A Little Taste of Japan In the Heart Of Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires’ lovely Jardin Japonés

There are so many beautiful, themed gardens in Buenos Aires I’ve almost lost count. But, there’s one last gem I’ll profile before we return next week to the United States. Located in the city’s Palermo neighborhood, it’s the zen-like Jardín Japonés. Think acres of green foliage, a shimmering lake spanned by lipstick red bridges and colorful clusters of over-sized koi, and you’ve got the picture.

We happened upon the Jardín Japonés on a sizzling hot day when most of the other public gardens were closed. Spying some Asian-style buildings amidst the trees in the distance, we made a beeline across a park towards the sloped-roofed structures. Along the way, we passed the customary assortment of cheerful dogs and professional dog walkers.

A professional dog walker (paseaperro) in Plaza Allemania

Located behind a tall wall and bordered on all sides by traffic-congested avenues, the Jardín Japonés proved to be a quiet oasis in the heart of a boisterous city. Originally given as a gift to Buenos Aires from the Association of Japanese Immigrants, it was constructed in 1967 to celebrate the visit to Argentina by Japan’s Prince Akihito and his wife in May of that year. The future royals’ visit was a big deal for Buenos Aires and the garden was to receive other similar official visits over the ensuing decades.

Entrance to the Jardín Japonés

Today’s 6-acre garden, however, is mainly the work of a Japanese born landscape architect named Yasuo Inomata. The city of Buenos Aires hired Inomata in the mid 70’s to redesign and enlarge the Jardín Japonés to look more like a traditional Japanese garden. Inomata modeled his design after a zen garden, focusing heavily on the critical elements of harmony and equilibrium. The renovation, which was completed in 1979, has since become a bridge for the city’s residents and its visitors to understanding the Japanese culture.

The first thing you notice when you enter the Jardín Japonés is a large artificial lake spanned by three traditional-style Japanese bridges. Painted a distinctive deep red, the bridges each take different forms and carry different symbolic meanings. The largest of the three is the Puente Okayama, also known as Puente Zig Zag Okayama. The flat bridge skims just above the water and meanders back and forth across the northern end of the lake.

Puente Okayama (the zig zag bridge)

The second bridge, called Puente Yamagata, takes the traditional arced form. Also painted red, it is a standout in the middle of the lake. (Also perpetually clogged with tourists, so a clean photo is pretty much out of the question.)

Puente Yamagata

The third bridge, el Puente Plan Ibaraki, is made from rough-hewn planks in a burnished red. The site plan shows it traversing a small cove at the opposite end of the lake. During our visit, however, we observed only two piers facing each other across the water. I loved how the open space between the two piers raised questions as to whether they were meant to connect or simply observe each other. Whether or not this was purposeful, it was one of the most memorable spots for me in the garden.

Puente Plan Ibaraki

At the far end of the park is a large Japanese building housing a restaurant, library and cultural center. There is also a traditional-style Japanese tea house. But what really caught my eye was this checkerboard lawn to the right. Crafted from bright white paving stones and lime green grass, it made me feel like we had popped in on Alice in Wonderland.

Checkerboard lawn

Directly behind the checkerboard lawn and adjacent to the center is a shop selling traditional Japanese plants such as bonsai, orchids and azaleas as well as other native flowering plants.

Plant store

And on the other side of the tea house is a rose garden.

Rose garden

A big draw for children is the giant koi and carp that live and feed in the garden. They swim in colorful clusters along the fringes of the lake and under the bridges where visitors are encouraged to feed them. Their open mouths can be seen bobbing above the surface.

We stopped for a fruit smoothie at the Salon Mie next to a large bell dedicated to immigrants. Its big gong-like sound resonated across the park and sent powerful ripples through our bodies. It was the perfect accompaniment to the next small patio, the Patio Hiroshima, which displays three numbered trees that are descendants of larger trees that survived the bombing of Hiroshima.

The sign reads that the surviving trees were located within a 2000 meter radius of the center of Hiroshima and that the city has registered 170 trees ‘a-bombardeados’ for which they have been given a plaque and a special name. That name is:

HIBAKUJYUMOKU (TREE SURVIVING THE ATOMIC BOMB)

In addition to these highly symbolic areas, the garden boasts more than 150 species of trees and a huge variety of plants representing a combination of Japanese and native Argentinian species. There are acres of white and pink azaleas, Japanese Matsumae-fuki cherry trees. mugo pines, magnolias and Japanese maples as well as native oaks, cedars, tipas and Pal Borracho trees. There are also beautiful mini waterfalls.

And carefully composed arrangements of stones.

The many different elements appear to have happened there naturally, although in the architect’s own words, this is a deliberate misconception.

Inomata said:

Japanese gardens that I create express an element of Buddhism called gokuraku (pure land). In these gardens, the trees and flowers are not arranged in a structured manner so that they can imitate what is found in nature [  ]. At first glance, they may appear disorganized, but in reality they follow an order.

Unlike most other public gardens in Buenos Aires, the Jardín Japonés costs money, with all proceeds going to its maintenance, which is administered by the Fundación Cultural Argentino Japonesa. The garden is also home to festivals and other cultural activities promoting Japanese culture within the city.

For more information on the garden, its location, hours and scheduled activities click here for the official website.

Buenos Aires’ El Rosedal: Taking Time To Smell The Roses

‘A collection of old roses gives a great and increasing pleasure.’

–Vita Sackville-West

There are rose gardens and then there are rose gardens. It’s not every day you come across a rose garden covering nearly 10 acres. But Buenos Aires’ El Rosedal, commonly known as the Jardin de las Rosas (Rose Garden), is just such a place. And the magnificent space is immaculately maintained and surprisingly, free to the public. Continue reading

The ‘Roomba’ of Gardening: A Robot That Weeds

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Franklin Robotics ‘Tertill’ promises to weed your garden for you

Last year was a particularly big one for weeds, with many of us struggling in vain to control them in our gardens. But thankfully, just in time for next summer, there’s an invention that just might alleviate this tiresome chore. It’s called Tertill and it proposes to do the weeding for you. Continue reading

Longwood Gardens’ Nightscape Delivers A Mind-Bending Experience

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Giant cacti illuminated by LED lights in Longwood’s xeriscape garden

If you’ve been reading my blog over the past couple years, you already know that I’m a huge fan of Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. The 1000+-acre property of gardens filled with specialty trees, shrubs and flowers never fails to move me, no matter what the season. And now Longwood has added yet another way for visitors to appreciate its extraordinary beauty. It’s called Nightscape.

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View of the Conservatory lit up for Nightscape

Billed as an ‘ immersive nighttime adventure’, Nightscape is a multi-sensory experience featuring moving images, lights and original music. The action gets going in the gardens just after dark when LED lights suddenly transform the giant property into a technicolor dreamscape. As visitors move through the Conservatory and outdoor gardens, the lights continually change form around them, presenting a kaleidoscope of varying colors and patterns.

Nightscape takes place across seven locations around the gardens, including the main lake, the Flower Garden Walk, the Topiary Garden and the grand rooms of the indoor Conservatory.

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LED lights transform the Palm House into a magical kingdom

The display is accompanied by original music composed especially for the display. The ethereal melodies float through the gardens, adding an otherworldly dimension and heightening the experience.

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A giant grass takes on a new personae

It’s quite a thing to walk through the Conservatory at night with all the colors changing around you. As the lights move across the plants, they highlight parts of the garden while obscuring others. The reflection of the tree branches in the windows of this part of the installation made it seem like a wild storm was brewing.

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At other times the lights form patterns steeped in symbolism that cause you to pause and reflect.

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Outdoors in the Topiary Garden, the clipped forms of giant boxwood are enhanced with colorful, whirling patterns. To my eye, the shrubs looked like spinning tops.

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But a few seconds later, the same bushes switched to black and white, conveying an entirely different feeling.

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The Rose Arbor, adjacent to the Flower Walk, features a wild assortment of oversized plants and shrubs illuminated in neon colors. The garden changes shape as the lights move around it revealing crazy daisy-shaped blooms and glowing rocks.

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On the far side of the Rose Arbor, the Flower Walk, which directs visitors deeper into the garden, takes on heightened dimensions with its stripy lights; almost as if there was a stadium full of people above you.

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My daughter took a video of the Flower Walk. I think you’ll get the idea.

The show was created by Klip Collective, an experiential art shop that specializes in integrating projection lighting and technology with storytelling to create compelling experiences.

Nightscape runs now through October 29, 2016, rain or shine. The display stays open until 11 pm. Ideal viewing times are after 8 pm in September and 7 pm in October.

 

Bellagio’s Arcadia Garden Is A Sure Bet In Vegas

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Bellagio Hotel’s Conservatory

Most people go to Las Vegas to gamble, but recently when I found myself in the city for a few days, I went searching for a garden. I didn’t have to look far. At the heart of the Bellagio Hotel, I discovered a garden oasis known as the Conservatory. As befits such a colorful city, it was overflowing with thousands of bright-hued flowers, intense-smelling ornamental shrubs and large, floral-embellished ocean creatures; all part of the hotel’s summer exhibit titled Under The Sea. Continue reading

The Inspiring Gardens of Annapolis’ William Paca House

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An impressive brick mansion built in the 1760s, the William Paca House was home to one of Maryland’s four signers of the Declaration of Independence and the state’s third Governor. In the 1960s, the property underwent a painstaking restoration.  Today the property is a faithful representation of what a Colonial-era house and garden used to be, offering visitors a quiet respite in the very heart of Annapolis.

It’s a really nice place to visit.

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RESTORATION OF THE GARDEN

The restoration of William Paca’s garden was unusual in that it was aided by two seemingly unrelated events. Separated by almost two centuries, the two events ended up providing important details about Paca’s garden and its buildings and plants, enabling historians and horticulturalists to recreate the original 18th-century landscape with near-perfect precision.

The first event took place in 1772 when Charles Willson Peale (1741-1847) painted a full-length portrait of William Paca standing in front of his garden. The painting documented key architectural features of the landscape, including a red brick wall, central pathway, two-story white summerhouse and Chippendale-style bridge.

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Portrait of William Paca by Charles Willson Peale

The second event took place over a century later during the early 1900s when the house functioned as a hotel popular with visitors to the U.S. Naval Academy. To make room for new dormitories, the Academy filled in a portion of the property. By happy accident, the filler acted as a cushion, preserving all of the brick foundations of Paca’s original garden and outbuildings.

According to Joseph Sherren, an intern with the curatorial department,

“It was one of those happy accidents that come about once in a lifetime.”

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Main view into the William Paca Garden

The Peale portrait, coupled with the excavated foundations, enabled researchers and historians to reconstruct the bones of the original garden. Researchers then consulted Colonial-era garden manuals and plant lists to determine what plants might have grown in the various spaces.

Today the garden is composed of a series of terraces enclosed by red brick walls characteristic of colonial gardens in the Chesapeake region. Four parterres, laid out in precise geometric shapes, make up the middle terrace of the garden. The third terrace of the garden slopes down toward a fish-shaped pond and the Wilderness Garden. The property’s focal point, the two-story white summerhouse, presides on a small hill at the end of the garden, just like it does in Peale’s painting.

 

THE TOUR

The tour begins on the uppermost terrace, which was designed to serve as a platform for entertaining and for viewing the garden. It is the first glimpse a visitor has of the garden.

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The next two levels are laid out in parterres. The Rose Parterre (on the left) features many heirloom roses including alba roses, which were being grown as far back as the Middle Ages. There is also a broad assortment of companion annuals and perennials. During my afternoon visit,  the flesh pink rose ‘Maiden’s Blush’, purple verbena, perennial foxglove and tropical-looking yellow canna lilies were all blooming.

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Rose Parterre

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Close-up of purple verbena

The Flower Parterre, which lies directly opposite from the Rose Parterre, was designed to provide three seasons of colorful flowers. At the time of my visit, pink and apricot daylilies, soft pink echinacea and purple liatris were all in bloom. Spiky blue veronica, golden lantana and lavender-pink Stokes’ asters rounded out the mix.

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The Kitchen Garden features a colonial-style shed and trellises and latticework crafted from branches and string. I observed lush crops of salad greens, snap peas and squash growing in raised beds, a tiny shelf stacked with herbs planted in terra cotta pots and many heirloom varieties of apples, pears, plums, cherries and figs trained as espaliers. (Products made from the fruits, herbs and vegetables grown in the garden are sold in the gift shop.)

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Kitchen Garden

On the second terrace, the Holly and Boxwood Parterres provide year-round interest with their carefully maintained geometric designs.

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Boxwood Parterre

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Holly Parterre

The Summerhouse is the focal point of the garden. It lies in the wilderness area, which consists of a series of meandering paths through beds of mixed plantings. Reminiscent of the ‘picturesque’ style of gardening that was popular in Colonial America during Paca’s time, the miniature, thumb-shaped building is reached by crossing a Chinese-style latticework bridge that spans a fish-shaped pond.

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The upper floor of the two-story building served as a viewing point for the garden during the summer while providing the Paca family with cool garden breezes from the Chesapeake Bay.

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Tail-end (literally) of the fish-shaped pond

 

THE ART OF DRAINAGE 

Paca was an innovator when it came to designing ways to channel the natural runoff across his property. He built a system of drains that diverted water into pleasing garden elements. At the lowest level of his garden, he constructed a brick canal to direct water into a spring house. It is a key architectural element in the lower terrace of the garden.

Today, the natural spring, which is still active in the spring house, feeds the pond. In Paca’s day, the water was also repurposed for household use.

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One of Paca’s brick canals used to drain water from the garden

 

The State of Maryland and Historic Annapolis bought the Paca mansion in 1965 to save it from demolition. They spent the following decade restoring the house and garden. In 1971, the site was recognized as a National Historic Landmark. For more on the house and gardens, click here for the website.

The property hosts the annual William Paca Garden Plant Sale on Mother’s Day weekend every year.

 

In the Gardens of Chenonceau, A Floral Legacy Lives On

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Floral arrangement in grand foyer at Chenonceau

A visit to Chenonceau in France’s Loire Valley is never complete in my mind without a tour of its gardens, and as an extension, the many sumptuous floral arrangements that decorate the castle’s interior. The two go hand-in-hand, since the one produces tens of thousands of flowers for the other in a time-worn tradition that dates back hundreds of years. Continue reading

6 Essential Pruners Every Home Gardener Should Own

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When it comes to gardening, good tools are essential, especially when it involves repetitive tasks like pruning. The right pruners increase productivity, decrease wear and tear on the body and produce superior results. These days there are hundreds of options available. No matter what you choose, though, make sure these six are part of your home arsenal.  Continue reading