Colin Crosbie came to us with impeccable horticultural credentials, and a love for Japanese culture, people and gardens that was absolutely evident from his first words of the evening.
He took us on a tour of some of the finest gardens in Japan, with glorious images, and just as importantly, many insights into the rationale, history and culture behind the Japanese style of gardening. One thing Colin made absolutely clear in the course of his lecture was that any garden outside Japan may be interesting, it may even be beautiful, but it ain’t Japanese. A stand on which he would not be budged, and as we travelled with him, learning of the lengthy apprenticeships necessary to place boulders; the dizzying choices at the moss nurseries; the extraordinary lengths Japanese gardeners go to in order to preserve ancient (and sometimes ailing) shrubs and trees; the attitudes towards vista, dynamic tension and colour, I for one began to see his point. The patience and skill, and even the desire to tell a story with raked gravel , stones and moss is quite alien to the European gardening tradition, and until tonight’s talk had been a closed book to me. Mr Crosbie enlightened us to some extent, though I feel a couple of hours is just enough time to skim the surface.
On the practical side, we learnt that cloud pruning started as a method to help plants survive the fierce winds of Japan, and when Colin pointed out that these charming ‘clunk’ bamboo water features were deer scarers, there was a quite loud, appreciative and thoughtful murmur; evidently this is an idea that resonates with local residents!The absolute respect, reverence even, in which the Japanese hold nature becomes apparent the more one sees their gardens, blossom and leaf festivals, and temples, and I for one found it particularly touching to see the masses of plants crowded outside the front doors of the Japanese families with no gardens, and the images of volunteers caring for the moss in local parks. I’m not averse to a bit of tree hugging myself, but the Japanese have rituals for it, and maybe that’s a very good thing. While I doubt I can persuade ‘him indoors’ to give up our lawn for moss - just think - no more mowing!
I do feel that we came away from this talk a great deal more knowledgeable, and more appreciative of Japanese gardening, and Japanese culture in general.