Friday, February 8, 2013

Japanese Tea Garden - San Francisco


Stone Lantern

My family was in San Francisco for a weekend getaway last week.  Guess what places ranked high on the list of preferred destinations.  Gardens.  January is not the best time to see flowers but it is definitely a great time to see the bones that makes a beautiful landscape.   We toured most of the horticultural points of interest inside the Golden Gate Park.  One of the places we went to see was the Japanese Tea Garden, which is claimed to be the oldest public Japanese garden in the country.  

Stone statue

What is A Tea Garden anyway? Originally, a tea garden was intended to be a serene place to prepare the mind prior to entering the tea house.  In the tea house a tea ceremony (as taught by Sen no Rikyu) is performed.  By design, the tea garden avoids artificiality in an attempt to emphasize the natural appearance of the environment.  According to literature, the stone lantern, stepping stones, clusters of trees and shrubs, and gazebos that are incorporated in modern-day Japanese gardens have their origin in the tea garden.


The Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco successfully integrated all the mind-calming elements of a ceremonial garden.  Although they do not offer Tea Ceremonies at this time of the year, they offer an excellent selection of teas at the gazebo.  We tried some of their teas and enjoyed a tray of mochi.  However, with the number of tourists milling around, one can hardly experience the garden-inspired peace and meditation.  Thank goodness we were there for the aesthetics and not the spiritual experience.


Carefully trained trees

The lack of flowers forced me to focus on the characteristics of a Japanese.  I thought about the serene look of the garden and what contribute to all that.  A few things stuck out.  The garden mimics natural landscapes but presented in reduced scale.  The trees are severely clipped and controlled to regulate their size. That is why topiaries are prominent fixtures in Japanese gardens.   Stones, used to mimic larger things in nature, are spread throughout the garden.  I noticed that water is an essential element of the garden. Fountains, ponds, and miniature-falls bring coolness to the garden.


Metal and wood combined give a sense of strength on the gate..

Sound and motion from water fountains contribute to the calming effect of the garden.

Stone-trough and rocks give the impression of permanence while mimicking views of boulders and ponds. 

Intricate details on buildings add elegance to natural construction materials.

Stepping stones suggest a regulated walk in the garden - allowing time to appreciate the surroundings.

Still waters multiply the effects of the garden elements.


Gardens that are mature are a great source of inspiration.  Take the time to stroll them.  

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