Archive for the ‘Japan’ Category

Nymans in June

August 2, 2012

The topiary crowns and the Verona marble fountain in the Wall Garden at Nymans. ©National Trust Images/Clive Nichols

These images are from a recent photoshoot by Clive Nichols at Nymans, in West Sussex. Nymans is a grand and yet intimate Edwardian garden which has continued to evolve up to the present day.

A Japanese stone lantern appearing beyond a bank of santolina. ©National Trust Images/Clive Nichols

The garden was started by Ludwig Messel, a succesful stockbroker who had come to Britain from Germany and who bought Nymans in 1890. With the help of his expert head gardener, James Comber, and encouraged by other notable gardeners in the area such as Sir Edmund Loder  and William Robinson, he began to create an extensive garden full of rare trees and shrubs.

One of the views outwards into the countryside from Nymans. ©National Trust Images/Clive Nichols

Features from Ludwig Messel’s day include the pinetum, the rock garden, the heather garden, a Japanese-style pergola and stone lanterns, a lime avenue, a prospect platform and an enclosed Wall Garden. Exotic species such as magnolias and rhododendrons were introduced, many coming from plant-hunting expeditions in east Asia.

Yew hedge near the house, nicknamed ‘the Toblerone hedge’ by the current gardeners. ©National Trust Images/Clive Nichols

Ludwig’s son Leonard Messel and his wife Maud had the house at Nymans rebuilt in the 1920s in medieval manor house style. Maud created the rose garden and Leonard continued to add botanical rarities to the garden, many of which subsequently won prizes at Royal Horticultural Society shows.

The Forecourt. ©National Trust Images/Clive Nichols

Disaster struck in February 1947 when the house burned down, destroying the important botanical library. Some parts of the house remained inhabited, but others were left ruinous as a romantic garden feature.

View across the lawn to the picturesque ruins. ©National Trust Images/Clive Nichols

Nymans came to the National Trust following Leonard Messel’s death in 1953. His daughter Anne, Countess of Rosse, continued the family’s involvement, working with head gardener Cecil Nice. More Chinese plants came to Nymans through an exchange programme with the Ross family seat Birr Castle, in Co. Offaly, Ireland.

The dovecote. ©National Trust Images/Clive Nichols

The great storm of 15-16 October 1987 wreaked havoc at Nymans on its hilltop site, destroying many trees. But this disaster did also allow the new head gardener David Masters to rejuvenate the garden by opening up views and bringing in more light.

Hedge regularly clipped by Alistair Buchanan, which has almost come to resemble a Henry Moore sculpture. ©National Trust Images/Clive Nichols

Following Lady Rosse’s death in 1992 Ludwig Messel’s great-grandson Alistair Buchanan has been the family representative at Nymans. The current head gardener, Ed Ikin, has continued the tradition of innovation by introducing new species and successfully experimenting with a reduced watering regime in summer which encourages root growth. He recently published a book entitled Thoughtful Gardening on how to garden in harmony with nature.


March 23, 2011

A typical Japanese garden depicted on a typical Japanese lunchbox? Lacquer bento box at Snowshill Manor, Gloucestershire. ©NTPL/Stuart Cox

The recent disastrous events in Japan have exposed some lingering preconceptions in the West. In covering the earthquake and its aftermath, western media have often reverted to stereotypes of the Japanese as being impassive, unfailingly courteous and always prioritizing the group over the individual.

An English conception of a Japanese garden? The Japanese Garden at Kingston Lacy, Dorset. ©NTPL/Mark Bolton

As Professors Ivo Smits and Kasia Cwiertka of Leiden University point out, these preconceptions go back to anthropological studies from the 1940s, when it was common to emphasize the ‘otherness’ of the Japanese. For those who read Dutch their comments can be found here.

A Japanese conception of an English garden? Hill Top, Cumbria. ©NTPL/Stephen Robson

Smits and Cwiertka remind us that Japan is one of the most modern societies on the planet and that the lifestyle of its inhabitants is very similar to our own. Furthermore, Japan is continuously changing, just like any other society, and we should take care not to judge it with outdated models.

A typical English interior? The Entrance Hall at Hill Top, Cumbria. ©NTPL/Geoffrey Frosh

The images of the British drinking tea out of bone china teacups, wearing bowler hats and carrying tightly furled umbellas similarly date from the first half of the twentieth century. To preserve and study the past is vitally important, of course, but at the same time we should not forget that we live in an ever-changing present.

Beauty in times of tragedy

March 16, 2011

Janet Blyberg has just published a post showing a few images of quiet Japanese back streets and temple precincts, which through their very beauty commemorate the devastation recently wrought in Japan.

Janet’s images also brought to my mind the emphatic cawing of the large Japanese crows which you can often find congregating in such places. Yesterday I heard them again in some of the footage of the destroyed towns of Miyagi prefecture – formerly bustling ports, now as quiet as a temple compound.

Is the sound of the crows beautiful, or is it awful? Perhaps all I can say is that it moves me.

That is probably why, in a country that has been subject to the whims of nature for milennia, people are moved by falling cherry blossoms: not so much because they are pretty, but because they are falling.

Postmodern porcelain

September 17, 2010

Set of six blue and white Cola bottles by Taikkun Li, porcelain, 22.9 cm high. ©Pagoda Red

The Style Court blog recently featured these blue and white Cola bottles by Chinese artist Taikkun Li, available via Pagoda Red. They are a rather wonderful hybrid of modern global branding and traditional Chinese ceramic design.

Pair of Chinese gourd-shaped vases, porcelain, c 1635-40, at Ickworth House, Suffolk. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Their outline is vaguely reminiscent of a gourd-shaped vase, a traditional East Asian ceramic shape.

Baroque-style display of ceramics in the State Dressing Room at Beningbrough Hall, North Yorkshire. ©NTPL/J. Whitaker

Courtney Barnes of Style Court also alerted me to a quote by Taikkun Li, who says on his own website

The modern mind has lost all capacity to wonder. It has lost all capacity to look into the mysterious, into the miraculous – because of knowledge, because it thinks it knows.

East Asian ceramics on a late seventeenth-century Antwerp cabinet at Belton House, Lincolnshire. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

I slightly disagree with him: I think his own work proves how we can recapture a sense of wonder, if we try hard enough.

Oak court cupboard with blue and white ceramics in the Music Room at Gunby Hall, Lincolnshire. ©NTPL/Nadia Mackenzie

Wouldn’t it be marvellous if we could insert some of Taikkun Li’s bottles among the ceramics on display at a historic house? They would look right at home, I think.

Fireplace in the Acanthus Room at Wightwick Manor, Wolverhampton, West Midlands. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

They would fit into a Baroque setting, as part of a massed display of blue and white. But they would also work in an Arts and Crafts interior, on an oak shelf against some Morris fabric or wallpaper. Perhaps an idea for the National Trust’s contemporary arts programme?

Fact and fiction

September 13, 2010

Detail of a mid-nineteenth-century Japanese lacquer table. ©Rose Uniacke

In response to an earlier discussion about East Asian lacquer Guy Tobin of Rose Uniacke very kindly sent me these images of a Japanese lacquer table. It shows the amazing verisimilitude achieved by the lacquer craftsmen in reproducing various plants.

The entire tabletop (181 x 91 cm). ©Rose Uniacke

One element of fiction – I suspect – is that these plants don’t all look like this at exactly the same time. I don’t know enough about Japanese plants to be able to confirm that, but perhaps one of you can enlighten us?

Still-life by Jan Frans van Dael (1764-1840), at Blickling Hall, Norfolk. ©NTPL/John Hammond

However, even the hyper-realist Dutch still-life painters used that conceipt of collapsing all the seasons into one perfect moment.

©Rose Uniacke

Another rather theatrical touch is the scattering of the plants pell-mell against a black background. This has its origins in the Japanese Rimpa style, where realistically depicted trees and plants are often set against semi-abstract gold or silver grounds.

Detail of Chinese wallpaper in the Dressing Room at Nostell Priory, West Yorkshire. ©NTPL/J. Whitaker

This Japanese realistic tradition is mirrored by the detailed and lifelike quality of Chinese wallpaper.

Early eighteenth-century English Japanned bureau and chairs set against Chinese wallpaper, in the State Bedroom at Erddig, Wrexham. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

To eighteenth-century Europeans, any East Asian artefact looked ‘fictional’, however realistically it was made. To them it was entirely logical to combine Chinese and Japanese products with European chinoiserie objects.

The trick for us now is to unlearn our more advanced awareness of East Asian cultures, and to see these mixed ensembles in all their hybrid wonder.

A Japanese garden in Cheshire

August 23, 2010

The Japanese garden at Tatton Park, with a ‘flying goose’ bridge crossing a stream near the tea house. The metal cranes, though Japanese, were particularly popular among westerners in the Edwardian era. ©NTPL/Stephen Robson

My recent attendance at the ‘eastern’-themed Ashridge Garden History Summer Course has inspired me to feature the Japanese garden at Tatton Park, Cheshire.

Cover of the guidebook to the Japan-British Exhibition. Image: Wikimedia Commons

The garden was inspired by the Japan-British exhibition held at White City in London in 1910. Japan was keen to emphasize its status as an emerging power, and the exhibition in London was partly intended to cement the strong commercial and military ties with Britain.

Miniature mountains, such as this snow-capped ‘Mt Fuji’, and stone lanterns were two more traditional Japanese design elements that were used more in the west than they would have been in Japan. ©NTPL/Stephen Robson

The exhibiton showed many aspects of Japanese manufacturing, society and culture, including gardens constructed with materials brought over for the occasion. This seems to have stimulated the creation of a number of relatively authentic Japanese gardens in Britain.

A pocket-handkerchief tree (Davidia Involucrata) in the Japanese garden at Tatton. ©NTPL/Stephen Robson

Following the exhibition Allan de Tatton Egerton, third Baron Egerton, commissioned his own Japanese garden and had a Japanese team brought over with plants and materials to construct it at Tatton.

The Shinto shrine seen from the tea house. ©NTPL/Stephen Robson

It includes a Shinto shrine and a tea house. Parts of the garden are based on the Japanese stroll garden, where the visitor is carefully guided past a variety of framed views.

The tea house. ©NTPL/Stephen Robson

The garden also contains elements of the traditonal Japanese tea garden, which is self-consciously ‘rustic’ and is designed to heighten the guest’s anticipation as he or she follows a convoluted route towards a tea pavilion.

©NTPL/Stephen Robson

Paths and bridges are deliberately designed to slow the visitor down and to create an awareness of one’s surroundings. The artifice in Japanese gardens is intended to bring out the essential nature of the plants and rocks – something reminiscent of the western concept of the ‘genius of the place’.

©NTPL/Stephen Robson

Tatton Park was bequeathed to the National Trust by the last Lord Egerton in 1958 and is managed by Cheshire East Council. The Japanese garden was restored in 2000-2001, once again with advice from Japanese experts.

Plants as works of art

August 9, 2010

The Wall Garden at Nymans. ©NTPL/Stephen Robson

Another place I recently visited on the Ashridge Garden History Summer School is Nymans, in West Sussex. Nymans is an amazing garden created by several generations of the Messel family from the 1890s onwards.

A corner of the Croquet Lawn, with conifers and a Japanese lantern. ©Emile de Bruijn

Ludwig Messel, who had been born into a German Jewish family of traders and bankers, moved to England in 1868. His stockbroking business flourished and after a while he began to look round for a suitable country house. The railways had opened up Sussex and Kent, making this something of a ‘stockbroker belt’.

A fruit on one of the exotic trees - I was told what it was, but I have a terrible memory for plant names... ©Emile de Bruijn

Ludwig Messel bought Nymans in 1890 and began creating a garden, spurred on by the development of other nearby gardens such as Leonardslee, Gravetye Manor, Wakehurst Place and Sheffield Park. Nymans soon became a treasure trove of East Asian trees and shrubs. 

The neo-Medieval manor house as rebuilt for Leonard and Maud Messel. ©Emile de Bruijn

Ludwig’s son Leonard Messel and his wife Maud continued to enrich the garden, adding plants from Tasmania and the Andes and creating numerous prize-winning hybrid rhododendrons, magnolias and camellias.

The dovecote and the 'Toblerone' hedge next to the house. ©NTPL/John Miller

Leonard Messel bequeathed the garden to the National Trust in 1953. His daughter Anne, Lady Rosse, continued to be involved in the management of the garden. Nymans was one of the first properties to be acquired by the National Trust purely for the importance of its garden.

Baroque-style monogram seat. ©Emile de Bruijn

Alastair Buchanan, the current family representative, gave us a fascinating and entertaining talk about the history of the Messel family, including uncanny vocal imitations of past Nymans head gardeners and of Lady Rosse. The latter was apparently never concerned about the inequality between men and women, because it never occurred to her that any man could be her equal.

One of the sculptural topiary hedges. ©Emile de Bruijn

One of Alastair Buchanan’s contributions is clipping some of the sculptural yew hedges. Originally they were cloud-shaped, but they have now evolved into almost Henry-Moore-like compositions.

A fellow summer school student mentioned that she found the layout of the garden a bit confusing. The reason for that is probably that the garden grew piecemeal, as the collection of plants increased –  Nymans is a bit like the Wallace Collection in that respect, a collector’s paradise, crammed full of treasures. 

The Wall Garden. ©Emile de Bruijn

Ed Ikin, the current head gardener, who kindly took the time to show us round, has been trialling a tougher watering regime for the ornamental borders. Summer watering is now only done once a month. The plants have  adapted their root systems and leaf sizes accordingly, and the borders seem to look as lush as ever, even in this extremely dry summer.

Ed Ikin, head gardener at Nymans. ©NTPL/John Millar

Ed has just published a book called Thoughtful Gardening, with practical advice on how to garden in harmony with nature.

Through Japanese eyes

April 29, 2010

Lindisfarne Castle in the snow, by Takumasa Ono. ©NTPL/Takusama Ono

Takumasa Ono is an artist working in two traditions.

View of Mt Fuji from downtown Edo, by Ando Hiroshige (1797-1858), at Cragside, Northumberland. ©NTPL/Derrick E. Witty

On the one hand his work is reminiscent of the ukiyo-e school of Japanese printmaking, with its dramatic perspectives, striking silhouettes, and sensitivity to the seasons.

Belton House, by Takumasa Ono. ©NTPL/Takusama Ono

On the other hand his pictures remind one of the British tradition of country house views, showing the house as the focal point of the landscape.

Belton House, English School, c. 1720. Acquired with the help of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, 1984. ©NTPL/John Hammond

For a number of years now Mr Ono has been travelling around Britain making ‘portrait’s of National Trust properties. Each picture is a highly personal take on a particular place.

Woolsthorpe Manor (Isaac Newton's birthplace), by Takumasa Ono. ©NTPL/Takumasa Ono

Mr Ono is almost like one of those eighteenth century travellers seeking out picturesque views to sketch and paint.

A garden in spring, by Ando Hiroshige (1797-1858), at Cragside, Northumberland. ©NTPL/Derrick E. Witty

But instead of using a Claude glass to give a classical tinge to the view, he brings a subtle Japanese perspective to the image. In Japan, too, there was a tradition of making pictures of ‘famous places’.

Lyme Park in the snow, by Takumasa Ono. ©NTPL/Takumasa Ono

This year Mr Ono will be showing his work at the following National Trust properties:

  • 30 April – 18 May: Ickworth House (Suffolk)
  • 28 May – 13 June: Dinefwr Park and Castle (Carmarthenshire)
  • 26 June – 11 July: Hanbury Hall (Worcestershire)
  • 23 July – 6 August: Speke Hall (Liverpool)
  • 18 August – 5 September: Baddesley Clinton (Warwickshire)
  • 8 September – 26 September: Wightwick Manor (West Midlands)

Farmers working in rice fields in the rain, by Ando Hiroshige (1797-1858), at Scotney Castle, Kent. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Prints can also be purchased directly through his website. An interview with Mr Ono in The Artist can be read here.

Barbara of It’s About Time has just posted some beautiful photographs of Lindisfarne Castle (the Ono print of which is at the top of this post).