I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to call the Japanese Garden one of the most popular of themed gardens. The nine lovingly landscaped acres located at the eastern edge of the estate invite visitors into a realm of peace that evokes a sense of harmony between humankind and nature.
If you haven’t paid a visit to the Japanese Garden in a while, let me encourage you to check it out now. For one thing, The Huntington will be hosting its 54th annual bonsai show next weekend. The show will be held in Friends Hall and is free to the public, but as long as you’re there, consider that the price of admission gets you in to view The Huntington’s own bonsai collection in the Japanese Garden.
As a bonus, the wisteria and other flowers and trees are now in bloom in what The Huntington’s Web site calls “one of America’s oldest, most elaborate, and gracefully matured Japanese gardens.”
Here’s another good reason to head over there soon: The next couple weeks are your last chance to see this iconic section of The Huntington's grounds before it closes on April 4. Until its centennial celebration in Spring 2012, it will undergo extensive and important renovations, including the historical restoration of the 19th-century Japanese House that stands atop the hillside.
When the garden opens again, visitors will also discover a new addition—a ceremonial teahouse, donated by the Pasadena Buddhist Temple. Built in Kyoto, the teahouse was disassembled and shipped back to Japan, where architect and craftsman Yoshiaki Nakamura has been restoring it. (In one of those intriguing twists of fate, it turns out that the house was originally built by Nakamura’s father—you can read the interesting story behind the teahouse restoration project here.)
The renovation of the Japanese Garden is funded in part by an endowment bequest from the late Mary B. Taylor Hunt, a longtime San Marino resident and founding president of the San Marino League who has been actively involved in the support of the Japanese Garden for over 50 years. In addition to taking on the project of restoring and maintaining the Japanese House back in 1957, the League has also continually provided the Japanese flower arrangements (called ikebana) that grace the house interior.
Ikebana International defines ikebana as “a disciplined art form in which the arrangement is a living thing where nature and humanity are brought together. It is steeped in the philosophy of developing a closeness with nature.” Marianna Plott, a former president of the San Marino League and an ikebana teacher, or sensei, said that the League’s flower arrangements are made according to the principles of the Ikenobo School.
“People who are involved with [ikebana] are passionate about it,” Plott said. “It’s an art form. It’s sculptural, it’s beautiful, but it’s fleeting.” The ephemeral nature of the arrangements enhances the contemplative beauty of these lovely displays.
Aside from the Japanese House and central garden area, visitors can also explore a peaceful rock sand garden. Next to that is the Zillgitt Bonsai Court, where carefully pruned bonsai specimens exhibit the elegant lines and forms of ancient trees on a miniature scale. (These areas will both remain open during the period of renovations.)
The other day, I strolled along the paths through the Japanese Garden, allowing myself to breathe in the calm and serenity of the beautifully sculpted landscape in which I found myself. I also spent a little time sitting on one of the benches in the rock garden, gazing at the calm scene in front of me—the sand rippled with a rake to mimic the look of ocean waves, while the trees and bushes on the far side stood in for a distant shore. In that moment I enjoyed a much-needed respite from the busyness and noise that seems more and more to be a defining characteristic of our culture.
On my way out, I stopped near the entrance of the Japanese Garden and looked at a small plaque set up to commemorate the visit in 1994 of the Emperor and Empress of Japan. I thought of the , and felt sadness—a sadness mixed with gratitude for the sublime gifts that Japan's culture has given to The Huntington, and to the world.