London’s 1910 Japan garden spruced up

by William Hollingworth London

Kyodo News

LONDON — British and Japanese volunteers are currently restoring one of London’s finest Japanese landscape gardens with the aim to reviving it in time for its 100th anniversary.

The Garden of Peace was originally completed in 1910 on the site of the massive Japan British exhibition in White City, west London, which showcased Japan to the general public. A much bigger Japanese floating garden was also constructed, but this no longer exists.

Over the years, the garden, which forms part of Hammersmith Park, has become overgrown and some of the original features have been taken away. In addition, two of the original ponds have been filled to make the site a little smaller.

However, the park is still popular with local residents, and the volunteers restoring the garden, which is set among bamboo and pagoda trees, hope it will become a magnet for the many Japanese garden enthusiasts in Britain.

A team of around 50 volunteers recently spent several days cleaning up the garden, which consists of two large ponds connected by a stone bridge. They chopped down some of the reeds and grass surrounding the ponds to expose more of the rocks that form a small waterfall running down into the ponds.

Yoshi Uchida, a landscape architect from Tokyo who was among the volunteers, explained that the purpose of a landscape garden is to re-create a little part of natural Japanese scenery. Uchida said the Garden of Peace is a little overgrown, but many of the original plants and trees imported from Japan are still in place.

When the renovation is completed, the site could look a little neater and more of the rocks in the ponds should be exposed, Uchida said. New shrubs from Japan may be planted in the future as well.

“We would like to make the garden a little more formal, but we are not into changing it,” Uchida said, adding that the group will make a report for the council, which will advise the gardeners on how to maintain it.

Meanwhile, members of the Japan Society and officials at Hammersmith and Fulham Council have formed a working group and will seek sponsorship for their plans.

The Japanese garden was constructed in 1909 by a group of Japanese and British gardeners, according to Ayako Hotta-Lister, who has researched the garden’s history. It was one of two gardens on the massive site for the Anglo-Japanese exhibition of 1910.

Before this, the site hosted the Olympics. Much of that site is now occupied by offices and housing, but the Japanese garden has survived.

Hotta-Lister said the garden’s original designers found it difficult work because the weather was particularly cold and icy when they were constructing the garden.

But all the hard work paid off when members of the royal family came to visit the garden in 1910 and the exhibition helped to cement relations between the two countries, which were already strong after the signing of the 1902 Anglo-Japanese naval alliance, she said.