July 28th, 2007
Tatton Park: The Japanese Garden

Tatton Park Japanese Garden
The sunlight illuminates all the various shades and textures of green in the Japanese Garden at Tatton Park.

Japan is my adopted second culture and yet I’ve never had a desire to replicate a Japanese garden in my own yard. When most people think of a Japanese garden, they conjure up visions of the great temple gardens, or the gardens of the Imperial Palace, or the tea gardens of wealthy manors of old. Mimicking those gardens in a backyard in Texas seems as eccentric as building a miniature garden of Versailles. Would I put a Shinto shrine in my garden? Why not a mini Stonehenge?

Tioram Castle
NIMBY. Stone circle on beach in front of Castle Tioram, Scotland

And that’s the key to how I feel about Japanese gardens outside Japan. They are examples of a style, museum pieces rather than livable gardens. We could argue that the Italian garden was an example too. I think the difference is that I can walk through the Italian garden, sit in it and read, dangle my fingers in the fountain. It’s comfortable and inviting. The Japanese garden seems reserved and distant.

Of course, Tatton Park is not my little back yard and the Egertons had enough space (about the size of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco) to work with. Choosing to create examples of different types of gardens was a great idea–especially for those of us on a visit. It’s almost like shopping at the mall. “Are you in the mood for Italian or Japanese tonight, dear?” “Oh, let’s just sit in the fernery.”

The Japanese Garden at Tatton Park has been restored just recently and is considered to be one of the finest examples of its kind in the UK. It’s sited in what looks like a little gully with a stream running through it to a large lily pond. Lots of moss grows here, too. The combination enables you to imagine a little bit of the steep and rocky terrain of Japan here in the fine grassy plains of Cheshire.

Tatton Park Japanese Garden

Many plants found in Japan grow here. They seem larger and a bit wilder than their clipped counterparts in a formal garden in Japan. The feeling I got was of stumbling across some forgotten teahouse hidden in a mountain forest. Part of me wanted to go inside. (Due to the fragility of the garden, one is not allowed to walk through it.) But part of me didn’t need the signposts or chains to make me hesitate…to sense that this is a sacred space that one doesn’t intrude on casually.

by M Sinclair Stevens

2 Responses to post “Tatton Park: The Japanese Garden”

  1. From Kate (Canada):

    You make some excellent points about trying to replicate a particular garden style where it would just seem out of place. Tatton Park must have been a wonderful place to visit. I read the link that you included … thankfully it has been restored.

  2. From Steve Mudge (Fort Worth):

    The idea of Japanese garden design is to incorporate your surrounding environment and use local plants and materials into an aesthetic relationship. So, Japanese Maples, Bamboo, Black Pines, etc. are perfectly at home in a garden in Japan…but as you state, look more like museum caricatures here in Texas.

    The true spirit of a Japanese garden would be to use our native Texas plants and rocks and timber into a design which evokes the beauty of where we are. Pond Cypress instead of Black Pine, one of the Tallgrass Prairie plants instead of Bamboo, Dogwood or some of the smaller Oaks perhaps instead of Japanese Maples.

    Steve, thanks for articulating what I have always felt. Although I don’t want a traditional Japanese garden, I do think it’s possible to interpret many of the same design idea. with native plants and attention to the local terrain. For example, part my own garden is designed to be seen from “viewing windows” in the house, another as a “strolling garden”. Japanese gardens also make excellent use of negative space. As you say, they use native materials (bamboo) for their fences and trellis and (great for those of us with similarly rocky yards) incorporate stone in natural and sculpted form. I think to borrow designs successfully one has to dig deeper into the underlying concepts and not just mimic the ornamentation. — mss