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The strange beauty of a Japanese karesansui garden


Unswerving cyclist
14 Mar 2002
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The Financial Times on the beauty of Japanese stone gardens and UK-based Japanese garden projects sponsored by the JGS (Japanese Garden Society).

Japanese gardens “have a strong narrative and are very rich with the possibility to express ideas”, says Robert Ketchell, who designed the Coventry garden based on the children’s ideas. He is a founder member of the Japanese Garden Society, and a UK charity set up in 1993 for Japanese garden enthusiasts. Attracted by eastern philosophy, Ketchell first went to Japan in 1980. He worked for four years as an apprentice under a garden master in Kyoto: “It opened my eyes to the question of how do I integrate this into a different cultural context?” [...] The dry landscape “invites you to think about the garden and what it’s about”. Unlike one with pretty flowers, you’re more likely to assess “your position in relation to it, your place in the world and with nature”, he says.


Nomura Garden in Great Ormond Street Hospital, London


The Hospice Garden in Prescot, Greater Manchester


The Japanese Garden in Llanarthney, Carmarthenshire

At work in the Coventry Garden, the Japanese concept of mu, the “expression of emptiness”. It provides space for reflection. At the instruction of the school children, meanwhile, a bridge was placed between the larger stones to symbolize the unity of people. Another concept is shakkei, the “borrowed landscape” – the trees, for example, outside the garden, but still part of its perspective. “It is widely used in Japan,” says Hardman, “to give the garden a broader context.” Although something is undesirable, an old barn or a neglected parking lot is immediately screened off. Gardens designed by JGS include one on the roof of London’s Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital. It is maintained by the society’s volunteers, and is well used by staff, who find their holiday there as ‘restorative’, says Hardman. Parents find it ‘very useful for them as a place to look at another scene, given the disturbing feelings of their children ill’.

The Japanese Garden Society is a British charity founded in 1993 for Japanese garden lovers. It welcomes amateurs and professionals, garden lovers and garden designers who are interested in Japanese gardens and who wish to share their interests with other like-minded people.
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