Museum gardener Erin Holden just completed a multi-week training on Japanese gardening technique and philosophy in Portland, Oregon. Read below to find out more about what she learned.
For the last half of July I was lucky enough to attend the Waza to Kokoro: Hands & Heart Japanese garden seminar at the International Japanese Garden Training Center in the Portland Japanese Garden in Oregon. This was an intense, eleven-day training that combined experiential cultural instruction, lectures, and hands-on learning to pass on not only traditional Japanese gardening techniques, but also the heart and soul that underlies the design and stewardship of Japanese gardens.
Lectures on the principles of the Japanese tea ceremony – wa (harmony), kei (respect), sei (purity), and jaku (tranquility) – were reinforced by a visit to the Garden’s tea house, where we got to walk through the roji (tea garden) and witness a tea ceremony led by the staff. A professional gardener visiting from Japan demonstrated how to split fresh bamboo and tie knots to build bamboo fences, we participated in a master class on maple pruning at a local nursery, and spent four days at a stone yard designing and constructing a nobedan and tsukubai – the stone pathway and water basin arrangement that are key elements in a roji.
As if all that weren’t enough, there was the Portland Japanese Garden itself – everywhere I turned I saw a technique or idea that I couldn’t wait to incorporate into the Bonsai Museum’s gardens. The most immediate element I plan to add are traditional Japanese bamboo fences, both to impart a feeling of authenticity and as an aesthetically pleasing way to protect the garden beds. I also received advice from other professional Japanese gardeners on how to include the design principles of simplicity and enclosure to improve specific areas of the garden, and visually unify them with the collection as a whole.
This was only the tip of the iceberg, and I’m still processing all I learned so that I can best foster the gardens at the Bonsai Museum, all the while keeping wa, kei, sei, and jaku as the guiding principles in my approach.