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’ Jardín Botánico: French Twist On A Spanish Garden

To my readers: I am in Argentina for the month where I’ll be writing about gardens.)

Buenos Aires Jardin Botanico

There’s a reason why people often refer to Buenos Aires as a little Paris in South America. The city is chock full of French-style architecture, grand tree-lined avenues and a wide variety of public gardens. It wasn’t always this way, though. Up until the 19th century the city didn’t have many green spaces at all. That all changed with the arrival of a French landscape architect named Carlos Thays.

Carlos (né Jules Charles) Thays was to transform the city of Buenos Aires into the lush green metropolis it is today. Born in Paris in 1849, Thays was the disciple of one of the leading architects of the day, the French landscape architect Edouard André. Together with André, he helped design some of the most famous public and private gardens in Europe.

Thays came to Argentina in 1889 as part of a contract to help create what was to become his first major work in the country – the Parque Sarmiento, the largest park in the city of Córdoba. After the park was completed, his intention was to go back to France. However, Thays ended up in Buenos Aires, where in 1891 he was named the city’s Director of Parks and Walkways.

Monument to Carlos Thays in Buenos Aires’ Jardín Botánico

The title of Parks Director gave Thays a lot of leeway to influence the character of Buenos Aires, especially where it came to panoramic views of the city. With the exception of Parque Tres de Febrero, an older park opened in 1876, the city had no public green spaces. Thays began major tree planting projects, lining the grand avenues and neighborhood streets with large shade trees including purple-flowering jacaranda, yellow-flowering tipas (also known as rosewood) and ombús, a massive evergreen native to the lowlands of South America.

One of the many Jacaranda trees in Buenos Aires

Thays also got to work remodeling the aging Parque Tres de Febrero while designing and constructing 69 new parks, gardens and plazas. His French heritage was reflected in many of his designs.

Jardin Botanico

One of the most famous of all of Thay’s projects is located in the urban neighborhood of Palermo where it takes up an entire city block. Completed in 1898, the Buenos Aires Botanical Garden is considered one of Thay’s biggest achievements. Today it bears his name (Jardín Botánico Carlos Thays) and is home to more than 6,000 species of plants.

The walled park includes rare trees and native and exotic plants hailing from all parts of the world. And in keeping with French style, the garden is also home to 33 classical sculptures, fountains and monuments that figure prominently throughout the garden.

Canto de la Cosechadora

La Loba Romana, one of the garden’s many works of art

In order to best display his collection of plants and landscape styles, Thays designed the Jardín Botánico in sections. There are three main gardens: a Roman Garden planted with huge cypresses, alamos (a variety of cottonwood) and laurel trees, a French Garden built around a classic symmetrical design and an Oriental-style Garden featuring species indigenous to Asia.

One of the many enormous cypress trees in the Roman Garden

While working on the construction and planting of the garden, Thays and his family lived in a large brick Gothic Revival style house that still occupies a central place in the garden. Today it is home to the city’s Garden School and also features a revolving art collection and library.

Thays’ home during construction of the garden

One of the most important features of the Jardín Botánico are five greenhouses that house a wide variety of native and exotic plants. The largest of them, a Beaux-arts style formal building was first erected at the Paris Exposition of 1889 and brought back to Buenos Aires to be reassembled in the garden. Measuring 35 meters long, it is now home to a couple thousand bromeliads and orchids.

The largest of the greenhouses

View inside the large greenhouse

View inside the bulb greenhouse

In addition to the main garden sections, there are also a number of specialty gardens including a cactus garden and butterfly garden. The cactus garden features many unusual varieties of aloe.

Cactus garden walkway

Aloe marlothii from Africa

In January, the lovely African agapanthus plant is flowering all over the garden.

There are hundreds of flowering shrubs

Jardin Botanico in Buenos Aires

And there are huge stands of sky blue plumbago.

Thays died in Buenos Aires in 1934, but his public works live on for the whole city to enjoy. For more information on the Jardin Botanico, click here for the official website.

Stay tuned for my next post on the thousands of roses on display at the Parque Tres de Febrero.

 

Small Garden Ideas From The 2016 Kips Bay Show House

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The Kips Bay Decorator Show House, now in its 44th year, is one of New York City’s top springtime attractions. For eight weeks, some of the country’s leading designers and architects lend their energy and talent to creating an amazing array of indoor and outdoor spaces. This year’s show house, located at the newly-renovated Carlton House Townhouse on East 61st Street, features a veritable treasure trove of ideas from 21 top designers. I visited recently to see what was trending in the gardening world. Continue reading

Dutch Robotics Cuts the Guess Work Out Of Growing Flowers

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A few days ago I heard an interesting broadcast on BBC about Green Circle Growers, based in Oberlin, Ohio. The huge state-of-the-art company decided five years ago to shift a large part of their business to orchids. To make the change, they looked to Dutch experts for advice, adopting the “Dutch Method” to their facilities. The decision has paid off: Green Circle Growers is currently the biggest orchid grower in North America. Continue reading