The Japanese Garden Society describes Japanese gardens as ‘an attempt by humans to encapsulate the spirit of Nature, recognising the cycle of seasonal changes and the transience of life. The original conception of the garden was to create an idyllic environment that would tempt the deities down from heaven to dwell in proximity to human beings’.
But when did they become popular in Britain?
After years of self-imposed isolation, Japan opened its doors to the West in 1854. Japanese gardens became of increasing interest in UK and in 1893, Josiah Conder, an English architect working in Japan published the influential Landscape Gardening in Japan.
Nurseries began importing plants from Japan and at the Japan-British Exhibition of 1910, there were over eight million visitors. Two large gardens were created in London with ‘Picturesque houses, stone lanterns, fanciful bridges, and even the very rocks and tall trees…brought over from Japan’. Two tea-houses were also built as well as two miniature gardens. To ensure the gardens were installed correctly, ‘skilful gardeners and other experts’ accompanied the exhibits from Japan.
However, by the mid-twentieth century, the Japanese style of gardening had fallen out of fashion and many gardens were neglected.
Today, some owners have restored their Japanese gardens while many more have been created – some more authentic than others.
Cowden Castle in Perthshire has one of the earliest examples (1907) while other Japanese gardens can be seen at: