The Garden Art of Japan and England

The Garden Art of Japan and England

By Karen Elzinga

Countries have built over centuries, time honoured traditions that enabled them to encompass unique individuality. Two countries with grand visual appeal are England and Japan. This blog post will address how England's Royal family was influential in establishing garden popularity and trends, how medieval gardens were established, and how the end of the War of the Roses, changed the face of English gardens for centuries to come. It will also discuss China's influence, and how the introduction of Buddhism, played a pivotal role in shaping Japanese gardens. Spirituality incorporated into garden formation, such as the meaning held by stones, sand, water, rocks and lanterns be will investigated, as will its intended purpose as a place of meditation and worship.

The English Monarch influenced structural changes in pre –history gardens in England (Titchmarsh, 2003, 21). Henri I, created the first garden fit for Royalty in 1123, by enclosing land in Oxfordshire and turning it into a park, where large game were hunted as sport (Titchmarsh, 2003, 12-13), (Howes,1997, 24). Later Henri I's father William the Conqueror, introduced the sport and its exclusive use of the parks to England's nobility. He established 25 Royal hunting parks that took up an estimated one third of English land, and evicted all peasants that stood in his way (Titchmarsh, 2003, 12-13). 

During medieval times, luxury gardens were only afforded by Royalty or Noblemen. Commoners and the Monasteries of the period, defined their gardens by what fruit or vegetables, it could provide them (Titchmarsh, 2003, 14). Monasteries also planted 400-500 plants for medicinal purposes. Methodically each species was planted into squares and patterned like a chess board, then divided by a gravel or sandy pathways to walk on. (Titchmarsh, 2003, 14).

When Henri II was in rule, he married Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1152, she had travelled extensively to the Holly land and was heavily influenced by Islamic gardens and the copies of these, by the Moorish of Europe's South. She introduced these ideas to English Royalty and wealthy land owners, where it had a profound effect on English garden styles for centuries (Titchmarsh, 2003,14), (King Henri II Biography, n.d.).

The Medieval gardens consisted of long grass filled with an abundance of wild flowers; only Royals or the wealthy had lawns maintained manually 3 times a year. Outdoor seating consisted of piles of woven sticks placed around a tree, then filled with dirt and covered by turf infused with herbs to provide a fragrant finish. Arbours were very popular, but simple in structure consisting of wooden poles or trellis that would support vines such as honey suckle or grapes (Macdougall, 1983, 13-14), (Titchmarsh, 2003, 15,18). Decorative springs or wells were used as garden features, and with more money came larger features, such as swimming pools or fountains, this idea again came from the "Moorish". Flowerbeds were planted in a patterned way, with each bed raised at the side to keep the garden contained (Titchmarsh, 2003, 18).

When King Henri III wedded Eleanor of Province, a keen gardener in 1236, he was encouraged by her to decorate the gardens, and thus the emergence of the "Decorated Garden" came into wealthy English society. This style had areas of seating surrounded by fragrant plants, such as roses and scented herbs. This was done with purpose in mind, because of the ill equipped sewage systems of the era; the fragrance of the plants would mask the bad smell of raw sewage (Titchmarsh, 2003, 24).

After the "War of the Roses" ended in 1485, the houses of Lancaster and York, heralded a finish to over 30 years of war. Henry VII was crowned, and the following year he married Elizabeth of York, which diplomatically reunited two previously waring families. With no wars to speak of, and time on their hands, landowners turned their attention to building gardens. For Royals and Noblemen, it involved building tennis courts, bowling alleys, and archery butts, all surrounded by viewing platforms. Separate outhouses were built to play chess, cards and dice games in (Titchmarsh, 2003, 34). 

It was during this post war period known as the Tudor period (1485-1603) that Knot gardens became increasingly popular in wealthier society. They consisted of dwarf evergreens decorated with a variety of 3D beast sculptures. Knot gardens were traditionally planted outside the bed chambers of manors, so they could be viewed from above as a whole. Over time the knot gardens became more intricate and complex in design (Titchmarsh, 2003, 34, 43). Another style popular in this period was the emergence of the cottage garden; this garden was afforded to rich and poor alike. It consisted of perennials, annuals, vines, shrubs, trees with an emphasis on fruiting varieties and vegetables, planted around the home (Flowers, 2003).

Britain's style of gardening was very different to that of the Buddhist inspired gardens of the Japanese.

The earliest formal style gardens in Japan were heavily influenced by the Chinese, they were generally built by ruling emperors to address their solitary requirements for contemplation and worship. For example, Shugaku-in, one of Kyoto's largest gardens was built for an Emperors retirement and tranquillity. The Ginkakuji was built for the purpose of escapism and as a retreat from war torn atrocities, of the nearby capital by the Emperor Shogun Ashihaga Yashimasa (Kawana, n.d.).

The first Chinese inspired gardens arrived in the 1300's, and were styled with the Buddhist (Tibetan) culture in mind. There specific name was called Mandela's; viewable gardens from all sides. The garden represented sacred mountains called Mt. Sumeru and Mt. Horai, and were symbolized by a landmass or large rocks surrounded by water; it was likened to heaven and earth (Bunting, 2001), (Kawana, n.d.).

The 13th century saw the introduction of Zen Buddhism and the birth of "Dry Gardens". Plants were less important to the aesthetic of gardens, replaced in part by raked stones, gravel, sand or quartz. Unlike Western culture, stones, rocks, lanterns and water, were seen as symbols of great spiritual meaning, and were seen in some instances more important than plants (Bunting, 2001). Stones for instance were considered to contain powerful entities, and it was thought that by revering these stones and building gardens around them, that they were giving the stone personality and honouring the gods and nature (Written in Stone, n.d.). Larger rocks were believed to represent mountains, and sand was placed into gardens and raked into wave patterns representative of water. (Medieval Japan, n.d.). Abstract in nature they complimented the purpose of meditation, by providing the essence and spirituality of Zen. A Zen priest who worked on a garden called the Ryoan-ji, spoke of the gardens representing large areas of land, being condensed into as little as one foot of land (Adams, 1991, 238-244).

Tea houses were an integral part of Japanese gardens. Yeisai, a Buddhist Monk brought teachings of a Tea ceremony to Japan after returning from China in 815 (Spirit of the lotus tea company, n.d.). It was not until 1333-1573 that more formal style Tea houses were built. They were built with tranquillity and seclusion in mind; one had to walk through an outer and middle garden, before arriving at the inner garden, where the tea house was located. The concept was that the time participants spent walking through the initial Zen inspired gardens of quiet and stillness; they would be relaxed and able to concentrate fully on the ritual of the Tea Ceremony. They had formal pathways made from older style stepping stones laden with moss, and were later lined with stone lanterns leading up to them (Time line- Japanese Garden History, 2008), (Kawana, n.d.).

Lanterns were introduced to Japan from Korean and Chinese influence in the 6th century AD, during the Asuka Period. Originally they were placed by Temples and Shrines, and used as votive lights, but the passing of several centuries saw them utilized for practical lighting purposes in religious grounds. By the year 1600 the stone lanterns were introduced to the gardens of the Tea Houses, where they were designed to encase a flame that spiritually represented Buddha's teachings (Schumacher, 1995). Various forms of Lanterns stemmed from the original style over the centuries, they included, standing lanterns, legged lanterns, planted lanterns, movable lanterns and stupa lanterns. (Mertel,1993). 

In conclusion, both countries exude uniqueness derived from centuries of evolving. One thing that links them is the influence that Royalty in England, and Emperors in Japan, had over how their countries were visually and culturally established. Through this essay l looked at how Nobility influenced and changed the landscapes over time. I looked at the influences of religion, people of influence and other countries, and how they helped shape the ideas of those in power. I looked at individual concepts of each country, such as the earliest enclosed sporting parks, medieval gardens, through to the Knot Gardens of Britain. I also discussed the Japanese Mandela gardens, Tea Houses and Dry gardens; the spiritual meaning of rocks, sand, water and lanterns within the gardens. Gardens are both peaceful and meaningful places of reflection to be enjoyed, and shared with all who appreciate their beauty and precision. It is for that reason that we should all help in protecting our green spaces, for the future generation's enjoyment and fulfilment.

By Karen Elzinga (copyrighted)


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