Japanese Gardens by Patsy Rayner

On June 4th 2019 we welcomed Patsy back, this time to talk about Japanese gardens and how they have evolved over the centuries.  During Patsy’s visits to Japan she has taken some exquisite photos and showed us many of these during her presentation.

Japanese gardens aim to be a spiritual experience, quiet meditation, order and harmony often to prepare a person for the busy world of work outside.  Religion plays a big part.  In Zen Buddhism the Golden Temple and its garden reflect paradise on Earth.

Shintoism especially worships nature, ancestors, the love of tradition and age, timelessness and brevity.  All aspects of nature are represented in miniature in their gardens.  Moss is desirable as it represents age and softens the landscape.  The gardens shown and Patsy’s explanations helped us to see the poignancy of the many forms of garden.   Looking at the significance of the aged 1000 year old pine tree compared to the brevity of a days existence for the Morning Glory flower, teaches us to treasure each moment in our lives as it does not come again.  

Samurai use the dry garden.   Rocks representing mountain peaks and the raking of shale to depict clouds,  sea, or other water movements.  The idea is to create a feeling of being above in another place and looking down on this.

The Tea House garden is all about mental preparation and the aim is to find peace and calm within the plain tea house.  

Stroll gardens create a sense of size, seclusion, surprise, age and panorama.  The use of scenery outside and behind the garden creates the feeling of size.  

There are key elements in a Japanese garden, such as water which stands for longevity and change.  Rocks represent age and timelessness and are often used to depict mountains which are seen as holy.  The turtle is often illustrated in rock form as it too stands for age.  Bamboo is important as it bends and doesn’t break, and this symbolises how to deal with situations of adversity.  The pine and Ginkgo trees are very important as they symbolise age.

Ornamental features have significance too.  Water basins in the gardens signify purity, lanterns light the way to the temple.  Bridges are important as they enable passage from one place to another, in life and beyond. 

Blossoms are also very important in the Japanese garden.  Cherry stands for new life, Camellia representing brevity and azalea the passing of the seasons.  Peonies, wisteria, chrysanthemum and leaf change, are also all very relevant.  

Patsy concluded by explaining how Western influences have impacted some change to the Japanese gardens in more recent years.  This has been partly in the form of bedding planting, some very small grass lawns, and roses from all over the world.

Our many thanks to Patsy for her enlightening and very interesting presentation.