MR. HUNTINGTON'S GARDEN | Crafting the Future of the Japanese Garden

Posted on March 28, 2011 by Jim Folsom | Comments (1)

The teahouse as it stood at the Pasadena Buddhist ChurchAnother post in a series about Mr. Huntington's Garden by the botanical director of The Huntington.

In seven days we close the Japanese Garden for nearly a year of renovation and improvement. Looking at the Japanese house today, I was flashing forward and thinking of how beautiful it will look with a new roof, mended wood, and fresh surfaces. But even though it is in great need of repair, I also was amazed by how good the house looks considering its hundred years of service. As far as any of us know, the exterior was refreshed (painted) around 1957, and it has not been touched since that time. I know for certain that we have not painted or treated the outside during my 26 years at The Huntington. If the work we accomplish over the next few months can endure equally well, the Japanese house will be set up for the next 40 to 50 years.

Yoshiaki Nakamura with his crew of workers in JapanOf course, the Japanese Garden will begin its new century with yet another structure—Seifu-an, the Arbor of Pure Breeze, an authentic ceremonial teahouse. If you have read some of the articles that have been written about this project over the past few months, you are likely already up on the story. But a more current update seems in order. Beginning with the gift of the teahouse to The Huntington by Pasadena Buddhist Church last summer, we quickly worked with craftsmen from Kyoto to dismantle the 46-year old structure so as to ship its components to Kyoto for restoration. In December, I visited the shop of Yoshiaki Nakamura, where I saw Seifu-an, assembled and repaired. The day following my visit, Mr. Nakamura's craftsmen began disassembling the house and packing its components for shipping to us later this spring. Following the tragic earthquake in Japan on March 11, we contacted our friends in Kyoto and learned that people in that region were very fortunate, and had suffered no direct damage. Amazingly, plans are unaffected. We still anticipate the teahouse will be shipped by mid-April, to arrive at The Huntington by early May. Mr. Nakamura and his crew plan to arrive here in early June so as to demonstrate all of the techniques and skills required to reassemble Seifu-an on its new foundation, at its new site, in the new tea garden to be built on a ridge to the southwest of the Japanese house.

In the meantime, we have plenty to keep us occupied. Out in the Japanese Garden, over the next week, contractors are moving some black pines we wish to save, a couple of larger trees that are lifting the ground around their roots will be felled, and a lot of nursery stock has to be relocated. Moreover, decisions are still being made. Samples of pavement and pond edging were made for scrutiny. Rocks are being delivered for examination and sources determined. The same closure is in process for the Japanese house. Though most details have been tied down, some decisions are yet to be made concerning restoration. Each week we seem to learn fabulous new information about different construction trades. Last Monday the project team spent several hours discussing the challenges and intricacies of shingle roofing—what a hugely fascinating subject. Who would have known that a beautiful roof is not just art, craft, and sweat equity? To replace the Japanese house roof requires a pretty decent amount of science, mathematics, and engineering. It is no simple feat to make all of the lines and shapes work out.

Working in the Shakeseare GardenAnd all the while, other stories unfold. We are incredibly fortunate to be able to re-hire gardening positions that were lost in recent years (we are bringing 8 new gardeners on board!), including staffing for both the Herb and Shakespeare gardens. Shadi Shihab, his new expanded staff, and the many volunteers who have kept the Shakespeare Garden going over the past two years are tearing into flower beds in order to prepare the soil for a late spring planting. It is wonderful and exciting to better staff the gardens, with the anticipation that members and guests will notice and appreciate the difference.

Captions: The Arbor of Pure Breeze as it stood on the site of the Pasadena Buddhist Church last summer (photo by Andrew Mitchell); Yoshiaki Nakamura, in black shirt and sports coat, with his team in front of the reassembled house in Kyoto, Japan; staff and volunteers at work in the Shakespeare Garden.

Jim Folsom is the Telleen/Jorgensen Director of the Botanical Gardens at The Huntington.


It has been years since I have been to the fabulous Japanese Garden at the Huntington, but my mind frequently goes back to the beauty of it, the amazing colors, scents, architecture all incorporated into such a serene and beautiful place. Please keep up the good work and know how much this lovely place has touched all that visit. I will always have it as part of my mind's eye of incredible beauty I have been fortunate enough to experience.

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