June 20th, 2006
High Maintenance Gardening at the Adachi Museum Gardens

John Powell
2006-06-20. John Powell, who interns in the Adachi Museum gardens, demonstrates Japanese shearing techniques during a presentation at the Austin Area Garden Center.

For us Austin gardeners worried about the effects of drought, heat, overuse and abuse on Zilker Botanical Garden, the gardens at Japan’s Adachi Museum of Art demonstrate what is possible under very different circumstances. Tuesday (6/20) Waturu Takeda and John Powell provided a window into another world of gardening to a room packed with eager gardeners at the Austin Area Garden Center .

Imagine a garden where a staff of gardeners works often 14 hours a day, every day of the year…a garden where vast beds and paths of gravel are swept every morning using a special technique, where the zoysia grass is clipped with small, electric hand shears, where brown leaves and clippings are brushed off the bushes and mosses, where hundreds of pine trees are pruned several times a year. And if there has been no rain by the end of the day, the entire garden is carefully drenched by hand with huge hoses.

In Austin, we argue about charging an admission to Zilker Botanical Garden to help protect it from boneheads who treat the garden like another playscape and thieves who walk off with the plants. In stark contrast, no visitor is allowed to walk through the gardens at the Adachi Museum of Art. Rather, the gardens are viewed from inside the museum, through windows designed to look like hanging scrolls. Each view of the gardens appears to be a living picture. All the intensive work of the gardeners is to ensure that the gardens remain picture perfect. The garden becomes part of the museum collection, complementing the seasonal changes of the artwork. The garden surrounds the museum, but the museum encapsulates the garden.

I’m curious whether other people at the presentation found inspiration in the beautiful film shown, “The Garden in Fours Season”. (I thought this mistitled as it showed the garden in spring, May, rainy season, summer, fall, winter, and early spring.) Is such perfection even desirable in a garden outside of the museum concept? Or did it feel sterile? too manicured? Each view of the garden is beautifully composed. But the real interest was noticing how the garden changed in time, through the seasons and through varying degrees of sunlight, rain, mist, and snow. The one view that I wanted to see that wasn’t in the film was the garden in moonlight.

Although John Powell hinted that concepts and techniques of Japanese gardening are transferable to the heart of Texas, the presentation did not touch much on that. Certainly there’s a big part of the summer in Austin where our gardens are best viewed from indoors. Aside from the concepts of borrowed views, strolling and viewing gardens, what can we learn from Japanese gardens?

I’m a hands-on person and a garden that is experienced primarily through sight ignores the textures, scents, and sounds that I think are vital to a garden. Zenko Adachi’s accomplishment in creating this magnificient garden must be admired. I’d love to visit it in person but it is not a garden I would want to replicate even on a small scale. Lacking the same resources of helping hands and water, my tiny Zanthan Gardens will remain mostly a garden of the imagination, hardly recognizable as a garden what with the laundry on the line, the sawhorses in the driveway, and hoses and tools lying about.

by M Sinclair Stevens

6 Responses to post “High Maintenance Gardening at the Adachi Museum Gardens”

  1. From KAT (California):

    E-Dog and I–he’s been staying with us all week while his parents are in Hawaii–went to the Huntington Gardens at 8 am this week. We ran our hands through waxy flowers that fell off an aloe, heard the bees buzzing in a different aloe and saw their orange pollen thighs, watched a hummingbird, and smelled syrupy honeysuckle. We felt the pull of gravity as we ran down a garden path, and then he conned me into carrying him uphill on my shoulders. While I love the idea of looking at that exquisite Japanese garden, I wouldn’t trade it for the ability to enjoy so many other senses–especially smell, which is so underengaged.

  2. From M2 (Austin):

    That’s amazing. Truly wonderful. I hope I can see it in person some day. I imagine the smell of pine and water and earth must be have the experience.

  3. From r sorrell (Austin):

    I love visiting Japanese (or rather Japanese-style) gardens because they’re so tranquil and calming. My garden, however, doesn’t resemble one even remotely. While I appreciate the perfection of those gardens, they’re not practical for those of us who lack a staff of professional gardeners. I’m also not sure how much I would enjoy only being able to see a garden through a window. It seems that the experience would be about as fulfilling as seeing it on a movie screen. Pretty, but not quite like really being there.

  4. From Annie in Austin:

    I’ve been to a few Japanese-style gardens, but all were in the US, none in Japan. (Two in Chicago, also Seattle, St. Louis, Austin & Washington DC.) They all seemed to reflect their various US locations – no matter how carefully pruned or swept they were. They did have a tranquil feel, but the ones at the museum website look quite different from the ones I’ve been to see.

    Part of the pleasure of gardens is walking through them, so that every few steps the perspective shifts, and what you see is changed in subtle ways as you progress. Also I’m really nearsighted and have to be right on top of the plants to see them well. It would be awfully frustrating to look at a static form through glass… it’s hard to think of it as a ‘garden’, but it certainly is a valid form of art.

    A lot of my back garden was planned with the view from the breakfast bay window in mind. I’m not sure why it doesn’t seem static – maybe because I can run out and get into the ‘picture’ in two seconds!

    As you know, I’m a tremendous Japanophile and when I lived in Japan for two years, I visited one very famous garden in Kumamoto and the usual tourist sites in Kyoto. The Adachi garden is technically considered a “strolling” garden. Although one does not stroll through the garden, different perspectives can be viewed when strolling through the museum. The layout of the museum and the gardens are designed to be inter-related in such a way as to blur the distinction between indoors and outdoors. This is very common in traditional Japanese house and gardens. Japanese gardens rely heavily on clipped shrubbery and pruned trees, on texture and shapes. Having just recently been in England, land of spectacular mixed borders, the lack of flowers and natural forms in the Adachi gardens is what struck me as somewhat sterile. I need a bit of wild in my garden. — mss

  5. From Mara Eurich:

    I admire japanese gardens , and I admire the work and magnitude of this one. It is beautiful but in a cold, hands off, non inter active way that leaves me cold . I fear that the virtual tour is almost as good as looking at it through the glass. I will go to other gardens that I will be allowed to walk through and smell and feel the intimacy of the gardeners efforts and thoughts. It is a museum concept applied to gardening…. conceptual long distance viewing, barred from beauty by barricades. Elitist too the core.

  6. From Antigonum Cajan:

    A garden, any in our residence, should be a place for relaxation, critical observation
    of what is going on. A HABITAT, in agreement
    with our surroundings, not an installation
    just for aesthetics, creating anxiety because this or that is not perfect and water waste.

    NO pruning for me except corrective, creates too much organic waste, same with turf and
    out of the subject, palms.
    Excellent article.