Yokohama will host the preparation camps of the British Olympic and Paralympic teams. What is more, with the opening of the Yokohama port in the final years of the Edo period (1853-1868), Yokohama was quick to embrace British culture.
With that in mind, we would like to use this article to present the Yokohama English Garden, a spot where you can enjoy British culture. Our guide was Satoshi Kuroda, a gardener at Yokohama English Garden. He introduced us to the various seasonal plants in the garden, which is home to 2,000 plant species and vistas bulging with more than 2,200 roses. He also showed us the appeal of seasonal differences to be seen with each visit and taught us about the British culture that shaped that appeal.
The thrill of an English Garden is the enjoyment of natural beauty found in flowering plants
The essence of English Gardens is the “enjoyment of natural beauty”, which stems back to the first English-style gardens of the 18th and 19th centuries. With the real thrill of an English Garden being the illusion that the garden has somehow been lifted directly out of a natural setting, affording a sense of raw wild potency seen in the beauty of flowering plants. Differing from the geometric designs of Italian and French style gardens, the views in English Gardens offer a sense of depth in a left-right asymmetric setting, somehow hinting at a beauty similar to that seen in segments of a Japanese garden.
“The crux of an English Garden involves mixed planting in a natural setting. Although manmade, the delight is derived by creating a natural vista by arranging a blend of various plants. Nevertheless, having got that natural look, it does not mean that the garden can be left to grow wild. What is required is the knowledge of each plant’s characteristics, and the planning skills to plant each one at the right time and in the right location.
The point here is that the gardener needs to have the knowledge to choose which plants work in which environments. Just because the aimed for effect is an English Garden, that does not mean that you have to use British plants, you should dare to use the plants that you like.”
Japan’s involvement in British gardening culture
British gardening culture changed greatly in the 18th and 19th centuries thanks to the many plants brought back to Britain by plant hunters, who roamed the world to augment the small number of plants that grow naturally in Britain. Back then, plant hunters from the countries of northern Europe, including Britain, travelled to Asia, Africa and Latin America and gathered prized plants, with, it is said, hydrangeas, wild chrysanthemums and others taken back from Japan.
On the back of this plant boost, the Horticultural Society of London was established by plant-loving Londoners, and gardening culture flourished.
Philipp Franz von Siebold (1796-1866) took the lacecap hydrangea (native to Japan) back to Holland, where, it is said, work progressed to increase the varieties. Back then, Seibold named the Japanese lacecap hydrangea “Hydrangea otakusa”, with Otakusa being the pet name of his Japanese wife. And, hydrangeas can be enjoyed in the Yokohama English Garden in June.
Through the 90s and 00s, British gardening culture became immensely popular in Japan, with English roses – noted for their slender stems and a soft impression – from the famous rose nursery of David Austin becoming extremely popular.
And, even though these are hard to come by nowadays, the Yokohama English Garden has several collections of David Austin’s roses.
What’s there to enjoy in the Yokohama English Garden from autumn 2020 to spring 2021?
At the Yokohama English Garden, where the keynote is the rose, which also happens to be Yokohama’s symbolic flower, the four seasons sees an array of flowering plants take a proud bow as they step into bloom, including over 30 species of cherry trees in spring and some 300 species of hydrangeas in early summer. Therefore, we asked Satoshi Kuroda about what we should look out for in the period between autumn 2020 and spring 2021.
“The species of plants at the Yokohama English Garden are many and varied. From the middle of October to the end of November, autumn roses are the blooms that catch the eye. While there are other roses in their prime in both spring and summer, autumn roses offer excellent colors and fragrances, with the expansive spread of the blooms making them especially attractive to the eye. What is more, the blooms on this year’s roses are bigger than usual. The gradual lowering of temperature in autumn means that rose petals slowly unfurl to a greater size. And, the deep, burgundy color are due to that gradual blooming process.”
Rows of splendid roses with blooms the size of a clenched fist – wow, so many roses steeped in delightful fragrances, the aroma of damask that is so redolent of a rose, as well as others with fruity fragrances and more!
“Spring, in early to mid-May is a great time to view roses. And, the star attraction in Yokohama English Garden is our 50-meter long rose tunnel, with roses in full bloom in mid-May. The rich scents of the rose-filled tunnel make even the simplest of walks through a heady, fragrance-filled experience. Early to mid-May is a precious period as we work to get the roses in the tunnel and nearby environs to bloom in unison. We gardeners closely observe minute changes, such as temperature, humidity and amount of sunlight, employing our green fingers to ensure that all the roses come into bloom in this period – so, this is the time when show what we are made of. Hence, we truly hope that as many people as possible will come and visit the garden to enjoy the vistas of beautiful roses in bloom.”
This time round, we took a look at our English Garden, which originated from British gardening culture.
With a shared love of natural beauty, doubtless the British and Japanese are close in terms of sensitivity.
Christmas decorations will be on show from 24 November at the Yokohama English Garden. The double enjoyment of seasonal festive decorations and garden vistas is yet another appealing reason to visit – so, why not come and enjoy Yokohama English Garden!
Yokohama English Garden Website
GO GB column writer: Mari Uematsu
Photos provided by Yokohama English Garden