Old Japanese garden in Britain is reopened

by William Hollingworth

Kyodo

Britain’s largest Japanese garden, which fell into neglect after World War II, has been restored to its former glory and opened to the public earlier this month for the first time in the postwar period.

The 28,300-sq.-meter plot lies in the extensive grounds of the 17th century mansion Kingston Lacy in Wimborne Minister, 150 km southwest of London.

Experts have attempted to re-create the original garden, which was principally Japanese in design but also influenced by the fashions of King Edward VII’s era (1901-1910).

The original was created by Kingston’s former owner, Henrietta Bankes, who received inspiration from the Japan exhibition in London in 1910. This show generated considerable interest in all aspects of Japanese culture.

After the war, it became harder for many estates to survive, and the once picturesque gardens fell into neglect.

However, the National Trust took over the property in 1982 and, over time, was able to discover parts of the old garden’s fencing and plants.

The organization decided recently to restore it using an £86,000 grant and volunteer labor.

National Trust officers consulted the archives to find out what plants had been ordered in 1910, and experts used radar to find out where the path had run and where the teahouse was situated.

“This has been the garden equivalent of putting together a giant puzzle,” commented Nigel Chalk, gardens and countryside manager at Kingston Lacy.

The work took about a year, and there are five separate garden areas. At its center is the tea garden, complete with a teahouse and waiting arbor.

Martin Granados, visitor services manager at Kingston Lacy, called garden a “Japanese concept reinterpreted by 20th century gardeners.”

The garden is distinguished from other Japanese gardens because the only plants that can be used are those that would have been available to Edwardian gardeners in 1910.

The gardens include pine trees from Japan, dwarf rhododendrons, cherry trees, acers, two kinds of iris ensata — Yamato-hime and velvet queen — as well as three peonies donated by the town of Yatsuka, Shimane Prefecture.

There are also granite pagoda lanterns from Kyoto. Stone has been used to create a miniature landscape of hills and valleys. As there is no nearby running water source, the Trust has used paddle stones to mirror a flowing river.

Despite the absence of plans from the old garden, the Trust hopes it has achieved a faithful re-creation.

“Obviously the temptation would be to do a perfect Japanese garden . . . but the National Trust strives towards integrity and has had to retain the original vision by only using plants that were in existence before 1910,” Granados said.

According to the National Trust, Kingston Lacy is Britain’s biggest Japanese garden.

But Graham Hardman, national chairman of the Japanese Garden Society, said it was hard to say for sure since many of the other big gardens in Britain were so amorphous and hard to measure.

He added that all these gardens were a British interpretation and not Japanese in the strict sense.