Englapan Comparisons

My time in Japan has been characterized by a wide variety of experience in culture and learning. Since my last post, I have traveled to many places that have unique qualities not only within Japan, but also to the world. Of these visits, many of my favorites, naturally, have been the gardens. I began to compare garden features here with those of the gardens I was able to see in England. I see sharp contrast between gardens here and there, but some principles underlie them both.

First, it’s fall color season in Japan, so here are some photos of the autumn display:

Fall color at its best on Miyajima Island, one of Japan's three most scenic places

Fall color at its best on Miyajima Island, one of Japan’s three most scenic places

Miyajima Island

Miyajima Island

Shugakuin Imperial Villa

Shugakuin Imperial Villa

Sorakuen

Sorakuen

An obvious difference, but one I did not notice at first, is in the usability of space within the garden. In England, gardens often encouraged people to use the places as originally intended. Playing, picnicking, and general activity were welcomed in the open spaces. This made for an active feel with noise and interaction during the peak times of the day. In most Japanese gardens, open areas are preserved for viewing only, with visitors being kindly asked to remain on the paths. Now, some of this deals with the fragility of the landscapes along with the massive amounts of visitors that frequent Japanese gardens, but it also speaks to the meaning of gardens in each culture. English gardens felt like a grand outing: a place to escape to nature with the family for the day. Japanese gardens have more of an inward, quiet feel. Each person interpreting the garden with their own set of feelings. There are gains and losses with each philosophy and viewing the contrast is quite thought provoking.

The Great Lawn at Hidcote where people often run and play. A nice space that is enjoyed as intended

The Great Lawn at Hidcote where people often run and play. A nice space that is enjoyed as intended

The Long Walk at Hidcote where people stroll to the gates frequently, much to the dismay of people seeking that perfect shot down the center

The Long Walk at Hidcote where people stroll to the gates frequently, much to the dismay of people seeking that perfect shot down the center

At Iford Manor, you could explore the ancient architecture at will

At Iford Manor, you could explore the ancient architecture at will. That makes for an unparalleled experience, but could have an impact on longevity

Families sat and shared food amoungst the parterres at Lanhydrock

Families sat and shared food among the formal parterres at Lanhydrock

At Trebah, the trail wound through the whole garden, even straight under the Gunnera forest!

At Trebah, the trail wound through the whole garden, even straight under the Gunnera forest!

These rocks are frequently seen in gardens and politely signify that an area should not be entered

These rocks are frequently seen in Japanese gardens and politely signify that an area should not be entered

This moss lawn at Shore-in is an example of a space the was comparable in size to open spaces in England, but this was restricted

This moss lawn at Shore-in is an example of a space that was comparable in size to open areas in England, but this was restricted

Ritsurin-koen is a large park with lots of lawn space, but the notion of keeping to the paths remains the same

Ritsurin-koen is a large park with lots of lawn space, but the notion of keeping to the paths remains the same

The paths at Kokakuen were mostly all closed off, with only a perimeter path for visitor passage. That decision protects the fragile beauty of the place

The paths at Kokakuen were mostly all closed off, with only a perimeter path for visitor passage. That decision protects the fragile beauty of the place

As a side note, I feel US gardens fall somewhere in between, with the English active mentality, but also the feel that you should stick to the paths. Quite frankly it amazed me to see how many grass paths were maintained in the UK!

There are many parallels between England and Japan in garden design, but more so I have been reflecting on characteristics of gardens. However, one design feature that I have found valued in each is the concept of a borrowed landscape. Gardens are beautiful within their boundaries, but the view beyond can change the spirit of the place. In England, borders often framed rolling sheep pastures or distant villages. Here in Japan, mountainscapes are utilized in the same way, providing a green backdrop that makes the garden feel far from civilization. Regardless, utilizing untouched nature to enhance the beauty of a designed garden is a smart concept that established itself in both countries long before idea sharing between the two.

The view from beyond the gates at the end of the Great Lawn of Hidcote. Not a part of the garden, but a feature that enhances the experience

The view from beyond the gates at the end of the Great Lawn of Hidcote. Not a part of the garden, but a feature that enhances the experience

The mountain beyond Ritsurin-koen sets the mood for the entire place

The mountain beyond Ritsurin-koen sets the mood for the entire place

The garden at Tenryu-ji faces this mountain backdrop that brings you away from the city behind it

The garden at Tenryu-ji faces this mountain backdrop that brings you away from the city behind it

The Okayama Castle was purposefully incorporated as a view seen from Korakuen. While not a borrowed

The Okayama Castle was purposefully incorporated as a view seen from Korakuen. While not a borrowed “landscape”, I thought it was an interesting version of that concept

Learning characterizes my travel, but culture is what truly shapes my experience on the TRIAD. Life in Japan is a sharp contrast between life in England. In just the same way, culture shaped historical gardens in Japan and England in very different ways. Horticulture in England went through several design periods, which make it difficult to generalize, but a theme of lushness and opulence held true for the most part. Sometimes that was in plantings, sometimes in the sheer size of the place, and sometimes how the manor home was framed. Regardless, lavishness was a symbol of wealth, which was a symbol of power. In Japan, the opposite has and continues to hold true. Gardens are incredibly complex from a design standpoint, but they are by no means lavish. Each detail is intentionally created, but the garden as a whole is unpretentious. Flowers are used sparingly and the plant palate is often modest.

The gardens surrounding Hampton Court Palace, the residence of several Kings, shocked with their sheer size

The gardens surrounding Hampton Court Palace, the residence of several Kings, shock with their sheer size

The mansion at Bodnant was framed by massive terraces displaying a collection of plants

The mansion at Bodnant is framed by massive terraces displaying a collection of plants

The Shugakuin Imperial Villa was the residence of Emperor Gomizunoo constructed in the seventeenth century. It has an entirely different feel than the Royal properties I visited in England

The Shugakuin Imperial Villa was the residence of Emperor Gomizunoo constructed in the seventeenth century. It has an entirely different feel than the Royal properties I visited in England

Simplicity of nature at Shugakuin

Simplicity of nature at Shugakuin

There were no large formal gardens surrounding a massive home. The buildings on the property were modest and the garden consisted of small spaces and this landscape area surrounding a pond

There were no large formal gardens surrounding a massive home. The buildings on the property were modest and the garden consisted of small spaces and this landscape area surrounding a pond

A breathtaking garden, Korakuen, that draws more on the beauty of perfected nature rather than plant collections or swaths of color

A breathtaking garden, Korakuen, that draws more on the beauty of perfected nature rather than plant collections or swaths of color

There are many more comparisons to be made between the gardens of Englapan, but for the sake of keeping my post manageable, I will leave it at those. With 40 days remaining in my journey abroad, I am eager to continue exploring new perspectives.

-James

P.S.: Tomorrow the Christmas installation at Kiseki no Hoshi begins and I couldn’t be more enthusiastic about that!!

8 comments

  1. Susan Ritter

    Your insights are truly thoughtful. You have had a lot of time “alone” in these gardens and I see it has honed your mental acuity as well as your horticulture skills. Thank you so much for this post – my favorite. The pictures are beautiful, but your thoughts are insightful and help us understand so much more about what we see through your eyes. When you return, I would like to know what your hourly rate is for design services. Seriously.

    • James Rockwell

      You are too kind Mrs. Ritter! Thank you for following me along through the fellowship. It has been quite the journey and I am glad to be growing through it. As for the design skills, I am far from being proficient at that!! I appreciate your encouragement very much.

  2. Hi James, a fascinating post and one that perfectly highlights the value of the Triad scheme. It’s so interesting to read about the observations you’ve made as you’ve travelled around England and Japan. There’s nothing like first-hand experience, infact, I feel quite jealous! Enjoy the rest of your time in Japan and look forward to hearing more about your adventures. Helen

    • James Rockwell

      Thank you so much Helen! I was just reflecting on my week at Sissinghurst the other day and I must say it was one of the most in depth placements I have been able to experience on the fellowship. Thank you for your kind words! Its hard to believe only a little over a month remains in the abroad leg of this journey. Take care.

    • James Rockwell

      Thank you Katie! I am quite excited for you to begin your time in Japan, even if it means my time is coming to a close. Its truly a one of a kind experience. I hope Hidcote is treating you well. Just a month and a half until your adventure abroad begins!

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