mind. Kick yourself out of the house and start constructing your very own niwa'll thank me for it....honestly...
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