Japanese people living in the North West of England might like to visit the Japanese Garden at Tatton Park.
Of course, you don’t have to be Japanese to appreciate the beauty of the garden! It’s a real treat for anyone to visit inside the bamboo fence and see the garden in all its splendour.
We have visited the garden before, but only been able to view it from the outside of the perimeter fence. Last weekend, because it was a big birthday for my husband, we decided to go on one of the hour long tours that run on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. The tour is only an extra £1.50 on top of the £5.00 entrance fee to the main gardens, and it’s well worth it. The lushness of the greenery was very calming, and it was almost like being in Japan. The only thing that was missing was the scent of Japan!
There were so many of us booked onto the tour last Saturday afternoon that the guides had to split us into two groups. We were shown round by a Scottish woman called Helen. She really knew her stuff, and was obviously proud of the garden and the work that has been done on it recently, helped by Professor Masao Fukuhara of Osaka University. Professor Fukuhara is an expert on the history of Japanese gardens and was instrumental in restoring the garden to its original state in 2000/1. He also gave talks and ran workshops for the 100th anniversary last year.
The garden was created between 1911 and 1913. Lord Egerton, the owner of Tatton Hall, visited the Anglo-Japanese Expo (日英博覧会 Nichi-Ei Hakuran kai) in London in 1910. The Expo was part of an effort by the Meiji government to improve relations between Britain and Japan, and to build Japan’s profile in the West. To ensure authenticity, the Japanese gardens at the Expo were created using trees, shrubs, wooden buildings, bridges, and stones brought from Japan.
Lord Egerton bought many of the items on display at the Expo to create his own Japanese garden at Tatton, and employed Japanese gardeners and builders to construct it. The structures in the garden at Tatton include a Shinto shrine, a torii gate, a shepherd’s hut (which is used to represent a teahouse) and a Chinese style stone bridge. There are also two stone foxes, a range of lanterns and various stones positioned throughout the garden, which is in the stroll garden style.
On the tour, we learned that some of the Japanese workmen involved in creating the garden at Tatton stayed on in the village and married local women, ensuring that there would be Japanese workers to maintain the garden. Because Japanese garden design is about reflecting nature, it is believed that the Japanese gardeners took some influences from the other gardens at Tatton to inject a British feel to Lord Egerton’s Japanese garden.
As the garden is a stroll garden, there are various viewing points along the path, marked by two stones set side by side to enable a woman in a kimono to stand and look across at the view. At these points, it is possible to see structures such as the Flying Geese Bridge, which is made up of a series of stones laid in the same V formation that geese make when flying. The legend behind the design is that the bridge is crooked in order to allow the person crossing to escape the devil, since the devil can only travel in straight lines. Other structures include two metal cranes, which represent longevity, a stone turtle swimming against the stream of life, and a large stone which represents the female bodhisattva Kwannon.
After the end of the Second World War, the garden fell into disrepair. In the late 1990s, the National Trust (which now owns Tatton Park) decided to try to restore it. The Japanese government at the time was keen to help to restore representations of Japanese culture overseas and saw the garden at Tatton as a good example of Japanese garden architecture from the early 20th century. They provided a grant of £100,000, which the National Trust matched, and a team of people headed by Professor Fukuhara came to Tatton to begin the process of restoration in 2000.
An anonymous donor sent a package to the head gardener at the time, containing a series of photographic glass plate negatives which documented the construction of the garden in 1910-1913. Professor Fukuhara was able to use these images to restore the garden to its original design. Some of the elements in the garden go against traditional Japanese garden design, such as the two Inari foxes being separated (one outside the shrine and one facing the teahouse) and a stone duck decoy table which Lord Egerton had installed to enable his guests to hunt ducks using bows and arrows, but they are seen as representing the British influence on the garden’s layout.
During the tour, at key points within the garden, our guide told us snippets of information about why the garden was set out the way it was. She explained that the three pine trees behind the shrine represent the Buddhist trinity, and they are pruned to create a natural ladder to and from heaven to allow the gods to visit the earth. The word torii comes from the Japanese for bird (tori とり 鳥) – it can be translated as “bird perch”. The guide explained that this was because of the legend of the Sun Goddess who fell out with her brother and sealed herself up inside her sacred cave. When her brother tricked her into coming out, the ray of sunlight that came out first woke up the rooster who began to crow. The rooster was then seen as a sacred bird who greeted the Sun Goddess and the torii gate was created as a place for him to roost. Other theories are that the word comes from the Japanese for passing through and entering (touri iru/とうりいる/通り入る),since torii gates represent the passage from the secular world to the sacred.
It was lovely to have a reminder of our visits to shrines and teahouses in Japan, and it was interesting to learn new things. It has inspired me to try to find out more about Japanese garden design, and I think we’ll definitely be going again!