On 2016 September 16-17, the North American Japanese Garden Association held its regional conference in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. It was a small and intimate conference that discussed Japanese gardens using the local Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden as an exemplar.
The Garden opened in 1967 as an expression of appreciation for the cultural ties Lethbridge has with Japan thanks to its citizens of Japanese ancestry. Conference attendees learned about the history of the Garden’s conception and building, its “dark period” of overgrowth, and its reclamation and repair leading to discussions around cultural preservation, placement and proportion of plants and structural elements to achieve views and the aesthetic and physiological benefits of pruning. Demonstrations of ikebana and bonsai provided context. Interactive sessions on rock placement and stepping stone path construction provided practice. Of note was a session on experiencing the Garden using senses other than sight: hearing, feeling, smell.
I attended this conference not really knowing what to expect. I am in the process of reclaiming my overgrown garden and I hoped the conference might inspire my thinking about this project. Mission accomplished! Conceptually, the conference was an excellent reintroduction to the Japanese aesthetic which I will use to inform my own garden reclamation project. More to the point, however, is what I learned about the Nikka Yuko itself. While I have always appreciated our Nikka Yuko Garden, I now have a much deeper appreciation for this oasis in the middle of our city. For me, the conference was time well spent.
The renowned Scottish landscape architect and ecological planning pioneer Ian McHarg was once quoted as saying that if Manitoga was built in Japan, it would have been a “national monument.” “Japan has many such sites, but the United States has only Manitoga, the temple to managed succession, inspired ecological design.”
Manitoga in Garrison, New York has since achieved that distinction and more. It is a National Historic Landmark, an Affiliate Site of the National Trust for Historic Conservation and a World Monuments Watch Site. Officially known as the Manitoga/ The Russell Wright Design Center, it is a place still strongly animated by the vision of its original owner and creator, Midcentury modern designer Russell Wright whose work was strongly influenced by Japanese aesthetics, not least in the way he conceptualized his home / studio (Dragon Rock) and the woodland garden around it.
Dragon Rock at Manitoga
Manitoga studio interior
Wright’s Japanese connection apparently runs deeper than is commonly thought. He also contributed to the cross-fertilization of American and Japanese sensibilities in Modernist aesthetics by serving as an adviser to the post-World War II Japanese government on handcraft design that would resonate with the US export market, according to Japanese Modernist design scholar Yuko Kikuchi.
In Manitoga, which Wright considers as a pinnacle of his career, the Japanese touch is everywhere evident and seamlessly integrated into his nature-centered instinct for design and even his taste for theatrics as a former theater set designer. Dragon Rock is said to be reminiscent of Japanese temple architecture, as executed by architect David L. Leavitt with whom Wright shares a fondness for Japanese design. Leavitt has worked in Japan with the architect Antonin Raymond whose students include the Japanese architect Junzo Yoshimura, creator of the Shofuso Japanese House and Garden in Philadelphia and the traditional teahouse at the Japanese garden in Kykuit, the Rockefeller Estate, Tarrytown, New York.
Dining area from above
Window sill detail
While Dragon Rock has often been compared to the famous Fallingwater house of architect Frank Lloyd Wright (no relation), it seems to fall back more into the landscape, despite a name that’s evocative of a far more conspicuous presence. From the green roofs — revolutionary for a structure built in the early 1950s — to the floor-to-ceiling windows and the tree trunk and natural boulders that define the interiors of the space, Wright was intent on blurring the boundaries between the outdoor and indoor spaces and synthesizing the natural with the man-made, a design sentiment that is also characteristically Japanese. The name of the house itself, derived from the innocent fancy of Wright’s young daughter Annie who imagined a dragon shape in the rock formation, recalls the convention for naming rocks in a Japanese garden for mythical animals.
The great outdoors that Wright and Leavitt sought to bring in through this organic architecture is a 75-acre expanse that simultaneously evokes the experience of a stroll garden from Japan’s Edo Period (1603 – 1867) and taps into Wright’s penchant for drama as a former stage designer. Even as the house maximizes the view outside, the forest garden is also meant to be journeyed into.
Here, the Japanese garden design principle of miegakure (hide and reveal) also becomes a device in Wright’s nature theater for building up a dramatic effect as one traverses through the path of the woodland garden.
“Along each path, the landscape and its themes unfold sequentially. There is an introduction, a dramatic build-up, elaboration of a theme, and then a climax or a goal; the building of tension and its dramatic release – the whole design a musical composition.”
A rock in the middle of the driveway, for example, slows movement and forces contemplation of the immediate surroundings. The sound of an unseen water feature at an entrance builds anticipation.
This theatricality also plays into the notion of a Japanese garden as an idealized re-creation or distillation of nature. Landscape architect and Wright’s cousin Carol Franklin notes Wright’s manipulation of naturally occurring elements, particularly native plant species, to create the moments of denouement in the garden: a moss garden on top of the quarry pond, masses of mountain laurels and dogwoods in bloom, a fiery corridor of backlit autumn foliage. Design historian D.J. Huppatz also speculated about Wright’s use of “borrowed scenery” (shakkei) to provide points of interest along the walking paths.
And then, there are the rocks. In the course of the 35 years since first acquiring the property as an abandoned granite quarry in 1942, Wright bided his time studying and working with the natural rock formations in the area to distill its essence as a “place of great spirit” (the English translation of “Manitoga,” an Algonquin word). A mountain stream was diverted and a 30-foot, multi-level waterfall created to form a swimming pond. There are also a variety of rock groupings and stepping stone paths found all over the property. These rocks, ancient as they are in these parts, found a new purpose in the nexus of the natural and built environment in Manitoga.
Manitoga is part of the Garden Architecture Tour on October 7, 2016 co-hosted by the North American Japanese Garden Association and the Japan American Society of Greater Philadelphia. The tour is part of a two-day event on October 7 and 8, “Modernism, Japanese Carpentry and the Garden: Preserving the Architecture of Junzo Yoshimura.” For details and to register, visit http://najga.org/Philadelphia-2016
Two-Day Event Focus On Modernist and Traditional Japanese Design In the Garden
Philadelphia, PA – On October 7 and 8, the North American Japanese Garden Association (NAJGA) is teaming up with the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia (JASGP) to explore the adaptation and preservation of Modernist and traditional Japanese design in several garden settings found in New York and Philadelphia. NAJGA is a non-profit that promotes the art, craft and heart of Japanese gardens in USA and Canada.
The coach heritage tour on October 7 will feature prime examples of Japanese and Mid-century modern architecture in two garden estates: Kykuit at the Rockefeller estate in Tarrytown, New York with its century-old Japanese garden, and the Manitoga / The Russell Wright Design Center in Garrison, New York with its Japanese-influenced woodland garden. Also included with the tour registration is a box lunch and free admission to the Shofuso Japanese House and Garden in Philadelphia, which will be the assembly point for the tour.
Yoshimura Teahouse at Kykuit
Dragon Rock at Manitoga
“Autumn is one of the best times to be in a Japanese garden and as the leaves turn and fall away, we are better able to isolate and appreciate the architectural aspects of the garden, particularly the buildings that exist in its context,” says NAJGA board president and JASGP executive director Kim Andrews.
The work of revered Japanese architect Junzo Yoshimura will be a prime focus of this event. Aside from being the acclaimed designer of Shofuso, he also built a traditional teahouse for the Japanese garden in Kykuit. The tour will include a lecture about Yoshimura’s works as well as a viewing of the exterior of the Marcel Breuer House in Kykuit.
On October 8, Yoshimura’s legacy at Shofuso will be further scrutinized through the lenses of an ongoing heritage preservation project in a workshop that includes a Japanese carpentry demonstration, practicum on historic preservation reporting, and hinoki roof demonstration. Shofuso’s heritage preservation project aims to uphold Yoshimura’s rigorous standards for designing Shofuso using traditional Japanese design, and one of its most major components is the restoration of the roof made from the bark of the hinoki cypress. Heritage preservation experts and craftsmen skilled in traditional Japanese techniques will serve as lecturers and facilitators during the workshop.
Shofuso Japanese House and Garden
Hinoki bark roof restoration
“Our ongoing effort to meet the preservation challenges presented by Yoshimura’s uncompromising standards is also an excellent learning opportunity for everyone else interested in heritage conservation and the modern adaptation of traditional Japanese design,” says Andrews. “Knowing about how to properly report on conditions for heritage structures, for example, is a must for community custodians of these structures inside and outside the garden setting.”
The two-day event will be occurring during one of the busiest weeks in the Philadelphia design scene as it is also part of the 2016 DesignPhiladelphia festival (October 6 to 16), the oldest open-source event of its kind in the United States, and of the Docomomo US Tour Day 2016 (October 8), an annual event for raising awareness of and appreciation of buildings, interiors and landscapes designed in the US during the mid-20th century.
The Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden in Lethbridge, AB exemplifies pride of place as a “Canadian garden in the Japanese style,” as originally envisioned by its creator Prof. Tadashi Kubo almost half a century ago. The expansive spirit of the surrounding Canadian prairies and the rugged beauty of the Canadian Rockies are both reflected in this merging of Canadian and Japanese culture. Despite the challenges of climate and environment, this garden carries its pride through the different seasons and times of day.
NAJGA board member and Alberta-based garden professional Cody Fong captures the garden in its different moods in the series of photos below. Learn how this garden represents the versatility of the Japanese garden aesthetic in a regional conference “The Adaptability of Japanese Gardens: Lessons Learned From the Canadian Prairies,” September 16 to 18 in Lethbridge, Alberta. Visit http://najga.org/Alberta-2016 for more details and to register.
The Aesthetic Pruners Association (APA), a member organization of the North American Japanese Garden Association (NAJGA), is conducting an intensive, hands-on pruning workshop from November 3 to 5, 2016 at the Gardens at Lake Merritt in Oakland, California. Experienced teachers will present aesthetic pruning principles and practices and guide workshop participants in applying these techniques in Lake Merritt’s seven acres of beautiful themed gardens. Participants will come away with pruning skills and concepts which will both challenge and enhance their existing knowledge. All horticultural professionals regardless of specialization and level of experience are welcome to attend.
The difference that aesthetic pruning can make.
Day 1 – Aesthetic Pruning Basics– morning lecture, hands-on pruning in the afternoon
Assessing a tree’s health and history
Learning the three pruning cuts and knowing the tree’s response
Making a seasonal plan
Pruning coarse to fine and up and out, finding the good, considering context and environment
Day 2 –Aesthetic Pruning Principles: Focal Point, Essence and Garden Context- morning lecture, hands-on pruning in the afternoon.
Identifying and enhancing a tree’s essence using structure, texture, hide-and-reveal and branch definition
Finding the good, making space and creating a sense of age
Reading a garden using style, flow, topography and viewing points
Separating background, mid-ground and focal point using movement, line, flow and perception
The North American Japanese Garden Association (NAJGA) is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization founded in 2011 by leading Japanese gardens in the US and Canada. Our members are based in different parts of North America and overseas, and include garden institutions, professional societies, businesses and individuals with either a professional or a personal interest in the field of Japanese gardening.
Join as a member or become one of our supporters! Visit our website at najga.org
Dr. Kendall Brown, while Board President of the North American Japanese Garden Association, visited the garden in 2015. It was my good fortune to be the one to introduce him to the Asian Rock Garden. Preparations for the 2016 Biennial Conference, Towards A Healthier World: Japanese Gardens as Places of Health and Well Being, were in progress. When I mentioned the existence of the University of Florida (UF) Health Shands Arts in Medicine program (AIM) , Dr. Brown was enthusiastic. Dr. Brown’s enthusiasm made me wonder if the Harn’s Asian Rock Garden could be formally used in a healing manner.
Cleaning a Zen garden is a soothing activity. The calming and meditative practice might be appropriate for a patient dealing with an illness, with one caveat: raking the gravel in the garden can be physically demanding, more so if one’s energy is diminished by illness. What if the patient is physically unable to visit the garden?
The Arts in Medicine program works with patients who are at the nadir of their illness, unable to leave the hospital, or in some cases, their hospital room.
Tina Mullen, director of AIM, and myself have developed a program that splits the garden activity into two parts: the patient develops the meditative design for the gravel in the Harn’s Asian Rock Garden and I rake the design into the gravel.
First, AIM’s trained artist in residence identify a receptive patient in the UF Health Shands Hospital. The artist and patient discuss the concept of the garden, and where appropriate, read about traditional Zen gardens. The culmination of the patient’s reflection on the garden is the creation of a design to be raked into the garden’s gravel. There is one difficulty to overcome. The garden is dotted with boulders, ground level lighting and seating. The wooden garden rake is 30 inches wide. Will the patient develop a configuration on paper that can be duplicated in the garden with the 30 inches wide rake? The solution was to make a map to the scale of the garden in a size that fit on the patient’s overbed table, and to create a multi-leaded pencil that is the equivalent to 30 inches wide in relationship to the map. Then, the completed design is forwarded to me and I rake the configuration into the gravel.
A Skype session is organized between the artist and the patient in the hospital room, and the Harn museum staff in the garden on the other end. Museum staff with an iPad walk through the garden, stopping to talk about specific features with the patient.
A surprising commonality was revealed with the first patient. The patient found the pencil rake to be awkward and difficult to use, just as I found the heavy, 30 inch wooden rake to be an awkward raking tool. We understood each other.
The program gives the patient and the gardener the opportunity to consider new and creative ideas, to solve problems, and to engage in a satisfying exchange. The trial period for the program will be one year, during which four patients will participate. After the patient’s configuration is put into the garden, it is maintained for four to eight weeks. This time period dictates the speed with which the program can accommodate the next interested patient.
Questions or suggestions are welcome. They can be posted at this site or you are welcome to directly contact Martin McKellar at email@example.com.