Throughout my life I’ve been lucky enough to go to a few Japanese gardens. I’ve also been unspeakably lucky enough to go to a Japanese garden that was actually in Japan, so I feel that I’m able to make comparisons between the two. But is there a comparison to make? Can an imitation of Japanese horticulture compare to the original? Or should you be looking for your nearest Japanese style garden for your own dose of serenity? Here are my experiences of far east garde
Right around the corner from where I used to live is the St Mawgan Japanese garden and bonsai nursery. It’s a carefully maintained garden right in the heart of Cornwall but it’s honestly as though you’ve stepped into the far east almost immediately. This is possibly aided by the fact that there are no main roads nearby (though there is an airport, which occasionally introduces some interesting background sounds) but is a testament to the care given to the garden.
It was sunny when I visited, having rained just the day before, so the gardens were incredibly green. There is beautiful foliage the moment you enter, including shrines and decorative paths, almost every plant and tree is authentic. If anything, I loved the occasional moments that reminded me I was in the UK. There’s a large oak tree that they have either not been able to get rid of or have decided to keep. The juxtaposition of an oak tree slap-bang in the middle of a Japanese Garden is awesome to see. There was also a moment where I wandered off the beaten track and found myself amongst British plants again, I think it was then that I realised how big the difference was. It felt good to get back to the oriental.
Distinctive Japanese plant life, such as maple leaves and bamboo, do a great job of setting the tone, as well as piecing together the different elements that make up the complete garden walk.
The central piece of the garden is a lovely water feature, filled with koi carp and a small waterfall. There is also a small zen garden, with raked sand. Most of the key features of a Japanese garden are all here
And at the end you get to wander around and look at an extensive collection of bonsai trees that you will most likely kill the moment you take the home. This is a shame because dammit if they aren’t the cutest things! For some people, having a shop so prominently placed at the end of the garden might remove from the authenticity of the experience but I don’t feel like they’re forcing you to make a purchase. I mean, if you’re going to sell bonsai trees then taking the time to create an authentic Japanese garden is an amazing way to promote yourself. It’s less than a fiver to get in, I’d really recommend it if you’re ever in the area.
There are some critical differences when it comes to a real stately garden in Japan. The most obvious of these is the size; Japanese Gardens are huge and intricate. Decades and decades of work have been poured into the landscaping of these gardens and you can detect every ounce of it. They feel wonderfully expansive, with the trees being far more spread out and controlled than the garden at St Mawgan. I think the St Mawgan garden is actually aiming to create a hybrid of carefully coiffed Japanese style mixed with the forests that we can so easily visit. They both have their charms.
The trees in Japan have also had hundreds of years to grow, meaning that they are far more impressive to look at. There was a huge tree at one of the gardens we visited that was originally a bonsai tree that was left untended and grew out of control (according to legend). Honestly I can’t picture a bonsai tree being so resilient but it was a lovely legend, and entirely believable due to the nature of the tree. The statues are also staggeringly impressive, like the buddha statue pictured to the left. There were many shines and statues, beautiful and picturesque. Obviously you’re not going to find grand Japanese statues at an imitation garden in Cornwall, it would be unfair to expect them. These ancient examples of grand architecture are something you can only find in the country of their birth. In many ways, a real Japanese garden can only ever be found in Japan.
The gardens at Mawgan are different from the grand and large scale gardens of the original country they take their inspiration from. That doesn’t make them any less beautiful and there is something wonderfully British about the clustered Japanese style forest that you can visit in Cornwall. So, if you can’t afford a ticket to Japan (or, frankly, the 12 hour fly time is unappealing) have a look and see if there are any English interpretations closer to home.Japanese Gardens in the UK and Japan Throughout my life I’ve been lucky enough to go to a few Japanese gardens. I’ve also been unspeakably lucky enough to go to a Japanese garden that was actually in Japan, so I feel that I’m able to make comparisons between the two.
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