Archives For Ayse Pogue

Recently I had the amazing opportunity to spend two weeks in Kyoto, Japan, attending the Japanese Garden Intensive Seminar offered by the Research Center for Japanese Garden Art & Historical Heritage.

PHOTO: tea and a small treat.

A small treat prepares the palette for the sweet and astringent taste of sencha. The idea is to savor the flavor of the tea from the few drops served in these tiny cups.

The seminar began full force the day after I arrived in Kyoto after a 16-hour flight and a 14-hour time change. A sencha tea ceremony was very cleverly scheduled for our first day to combat the heavy jet lag we all felt. Ogawa Kashin founded the Ogawa school of sencha tea ceremony in Kyoto about 200 years ago. Kashin devised his own tea-brewing rituals and became celebrated as an original-minded tea master with modern ideals.

In the following days, we visited many gardens and temples and attended lectures. It’d be hard to mention every one of them in the space of this blog so I picked a few I found particularly impressive and transformative.

Kinkaku-ji Temple or Temple of the Golden Pavilion

PHOTO: The Golden Pavilion and its reflection.

The Golden Pavilion and its reflection

PHOTO: The Golden Pavilion surrounded by beautiful pines and the immaculate moss.

The Golden Pavilion surrounded by beautiful pines and the immaculate moss

PHOTO: The ancient pine at Kinkaku-Ji with branch supports.

The ancient pine at Kinkaku-ji with branch supports

PHOTO: The ancient pine at Kinkaku-Ji with branch supports.

Never sprayed, it only gets fed a little bit of mycorrhizae

PHOTO: Mr. Tamane sitting by the dry garden around the building where he offered us tea.

Tokushirou Tamane sitting by the dry garden around the building where he offered us tea

Registered as a World Cultural Heritage Site, the pavilion takes your breath away. Tokushirou Tamane, the 82-year-old head gardener, is equally extraordinary. He allowed us into paths closed to the general public to take in the views of the pavilion and the surrounding gardens from the best angles possible. The garden and the buildings, centered on the Golden Pavilion, represent the “pure land” of Buddha in this world.

Gonaitei Garden, Kyoto Imperial Palace

This garden is located at the living quarters of the emperor, the Otsunegoten, inside the Kyoto Imperial Palace. The building houses the imperial sleeping chamber and the room with the sacred sword and the seal. As the emperor’s private garden, it feels very intimate, with a meandering stream spanned by earthen and wooden bridges. Beautifully pruned pines and shrubs and charming accents carefully placed throughout the garden create a space where one can spend hours gazing at each detail.

PHOTO: Earthen and wood bridges in Gonaitei Garden.

Earthen and wooden bridges in Gonaitei Garden

PHOTO: A majestic Japanese white pine (Pinus parviflora).

A majestic Japanese white pine (Pinus parviflora)

PHOTO: A view into the stream is framed by plantings.

A view into the stream is framed by plantings

PHOTO: Japanese lantern.

Many types of lanterns adorn the garden…

PHOTO: Japanese lantern.

some in plain view…

PHOTO: Japanese lantern.

some hidden, to be discovered.

Ginkaku-ji Temple or The Silver Pavilion

Located in the foothills of the east side of Kyoto, this temple was established in 1482 by Ashikaga Yoshimasa. He intended to cover the pavilion in silver leaf. Although it was never plated with silver, the pavilion, an unpainted brown, looks over the flawlessly raked sand, Ginsyadan; and the white sand, Mt. Fuji-shaped Kongetsudai. 

PHOTO: The Silver Pavilion with a beautiful reflection.

The Silver Pavilion with a beautiful reflection

PHOTO: Ginsyadan and Kongetsudai are truly enchanting. The gardener in blue uniform in the center of the photo is sweeping the moss, a common sight at all the gardens I visited.

Ginsyadan and Kongetsudai are truly enchanting. The gardener in blue uniform in the center of the photo is sweeping the moss, a common sight at all the gardens I visited.

PHOTO: Mossy path up the hill at Ginkakuji.

The mossy path up the hill leads to…

PHOTO: A view of the city surrounding Ginkakuji.

magnificent views of Ginkaku-ji and the surrounding area.

Tofuku-ji Temple Hojo Garden

The Hojo (Abbot’s Hall) at Tofuku-ji Temple was rebuilt in 1890 and Shigemori Mirei, a famous garden designer, laid out the four gardens that surround the building. He combined tradition and abstractionism to create these contemporary Zen gardens.

PHOTO: The eastern garden of Tofuku-ji's Hojo, with the temple’s foundation pillars, and the western garden with square azalea shrubs which reflect an ancient Chinese way of land division

The eastern garden of Tofuku-ji’s Hojo, with the temple’s foundation pillars, and the western garden with square azalea shrubs, reflect an ancient Chinese way of land division.

PHOTO: The southern garden showcases a cluster of forceful rock groupings and moss covered mounds.

The southern garden showcases a cluster of forceful rock groupings and moss-covered mounds.

PHOTO: Visitors sitting quietly and gazing at the dry garden at Tofuku-ji.

Visitors sit quietly gazing out at the dry garden.

PHOTO: The northern garden uses foundation rocks and moss in an irregular checkered pattern.

My most favorite—the northern garden—uses foundation rocks and moss in an irregular checkered pattern.

PHOTO: The design, very minimalistic and modern, captures you as much as the southern dry garden with its giant rocks and mossy hills.

The design, very minimalistic and modern, captures visitors as much as the southern dry garden with its giant rocks and mossy hills.

The seminar also included a visit to a cloisonné museum, a stone cutter’s studio, and a trip to Ashu forest for an all-day garden-making workshop.

PHOTO: Kinzo Nishimura, a 4th generation stone lantern maker, designed the famous lantern at Kenroku-en.

Kinzo Nishimura, a fourth-generation stone lantern maker, designed the famous lantern at Kenroku-en.

PHOTO: Kinzo Nishimura in his workshop.

All lanterns at his workshop are chiseled by hand.

Seeing these world-famous gardens in person, attending lectures, and being immersed in a fascinating culture will make me a better and a more well-rounded Japanese gardener. I have a much better grasp now on certain features of my garden and why they became a part of the original design. I also loved Kyoto as a town, with its lush mountains always in view and ever-present water in the form of rivers, streams, and canals. I already have a list of gardens I will visit next time I’m in town.

PHOTO: Finished lanterns dwell between the forest and unworked stone in the foreground.

Finished lanterns dwell between the forest and unworked stone in the foreground.


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

In November, I had the unique opportunity to go to the Portland Japanese Garden for a week-long training session—and what a week it was!

I arrived in Portland in early November, having endured scarily bumpy plane rides and torrential rains. The next day the sun came out and I started my weeklong training at the Portland Japanese Garden. I spent the first day cleaning up needles and leaves from the beautiful moss that carpets the whole garden. I have difficulty growing it here in my moss garden, but in Portland, one gardener told me that moss will start to grow if you sit still for ten  minutes. The tools I used to rake and clean were very efficient, but at the same time gentle on the moss.

PHOTO: Bamboo rake, broom, and winnow.

Bamboo rake, broom, and winnow

PHOTO: Clearing leaf litter promotes moss growth.

Leaf litter should be removed on a regular basis for healthy moss growth.

The next few days were all about pine pruning. We began with a Japanese black pine (Pinus thunbergii), a native of the rocky, windswept coastlines of Japan. One of the two pines species most popular in a Japanese garden, the black pine is symbolic of the seashore and referred to as on-matsu (the male pine), because of masculine qualities perceived in the branching and needles. Although considered a tough species, this pine has soil nematode and fungal disease problems. It prefers free-draining, acidic soil and full sun to grow well. As these requirements imply, the black pine is not very suitable for our region.

PHOTO: Japanese black pine before pruning.

Japanese black pine before pruning

PHOTO: Japanese black pine after pruning.

Notice how its shape is restored and more light can reach the inside and lower branches of the tree after pruning.

In contrast to the Japanese black pine, the Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) favors our climate and is the tree most commonly planted at the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Elizabeth Hubert Malott Japanese Garden. I had a chance to prune one of the few Scots pines at the Portland Japanese Garden, and noticed how the environmental conditions affect growth patterns and the shape of a tree.

PHOTO: Pine pad in need of thinning and shaping.

The pad needs thinning and shaping.

PHOTO: After pruning, the pine pad has more air circulation and light penetration.

After pruning, the same pad has more air circulation and light penetration.

On my fourth day, I had the opportunity to learn how to build a bamboo fence with one of the expert gardeners. Fences and screens in Japanese gardens are primarily used to manipulate or block views, to form a perimeter, to partition garden areas, or to indicate a shift in garden elements, and to divide a garden into smaller thematic sections. The fence styles are numerous and diverse, utilizing almost exclusively natural materials: cut bamboo, wooden boards, and stones. Bamboo is by far the most popular choice of material due to its plentiful supply, texture, tonal qualities, and flexibility.

PHOTO: Building yotsume-gaki (tea garden fence).

Building yotsume-gaki, a tea garden fence

PHOTO: Tying ibo-musubi knots on the tea garden fence.

Vertical supports in place, it’s time to tie ibo-musubi knots in the time-honored way.

On my last day in Portland, I visited Lan Su Chinese Garden. In contrast to a Japanese Garden where the sanctity of nature is the defining principle, here terraces, doorways, and pavilions take precedence and frame vistas, while stone courtyards mark transition points between the architectural environment and nature.

PHOTO: Enclosed space at Portland Japanese Garden.

This garden gives a wonderful sense of enclosed outdoor space.

PHOTO: Japanese architecture in harmony with nature.

This skillful architecture testifies to the presence of mankind in nature.

Working alongside and learning from accomplished gardeners, visiting local gardens and nurseries, and exploring the city made my week in Portland so memorable. I can’t wait to go back and experience the same gardens in a different season!

Learn more about Japanese garden care that you may see in our own Garden, such as candling (done in spring and early summer), and willow pruning (a late fall/winter project). 


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org