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Judy Isacoff
Branches of a ginkgo tree mirror the architecture of the turned-up eaves of the adjacent pagoda.

NATURE’S TURN: Japanese Tea Garden – natural materials, native ingenuity

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By Monday, Jan 14, 2019 Farm and Table 2

January 14 – 27,  2019

“I first worked at a flower shop and thought it would be nice to work with plants that have roots.” — anonymous gardener

Mount Washington — Rustic, noble, fanciful and formal, the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California, reflects over a century of the gardener’s hand, eye and heart. Nature and tradition are melded through the creativity and collaboration of designers and builders. The garden has its origins in the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition, a world’s fair. At the close of the fair, what had been a “Japanese Village” exhibit, became the Japanese Tea Garden, developed as the life’s work of Makoto Hagiwara, who is variously described as a Japanese landscape architect or successful businessman. It seems evident that he functioned as both. It has been three-quarters of a century since the Hagiwaras were in charge of the garden, which is now under the supervision of Golden Gate Park.

Inventive bent bamboo arches protect new plantings. Photo: Judy Isacoff

I visited in November, delighted – in wonderment – to stroll the winding, rolling paths through the exotic, intensively designed and cultivated landscape. I recognized plant families common to ours in the Northeast, or introduced here as there. In the photographs, you’ll find gardening and landscaping tips I brought back, as well as the charm of the gardens and architectural features.

Minimalist, single bamboo rail functions as unobtrusive barrier in front of raked rock garden. Photo: Judy Isacoff

For brevity, a description of the garden from the Golden Gate Park website follows:

“The garden’s lush, harmonious landscaping pays homage to the traditional Japanese art of the garden. Paths wind through its three and one half acres of carefully chosen and manicured plants, including graceful Japanese maples, twisting pines, clipped azaleas, and cherry trees that put on a spectacular flowering display in March and April. The grounds also feature a series of koi ponds, elaborately carved wood gates, many stone lanterns, a hundred year old five-story pagoda, a karesansui dry garden constructed of stones and gravel, a teahouse, gift shop and a high-arching Drum Bridge (a joy for children and adults).”*

Barrel or Moon Bridge over a water feature. Photo: Eshkie Zachai

Resources and Opportunities to Participate

Japanese Tea Garden, San Francisco, California

Feb. 2, 2 p.m., advance registration for Berkshire Botanical Garden annual lecture

The author as samurai. Note the design of the balustrade. Photo: Eshkie Zachai

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2 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Lauren says:

    Judy, I love your gardening articles! Regarding the caption of your photo of the pagoda and ginko I take the opposite view-the pagoda architecture mirrors the form of the tree!

    1. Judy Isacoff says:

      Your note is thought-provoking, Lauren, thank you! Not only do we pause to connect with the architect of the original pagoda, we pause to ponder nature as the source of inspiration. And then we are all the more grateful for exposure to the arts and crafts of all time and all peoples.

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