Dating back 1,500 years, the art of the Japanese garden continues to grow in popularity in the West. Today, there are hundreds of major public Japanese gardens in North America, and scores of smaller public gardens, along with many privately owned spaces, large and small.
This summer, Curiosity Camp participants will have the opportunity to learn more about the history and fundamental principles of this revered art form, as well as see how Japanese-style gardening is adaptable to many environments, including the Minnesota climate. Evoking Nature: The Aesthetics of Japanese-Style Gardens, takes place July 13.
Among the instructors for the camp is internationally celebrated landscape artist David Slawson. As Slawson explains, behind the timelessness of these "paintings with rocks, soil, plants, and water," and what attracts people to them "is the way they recreate the essence of the beauty found in nature. This beauty resonates across boundaries of time and culture because the Japanese sought to communicate what they felt in nature through art, and so developed design principles over centuries of trial and error that tuned into universals of human perception and the natural world."
The day will begin with a discussion and premiere screening of Slawson's DVD, Evoking American Landscape: Garden Art that Restores Land and Spirit, which illustrates "how the design process works, by starting from feelings we have when inspired by a landscape in nature, then finding ways to fit it to the site," Slawson explains.
After the screening, Sensei Yoshie Suzuki Babcock will give a presentation about ikebana, the traditional Japanese way of arranging flowers. With its origins in Shinto--arrangements were made as shrine offerings--ikebana is considered "not just purely a work of art, [but also] a manifestation of reality which can be presented in a simple but very spacious fashion," says Babcock.
The form shares many of the same principles with Japanese garden design, including the use of relationships within nature and space; the creation of a work that fits the environment; and the expression of the designer's emotion and character.
A master teacher in Ikebana, Babcock will discuss the history and practice of the art, and show how tools and vases are used to create arrangements that highlight different ikebana styles.
The Camp will continue with visits to three gardens--all of which make use of different aesthetics. First, campers will visit a small, residential garden, whose owner will share how she used the principles of Japanese gardens to create her own private oasis.
Next, Camp participants will visit the Peace Garden at Lyndale Park, where artists Gerald Allan and Kinji Akagawa will discuss their collaborative work, the Peace Bridge.
Akagawa, a 2007 McKnight Distinguished Artist, says, "Japanese gardens are designed to be a part of the everyday living area. Thus, the ideas for [them] include sky, wind, water, fire, stone, plants and trees, day and night, and the four seasons. All of these elements [appeal] to our senses of timelessness."
A native of Japan, Akagawa is particularly drawn to the "quiet simplicity" of Japanese-style gardens, and finds them to be a reflection on his personal design philosophy--an embodiment of the "coexistence and interdependence of human existence and nature. I am hoping," he says, "that the Camp participants tour the gardens, and take away the peacefulness experienced in Japanese haiku poems."
That sense of peacefulness, of "suchness" as Slawson puts it, is a key tenet in designing a garden. "When designing a garden for a given site, start with what you love, the kind of landscape that you feel totally relaxed in and transported by," Slawson says. "Then consider the assets of your site and how you can weave the landscape you love into that space so it feels at home."
Adhering to what he calls the Accord Triangle, the designer of a garden can draw inspiration for the design from: "One, the nature of the site and surroundings; two, the [individual's] nature and wishes for the garden; and, three, the nature of locally available materials, especially rocks and plants."
These design tenets allow for a "kind of universality...Each climate and culture has its own reason for being, its own beauty, its own 'suchness,'" Slawson says.
That is the key takeaway, he feels, for the Camp as a whole. Slawson hopes that campers will "be inspired to honor their experiences and what brings them peace and joy...[and] will see how flexible this art form is, and that it responds to local landscape, culture, and human needs."
Evoking Nature: The Aesthetics of Japanese Gardens will be held July 13. Register online or by calling 612-624-4000.