Provided by Martine Asselin, Communications & Marketing Assistant for the Montreal Space for Life Botanical Garden:
Entering a Japanese Garden is a way of returning to an environment in which people can find peace and harmony, away from the rapid pace of modern life. In this garden of 2,5 hectares all elements are balanced to create a feeling of serenity. Each tree, each shrub, each stone has been carefully chosen and placed. The pathways lead the visitors through settings of peonies, rhododendrons, irises, crab-apple trees and numerous perennials. Everything in this meditative place has a symbolic significance. A pond and a series of cascades and springs express life and renewal.
The state of mind: A visit to the Japanese Garden requires an open mind and spirit. Visitors should go right to its heart; to meditate, to collect their thoughts, to feel and touch the beauty of the stone, water, plants and various architectural elements which make up the garden. It is a place where the slow-moving carp or “Koi” float in the shade of broad-leaved water lilies as if contemplating the sun’s reflection or the rain on the multicolored stones or even, as if they were listening to the gurgling waters, laughing as they spill over artfully arranged cascades. Early-risers may surprise great blue Heron as well as red-winged blackbirds and other fine feathered friends at their morning toilet. Each season, like each time of day, has moments of intense beauty which wait only to be captured by lovers of art and nature.
A pavilion for the Japanese Garden: A visit to the Japanese Garden wouldn’t be complete without a short stop at the cultural pavilion designed by architect Hisato Hiraoka. Walking through the exhibition halls, visitors will marvel at various works of art which are a timeless expression of the history and refinement of Japanese culture. Through the tea ritual, focal point of the pavilion, visitors are soon swept away to an oasis of peace and harmony where each movement is an expression of grace and beauty.
Japanese Garden Book Collection: For those seeking to learn about this fascinating country, the Jardin botanique de Montréal’s book collection contains hundreds of titles on Japan’s history, culture, arts, gardens, bonsai and ikebana. As part of the main catalogue of the Jardin botanique’s library, these books reach beyond the confines of botanical and horticultural studies to explore topics as varied as lacquer, pottery and sumo wrestling. In English, French and Japanese, these albums, encyclopedias, travel guides and novels will captivate Japanophiles and students of Japanese culture as much as those with a casual interest in the country and lovers of beautiful books.
The majority of the books in the collection can be found at the Jardin botanique’s library, where visitors can consult them on-site without a reservation, during the library’s opening hours. Each summer, a selection of books is also available for consultation at the Japanese Pavilion, which includes a reading room for reflection and relaxation.
The Stone Garden: The creation of a Zen or mineral garden is as much dependent on the rules of art established by the ancient masters as on intuition in its purest sense. In this garden, created by Mr. Ken Nakajima, eleven peridotite stones stand as islands in a sea of white shirakawa sand.
The Bonsai Courtyard: Thanks to the generosity and friendship of the Japanese, the Bonsai Garden harbours a collection of rare beauty. In 1989, the Jardin botanique was offered a superb collection of thirty bonsai by the Nippon Bonsai Association Inc. Carefully cultivated and maintained for many generations, these miniature trees, varying in age from 25 to 350 years, bear the heart of the Japanese people and evoke the friendship that unites Canada and Japan. From spring to fall, visitors may admire specimens of Japanese maples (momiji), of the ginkgo or maidenhair tree (ichô), and many junipers (shimpaku) and azaleas (satsuki).
The Tea Garden: This garden, dedicated to the memory of Mr. Hector Dupuis, first Canadian Executive Vice-President of Toyota Canada, was made possible thanks to the generosity of Toyota Canada Inc. The plans for the Tea Garden were donated by the City of Hiroshima. The Tea Garden is open to visitors from May to November as part of a guided tour or tea ceremony. Ask at the desk inside the Pavilion or consult the program of activities.
Like the tea ceremony itself, the design of these gardens is based on techniques and rules developed over hundreds of years. The stones and plants are carefully arranged to create sober, natural-looking tableaux. The shrubs, like the serviceberry used here, highlight the cycle of the seasons. The moss suggests the passage of time. The tobi-ishi, or stepping stones, direct visitors’ footsteps.
Everything in this orderly garden inspires calm and serenity. The tsukubai, the basin in which visitors wash before the tea ritual, forces them to stoop and show their humility, a prerequisite for the ceremony. The stone lantern, created for tea gardens, plays a practical and aesthetic role. A visit to a tea garden is a pleasant experience, offering beauty for the eyes and harmony for the soul.
The Pavilion blends smoothly into the garden and, like its surroundings, reflects the artistic ideals of Japanese culture, or shibi: simple and refined beauty. Its sukiya style, a synthesis of classic and contemporary styles, recalls a traditional Japanese home. The goal of the Pavilion is to celebrate Japanese culture and art. It was created under the direction of architect Hisato Hiraoka, and opened on June 22, 1989. The Pavilion has a number of rooms, including the following:
Toyota Exhibit Hall: The Toyota Exhibition Hall owes its name to Toyota Canada Inc, of which the head office is located in the city of Scarborough in Ontario. The creation and the achievement of the Tea Garden has been made possible by a generous contribution by Toyota Canada. Truly versatile, Toyota Hall is used mostly for artistic and cultural exhibitions. The room houses works of art created by Japanese or Western artists, highlighting Japanese art techniques. The Toyota room extends to the magnificent Japanese Garden with its breathtaking panorama, and overlooks the Zen Garden.
The Nomura Art Gallery: The Nomura Art Gallery houses the permanent collection of the Japanese Pavilion.
The Tea Room: Designed in traditional style and featuring the ritual of the Japanese tea ceremony, the Tea Room, or ito-en, is truly the focal point of the pavilion. The tatamis, shojis, calligraphic art and the floral arrangement displayed in the tokonoma create a peaceful atmosphere for the tea ceremony, a ritual which goes back several centuries.
Stones: The type of stone to use is one of the most important element, in the design of a Japanese garden. After much searching, designer-architect Ken Nakajima found in the asbestos mines of Thetford Mines (Québec) the stone he had seeked so much. An extremely rare stone, the peridotite, glazed of emerald-green serpentine, was chosen as a base, imparting a very special character to the garden.
The Lantern: With the advent of the tea ceremony, the lantern became a leading element in the layout of a Japanese garden. Originally intended to guide the visitors during nocturnal celebrations, its light was also considered as the light of knowledge clearing away the clouds of ignorance. Sculptured in stone, the Yukimi-gata lantern, or snow lantern, which we can admire here is of current use. Placed near water it provides an architectural element which contrasts with the natural components of the garden.
Plants: The Japanese show a natural ability to interpret the charm of plants and flowers in order to express their joys and pains. Their communion with nature manifests itself through an elaborate symbolism and that is why their interest for the plant realm has become a real passion. Plants are associated with moving thoughts and the universal forms of life. The care given to plants in a Japanese garden is like that given to bonsai trees: living plants are shaped to the exact form needed fot the symbolic or graphic effect one desires.
- Serviceberry (zai-furi boku): In spring, the serviceberry is a charming sight, with its masses of white flowers. It is considered a symbol of youth in Japan. In fall, it is remarkable for its gold and scarlet foliage and tiny blue berries. Winter is the perfect backdrop for the silvery bark of the serviceberry, whose year-round attractions make it one of the stars of this garden.
- Pine (matsu): Our pine trees are pruned regularly, to keep their shapes in harmony with the surroundings. Some have an airy silhouette with widespread branches, others are dense and compact, while still others lean over as if battered by the wind. The pine grove next to the Pavilion adds to the intimacy of the Garden. It creates a quiet, cosy screen that shields visitors from outside distractions.
- Japanese maple (momiji): The Japanese maple is much appreciated for its lacy leaves and magnificent autumn colours, making it a favourite in Japanese garden design. The Japanese maples in this garden are taken indoors when winter comes, and brought back outdoors in spring, to spare them the rigours of our Montreal winters. They are gradually being replaced with Amur maples, a hardier species. The Amur maples are allowed to grow naturally, without pruning, as is the practice with momiji in Japan.
- Lotus (hasu): The lotus, or “flower of Buddha”, is considered a divine and sacred plant. Resting on the placid surface of the pond, it is a perfect aid to contemplation. The lotus flower, with its lovely, huge corolla, blooms in summer to offer a fleeting vision of delicate shades of pink and white. Unlike the water lily, which floats on the surface, the lotus is supported by a strong stem anchored in the bottom of the pond.
- Iris (airisu): Irises are important members of this garden. They flower from late May to mid-July, in soft tones of pink, blue and white. Many species of iris are represented here, including Iris ensata or hana-shobu, remarkable for its huge flowers. The delicacy and graceful bearing of this plant are perfect examples of the quest for simple and refined beauty in Japanese art.
- Shrub peony (botan): Shrub peonies originated in China and were introduced to Japan in the 8th century. They flower in late spring. A huge variety of peony cultivars has been obtained by hybridization. Their flowers, in hues of pink, mauve and yellow, last only a few days. These plants require considerable attention and winter protection. Peonies are a symbol of prosperity, because at one time only wealthy Japanese could afford to have them in their gardens.
- Horsetail (takusa): This plant is native to Québec and lives in marshy environments. Here it is grown as a substitute for bamboo, which is often featured in Japanese gardens, but is not hardy enough to withstand the harsh Montréal winters. The horsetail’s simple, pure lines make it a clever stand-in for masses of bamboo, allowing the Garden to preserve its Oriental feeling. Horsetail is also frequently used in Japanese floral art, ikebana.
- Crabapple (hime-ringo): The crabapple’s abundant white and pink flowers in spring symbolize youth and renewal. Here it has been used instead of Japanese cherry, which is not hardy enough to withstand the extreme temperatures of the Montréal climate. In Japan, people celebrate the arrival of spring with annual picnics, ohanami, beneath flowering cherry trees. We have perpetuated this tradition in Montréal, under the flowering crabapples in the Japanese Garden.
- Rhododendron (tsutsuji): In springtime, the Japanese Garden is ablaze with the bright pinks, reds, purples and whites of rhododendron blossoms. These charming flowers, with their delicate petals, symbolize fragile and ephemeral beauty. In summer, the flowers give way to the waxy and lustrous foliage of certain cultivars. The use of compact specimens makes it possible to create varying heights and depths, and the illusion of a miniature mountainous and wooded landscape. In Japan, azaleas and their more delicate foliage are preferred to rhododendrons, since they are more tolerant of pruning.
- Carp (Koi): Japan is a country where a large population leaves little land available for flower gardens. The Japanese, therefore, have found places to grow living flowers, the colored carp. They appeared in Japan many centuries ago and the Japanese have crossbred them for over 100 years, producing carps of high value. Contests are held and the carps are judged according to the number of spots, variety of colors, patterns on their bodies and types of scales. Indispensable inhabitants in the pond of any Japanese garden, carp bring a flash of colour to the shallow waters. These “living flowers” are very popular in Japan, and are even entered in competitions, where they are judged on their colours and patterns and the quality of their scales. Carp can live for up to 50 years. In Japanese culture, they are a symbol of strength and perseverance.
This garden, designed by Ken Nakajima, is inspired by the traditional art of Japanese landscaping. It was created with the support of the governments of Japan, Canada and Québec, the City of Montréal and several Japanese companies. It opened on June 28, 1988.