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.
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’.
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.