As the nursery became established we turned our attention towards the creation of the Japanese Garden. In 1991 test ponds were dug confirming, as suspected, a solid layer of clay below a topsoil one metre deep over the washed gravel of the water table. Soon after we acquired 20 tons of weathered, moss-covered granite boulders and with this the development of the garden took a quantum leap.
Rocks, plants and water are the unifying elements in Nature and are therefore of paramount importance. Rock reflects strength, stability and endurance. The placement of these and other stones in the garden enhances the feeling of safety and security one needs in order to relax. Under Roberts direction a digger was employed to shape the site and position these important rocks. One of these huge stones lies at the base of the waterfall, others were placed close to the edges of the pond or were used in the formation of the maple-topped mountain, whilst a select few were chosen for the Zen garden.
Over the following six years we concentrated our efforts on the garden remaining true to the initial design that first took shape in our minds and was later transferred to paper - deviating only in the siting of the Karesansui [Zen garden]. Originally we had thought to place it close by the Cha-Seki [Teahouse] but later decided it must occupy a more secluded, quiet spot. Moving the massive, granite stones to the new site 250 metres away was a mammoth task, as by now it was not possible to use a digger, and the paths had yet to be built! It took a full day and more to move each stone ”the impossible we do at once miracles take a little longer” is the only phrase to describe the task but it was well worth the effort.
In the Karesansui the Zen Buddhist monks created a space without distractions, where one can raise the awareness through contemplation and harmonise the spirit with the essence of all things both animate and inanimate. The wonder of Nature and Mans place in it can be appreciated as much for what is absent as for what is present. The old, weathered stones chosen and placed with great care are set on a bed of gravel that is raked anew daily, so that the garden dies and is reborn each day in accordance with the Zen tradition. Interpretation of these odd-numbered stone groupings varies, and is ultimately a matter for the beholder. In placing the Zen garden further away from the Teahouse, with its own viewing house and a mountain before it, we enhanced the feeling of tranquility and separation from the rest of the garden. Behind it lies a new area created from the wild woodland that extends beyond and remains undisturbed and inaccessible. Sitting in the Zen Viewing House one hears the music of the numerous birds that frequent the area, the sound of the breeze ruffling the trees and chimes and, occasionally, the lowing of cattle or bleating of sheep on the adjacent farm.
Nearby we planted a bamboo grove containing several interesting varieties, including the stunning black Phyllostachys nigra and, my personal favourite, Phyllostachys aureosulcata with its striking yellow/green variegation. A choice of pathways through the grove lead to a small shrine where a hand carved granite Buddha is seated on a large slate plinth. We discovered shortly after opening the garden that visitors were leaving offerings round the Buddha. The coins are collected periodically, and passed on to the Air Ambulance, which survives purely on donations. We feel that in so doing we enable a continuation of the flow of positive energy from our visitors.
Between the bamboo grove and the Zen garden we constructed a small moss garden, symbolising a stream running through moss-covered stones. With its soft contours and surprising variety of hue, the moss garden offers a delightful contrast to the tall vertical form of the bamboo grove and the stark rockscape of the Zen garden.
Viewing Points are a significant feature of the Japanese Garden and Robert planned each of these with meticulous care. Whether obvious or subtle in form they elicit a response in the viewer that is at once personal and universal. The careful placement of plants, trees, rocks and ornaments to attract ones attention and provoke reflection, or to obscure a view and excite ones curiosity and desire to see what lies beyond, demonstrate the skill and artistry of the design. Twists and turns in the pathways are employed to make one pause and view an area, tree, rock or ornament from a particular angle and yet, like the water garden which may be viewed and enjoyed from a variety of situations, feel natural rather than contrived.
Many of the features commonly associated with traditional Japanese gardens are to be found in and around the water garden area, including the shishi-odoshi [deer scarer], stone lanterns, tsukubai [water basin], bonsai and, of course, the waterfalls, ponds, bridges, islands and Teahouse. The bonsai, a Japanese Larch forest planted on a large slate slab, can be glimpsed through an archway formed by the interlaced branches of a pair of blossoming cherries [Mount Fuji] near the exit from the garden.
The shishi-odoshi, designed for the practical purpose of repelling the unwanted attention of birds and animals from farms, was introduced to gardens for decorative reasons. Water from a small bamboo flume flows into a hollow bamboo tube pivoted on a stand. As the tube fills it tips forward, dropping back on to a stone with a resounding clack. We have placed this close to the pond; its function being purely decorative as it does nothing to deter the local heron population! The pond, itself symbolic of the ocean, is edged with local slate, large granite boulders and pebbled beaches, with small thickly planted clumps of iris, including the Japanese I.kaempferi ensata, providing natural spawning grounds for the koi carp and other pond life. In summer one has to tread carefully to avoid the abundant young frogs and toads sharing the paths at dusk!
Waterfalls have long been revered in Japan; according to the 11th century Sakuteiki scrolls the Buddhist deity Acala declared that any waterfall over one metre high represented his body. Our main waterfall tumbles down beside the balcony of the Teahouse, which does not serve refreshments but was built to represent the traditional Cha-Seki wherein the Chanoyu [tea ceremony] would be performed in Japan.
The tea ceremony is essentially a ritual to cleanse the mind and induce inner peace, and views of the garden were excluded to facilitate quiet meditation without visual distractions. In accordance with tradition our teahouse is a simple wooden structure with a bamboo-thatched roof and sparsely decorated interior. However we consciously departed from the authentic design by incorporating the partially remaining stone walls of an old barn, used to shelter pigs in former times, and by leaving the walls largely open on two sides allowing views of the garden. We make no apology for these and other deviations, as they have evolved from a blending of traditional and contemporary influences.
The To-Doro [Stupa Lantern] stands above a dry streambed flanked by trees and shrubs; 3.5 metres tall this granite lantern is multi-tiered, the five roof-like plates representing earth, water, fire, wind and sky, while the nine rings at the top stand for the nine heavens in the Buddhist temple dedicated to all the gods, and the lotus blossom finial represents Buddha. To accentuate the height and provide a strong vertical element we positioned the To-Doro at the top of a hillside.
The diversity of plants that we are able to grow in this sheltered valley bottom offers a rich visual experience: perhaps the most stunning of these are the Japanese maples with their graceful forms and spectacular colour changes from spring to autumns end. Planted singly, as seen gently overhanging the waters edge, or in forest groups, as on the central mountain and beside the Zen garden, the sight of these trees invariably provokes a sudden intake of breath. They are to us truly awe-inspiring in their beauty and to date we have planted over 120 named varieties of Acer palmatum, plus others chosen for their forms and coloration.
Azaleas and rhododendrons are frequently found in Japanese gardens, and given our rich peaty soil were a natural choice for us. We were thrilled to acquire a large number of mature specimens, aged between 30 and 50 years old, including early and late-flowering varieties giving wonderful splashes of vibrant colour to the garden over an extended period. Together with the existing old trees, which were incorporated into the design, these plants foster an atmosphere one usually experiences in an old established garden. One particular variety, Rhododendron luteum, selected for its highly perfumed bright-yellow flowers, is planted in abundance on either side of a narrow, stepped path leading to a viewing spot. Taking this path during its brief but powerfully fragrant flowering period provides an experience guaranteed to linger in the memory long after.
In contrast, dark, sharp-needled pines, glossy leaved camellias, prostrate conifers and elegant fastigiate yew trees are planted in accordance with the concept of wholeness- In and Yo. In Japanese garden design the harmony and unity of positive [male] energy with negative [female] energy is demonstrated through the balance of asymmetry exemplified in Nature, as opposed to the symmetrical concept of balance generally held in the West. Observation provokes reflection, hence the juxtaposition of opposites to create harmony not conflict; hard and soft [rock & foliage], dark and light, horizontal and vertical lines, and the use of complementary textures [pine needles & delicate maple leaves].
Fences marking the edge of the garden or separating areas within are another important feature in the Japanese garden and several examples can be seen here. The Itabei [plank wall] employed to face the boundary wall at the front of the garden, composed of solid wood and bamboo, and the Yotsume-Gake [lattice or four-eyed fence] on the left as one enters the garden, a popular type of bamboo fence with spaces between the poles bound together with black cord knotted in one of the numerous traditional Japanese styles.
The Torii Gate, a sacred Shinto structure and traditional symbol of Japan, was chosen for the entrance to the garden as it denotes that the space beyond is both pure and revered. On the ground a pace inside the gateway we have placed the Chiriana [dust hole], where one may dispose of mental dust/rubbish, such as selfish desires, before embarking on ones journey round the garden. Winding paths lead from the entrance past the water garden to other hidden areas, and the element of mystery created reflects the mystery of the universe which we may contemplate whilst walking or sitting in one of the seating areas placed around the garden. This journey is a physical and sensory experience. Our eyes follow the stone paths, our ears hear the sound of our footsteps on the gravel and we feel connected to the earth. The canopy provided by the old willows creates an enclosed, sheltered, protected space in which we feel comfortable and relaxed. Water reflects the sky and the sound of running water stimulates our awareness of being alive, of being connected to the universe. In this calm yet vital environment we are able to examine our inner feelings and understand them. Our senses offer a gateway to our inner being. As the pathways interconnect so the streams flow above and below ground, disappearing in one place to reappear further along, and the dry riverbeds of summer glisten and run during the wetter periods.
Initial construction completed, the garden opened to the public on 1st May 1997 and the task had really just begun. The garden is a living art form that being nurtured and shaped by us, and by the years, will never be truly completed, but as in the Zen philosophy the focus is on the way of attaining perfection not the state of perfection itself. Much of the 250 tons of rock painstakingly carried by hand into the garden and placed with such care is vanishing beneath the burgeoning plants, but the impact of their presence continues to be felt though only glimpsed through the foliage. Every garden reflects the individual artistic style, taste and temperament of the designer, and we are content to let the visitor decide whether or not we have remained true to the essential spirit of the Japanese garden: an artistic expression of the essence of Nature wherein the tranquil beauty of the natural world is drawn upon to create an oasis of special calm and serenity.