Monday, 30 June 2014

Accidental Visits: The Kyoto Garden in Holland Park

Last Sunday I caught up with my most legitimately London friend. She was born here in the city, and has lived here all her life; besides brief interludes at the school we both attended in Gloucestershire, and the university we also shared up in the North East. We met on Sunday in Kensington (she's such a Londoner that her 'hood is properly central) and took a sunny stroll down to Holland Park. For my friend, Holland Park was a familiar feature of her childhood - and the location of school sports days, she recalled with a shudder. I haven't spent much time in this park at all, bar a brief stay in the brutally hideous youth hostel that sits in the middle of the far prettier gardens, whilst training for an overseas zoological expedition.  

It was a pleasure to return with a local. My friend steered me swiftly past the hoards of toddlers on scooters and picnic-ers, and led me towards the park's hidden Kyoto Garden. The garden has been part of the park since 1991, and was funded (and then maintained annually by a special globe-trotting team of Japanese gardeners for 20 years) by the Chamber of Commerce of Kyoto. It underwent a large replanting and refurbishment in 2001, and in 2012, a year after the catastrophic nuclear disaster at Fukushima, a new section was added to commemorate the event.
The original design of the garden was dictated by the world's oldest gardening manual - a Japanese text written sometime between 785 and 1184 AD. It subscribes to a series of principles including those of Buddhism and geomancy; which most of us will be more familiar with in its popular form of feng shui. Structurally the garden makes use of the two key elements of the natural world: mountains and water. The "mountains" in the garden are the rocks scattered throughout the garden, some apparently randomly, and others built into an impressive rockery and waterfall. A staggered bridge runs across this waterfall, and you can walk across it, peering into the froth of the waterfall to spot enormous koi carp lurking in the pools. And the staggering of the bridge follows another Japanese design rule - evil thoughts travel in straight lines. So, a staggered bridge doesn't let them pass from one side of the garden to the other.
As well as the monster koi, the Kyoto Garden is also home to some pretty peacocks, and a small clutch of very English-looking ducks that may well have let themselves in to the garden from another part of the park, to float about on the peaceful ponds. We wandered awhile between the bamboo plants and the acers, spotting a stone lantern here and a shishi odoshi there. Shishi odoshi are those lovely water features which pour water from one element to another, overflowing with a clank that is meant to scare off deer or birds in Japanese gardens. (It doesn't seem to work on interloping ducks.)
Even full of sunny Sunday visitors the gardens felt immensely peaceful. My friend reported that during peak summer months the queue to cross the lovely staggered bridge, and toss pennies down on the koi, can back right up around the path. I was pleased to visit the Kyoto Garden at a less popular time, to be able to experience the calm and cleverness of its design, without a thousand screaming children underfoot. It's always nice to find a new hiding place in this big, buzzy city, so thanks, friend, for sharing it with me!

Holland Park, and the Kyoto Garden, is open from 7.30am until half an hour before dusk each day.

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  1. I'm always looking for a new park in London, I discovered Battersea Park the other day and loved it. This is definitely going to be added to the hit list, especially with the fish and peacefulness of it all x

    1. This place has a similar vibe to Battersea with that huge Buddha right in the middle of it, Becca. Do go and check it out!


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