• October 24, 2014

Zen gardens: ‘Quiet Beauty’ of Japanese gardens

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Posted: Saturday, April 5, 2014 4:30 am

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Whether you are a hobbyist or a professional gardener, Ken Brown hopes you appreciate the beauty and peace of the public gardens in his new book, “Quiet Beauty: The Japanese Gardens of North America.”

One of those two dozen gardens is located in Richmond, Va. — at the 100-acre site of Maymont, a house that owners Sallie and James Dooley left the city in the 1920s.

It’s believed the couple hired Muto, a master Japanese designer who also built similar gardens in Philadelphia; the 1912-completed garden is said to be the largest of its kind on the East Coast and the only Virginia garden in “Quiet Beauty.” The 176-page hardcover book with full-color photos by David M. Cobb is divided into five sections. Maymont is in the “Oriental Exotica” section, which spotlights gardens created from 1890 to 1930.

Other gardens in the book, which focuses on the United States and Canada, include the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Portland Japanese Garden in Portland, Ore., Nikka-Yuko Japanese Garden in Lethbridge, Alberta, and Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford, Ill.

“Maymont’s Japanese garden represents both a rare, pre-WWI Japanese residential garden that still exists, and a sensitive 1980s’ redesign to accommodate a diverse public audience,” said Brown, who visited all the gardens, often repeatedly, over the past 20 years. “It points to the early infatuation with Japanese gardens, and the post-WWII revisionist thinking.”

Brown, a professor of Asian art history in the art department at California State University Long Beach, writes often about Japanese art, and he curated the exhibition, “Water and Shadow: Kawase Hasui and Japanese Landscape Prints,” which opens Nov. 15 at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, also in Richmond.

Also a student of Japanese gardens, he helped plan the International Conference on Japanese Gardens outside Japan in 2009, and now is on the executive committee of the North American Japanese Garden Association and editor of its journal.

“Japanese gardens in America interest me because they are literal constructions of America’s fascination with Japan, and the Japanese desire to create an ideal vision of its own culture abroad,” he said.

“There are different types of Japanese gardens, and each has its own structural components. Most of the public gardens in America, and in the book, are ‘stroll gardens’ where a sense of an unfolding journey is critical. Elements should be hidden, then revealed, and visitors should be stimulated but also encouraged to become aware of changing vistas, textures, colors and even different emotions.”

Brown claims he doesn’t have a favorite garden in the book, but tries to appreciate each on its own merits.

“Each tells a different story and has a different style. However, having spent several nights in the guesthouse at the Anderson gardens, and seeing it by the light of fireflies, and full moon, or at dawn, I am perhaps a bit partial to it,” he said of the 12-acre gardens in Rockford, Ill.

“But, the lesson is that gardens become most alive when seen at those bewitching times.” At Maymont, bewitching times in the Japanese Garden occur with the seasons, according to Singlemann.

In spring, azaleas, white-flowering dogwood and water iris complement the budding leaves of the many Japanese maples planted there. In summer, it’s a contrast of greens accented by the colorful koi fish that swim in the one-acre pond, she said.

Come fall, the garden is illuminated by the colorful combinations of maroon, orange and yellows of the Japanese maples.

“The quiet beauty of the garden comes to life in winter when visitation is lowest,” she said. “During this season the unique structural growth of each plant provides a beauty vastly different than those in the other seasons. A soft snowfall contrasts the numerous rock groupings along the pond edges with the accentuated lines of the trees and shrubs.”

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