In Monty Don’s Japanese Gardens episode 1: Monty Don travels to Japan in spring. Amidst the cherry blossoms, he begins his journey through the iconic gardens of Japan. He visits one of ‘the three great gardens of Japan’ and the earliest surviving boating garden of the Heian period. He looks at the rolling green moss of a Buddhist garden and learns the secrets of creating a Zen landscape before visiting an unconventional garden created by a modern garden design legend.
Monty continues his travels to learn about the art of Japanese stone masonry and the famous tea ceremonies and their accompanying gardens. Before finally taking a lesson in the delicate art of traditional flower arranging – which turns out to be harder than it looks.
Monty Don’s Japanese Gardens episode 1
Gardens of the Heian period
In 794, at the beginning of the Heian Period, the Japanese court moved its capital to Heian-kyō (present-day Kyoto). During this period, there were three different kinds of gardens; palace gardens and the gardens of nobles in the capital; the gardens of villas at the edge of the city; and the gardens of temples.
The architecture of the palaces, residences and gardens in the Heian period followed Chinese practice. Houses and gardens were aligned on a north-south axis, with the residence to the north and the ceremonial buildings and main garden to the south. The gardens featured one or more lakes connected by bridges and winding streams.
The south garden of the imperial residences had a specially Japanese feature; a large empty area of white sand or gravel. The Emperor was the chief priest of Japan, and the white sand represented purity, and was a place where the gods could be invited to visit. The area was used for religious ceremonies, and dances for the welcoming of the gods.
Japanese rock garden (zen garden)
The Japanese rock garden or “dry landscape” garden, often called a zen garden, creates a miniature stylized landscape through carefully composed arrangements of rocks, water features, moss, pruned trees and bushes, and uses gravel or sand that is raked to represent ripples in water. A zen garden is usually relatively small, surrounded by a wall, and is usually meant to be seen while seated from a single viewpoint outside the garden, such as the porch of the hojo, the residence of the chief monk of the temple or monastery. Classical zen gardens were created at temples of Zen Buddhism in Kyoto during the Muromachi period. They were intended to imitate the intimate essence of nature, not its actual appearance, and to serve as an aid to meditation about the true meaning of life.