Botanica Spring Garden (Japan)

Clive Blazey visits Japan for the Botanica Spring Garden tour

Bamboo grove in Kyoto

Penny and I were delighted to be invited on a Botanica Spring Garden tour of Japan this year and I for one was pleased that we arrived after all the gaudy pink cherry blossoms had blown away.

The night we arrived at our Tokyo Hotel, so did John Patrick (ABC Gardening) and Graham Ross (BHG) who were both leading tours. John confessed that this was his 30th visit and now, after my first trip, I know why.

The Japanese, who may have been our enemies in World War II, are the most polite, friendly and considerate hosts I have encountered.

At one stage as we were walking along a beautiful part of Kyoto in just a little drizzle, an anxious lady, who we had never met, rushed out of her house to offer an umbrella. How could she know we would return it?

I shall never forget the most memorable comment I ever heard about Japanese gardens which was uttered by a Japanese diplomat after strolling through a so called Japanese garden in Britain.

When asked what he thought of it he replied “We have nothing like it in Japan!" So beware those who copy foreign cultural traditions without understanding their context.

Japan has an island culture full of surprises

Two thirds of Japan is covered in forest which is more than any other advanced country and because most of its population is densely packed into urban Tokyo and other cities, there was wilderness and idyllic rural settlements to immerse ourselves in everywhere we went.

Our boat trip started on the North coast at Kanazawa, travelling west so that we avoided all the densely populated cities until we reached Kyoto via Nagasaki. At each port along the north coast we were welcomed by the Mayor and musicians, performers and school children, somewhat reminiscent of our much heralded Olympians. Could a welcome be more generous?

Whereas our garden senses crave flowers and colour, Japanese gardens capture the beauty of nature interpreted through their philosophy and religion consistently since the spread of Buddhism 1500 years ago. Japanese garden traditions seem steadfast against the West’s continual obsession with flowers.

Enjoying Japanese gardens

Gardens are miniature idealised landscapes familiar to all Japanese. They capture the beauty of nature in a setting surrounding a temple, tea house, Emperor's or Shogun's palace to facilitate contemplation and meditation. Rugged peaks, narrow valleys, mountain streams and lakes are represented by water, rocks, gravel, sand and bridges. These elements are followed in tiny urban backyards. Showy flowers detract from these traditions except for the Cherry blossoms in spring. Trees and shrubs like Azaleas are expertly pruned, removing their gaudy flowers, and trees such as the Japanese Maple are valued for their autumn colour.

Japan has a climate as hot and humid in summer as Darwin and as cold in winter as Mt Kosciusko.

Travelling with Botanica

The Diggers Club and I have worked as partners with Judy Vanrenen's Botanica Travel for almost 20 years and have seen it grow into a highly professional and internationally respected organisation. Penny and I thoroughly enjoyed the inaugural Amsterdam to Budapest Rhine river cruise and visiting Japanese gardens and temples by boat along the coastline. With great food, great wine and new friends on every trip, we unhesitatingly recommend Botanica to gardeners.

Diggers Botanical Guide Talei Kennon will be leading Gardens of California & Canada with the Rocky Mointaineer Train in 2017. Meet both Talei and Judy on Tuesday 15th November 2016 for Morning tea at Heronswood in Dromana to learn more about this exciting trip, register HERE

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Clive Blazey

Clive is the founder of The Diggers Club, a pioneer in the rescue of heirloom vegetable and fruit varieties and author of seven books on flower, vegetable and fruit gardening.

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