Looking for frogspawn (Thursday 9 March 2017)
I came to Holland Park last summer and made two drawings between the August showers from this green and multifarious mix of formal gardens, lawns, historic buildings and wild woodland (see Sticks in the Smoke 26)
. That day, on my way across the park I took a loop around the Kyoto Garden
. But it was the height of the Pokemon Go
craze and the paths were teeming with players excitedly brandishing their phones. So I resolved to return at a quieter time. So here I am today.
This is the first warm day of the season. I stroll through Holland Park in the sunshine. Round a bend and a fox is lying there, stretched out and lapping from a puddle. It eyes me
as I slowly approach and only bothers to wearily raise its scruffy body when I’m as close as a tree shadow’s width. It drags its tail tip through the puddle and disappears around a laurel bush.
I take the sun patch dappled steps up into the Kyoto Garden
. Around the bamboo fence and this mini oriental landscape of water, rocks, trees and carefully placed ishi-dōrō
) is revealed. It was created in 1991 by the Garden Association of Kyoto
(the original imperial capital of Japan
) in collaboration with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
and was opened by The Prince of Wales
and The Crown Prince of Japan
as a part of the Japan Festival celebrations. It was designed and laid out by a team of specialist gardeners from Japan as a traditional Kaiyushiki
, or a pond- stroll
garden, where the visitor walks in a clockwise direction around a small lake and is presented with a series of scenes intended to be viewed at aesthetically and spiritually significant points around the path. Benches are placed at some of these key points so that visitors can relax and contemplate.
Just inside the entrance is a round stone tsukubai
(a washbasin for visitors to purify themselves by rinsing hands
); no water running today so I have to explore the garden in an unpurified state. I put my hands in my pockets and start my clockwise circuit. A stillness here, the pond is barely ruffled. Japanese willows fringed with magenta. Maples. Birches reflected, vertical bands. Rounded shrubs in blossom fringe the bank and their reflections complete circles in the water.
Even after our wild and messy winter, this space seems perfect and tended with care. Ropes sling between bamboo posts; visitors are kept strictly to the paths. No straying onto lawns, which undulate up to and into the surrounding woods (where the technique of ‘shakkei‘ uses elements outside of the garden to create the illusion that the garden is more expansive than it is
). I follow around and down towards the staggered granite slab bridge, which hangs over the water at the foot of a rocky waterfall. Normally the sound of running water trickles out across the whole garden but it’s not flowing today. A gardener tells me that the lake has recently been cleaned out and refilled. Which is also why the giant koi aren’t in the pond at the moment; they’ve been moved to an indoor pool for a mini break but
being returned next week. I wait for a knot of young Spanish tourists to finish taking group selfies on the bridge. Coins sparkle in the water.
I complete my circuit and set up close to the entrance to draw across the pond back towards the bridge (see drawing at top). The sun warm on the back of my neck. Then almost hot, like summer.
The garden fills with visitors but there’s a respectful and contemplative hush here. It’s not that you don’t hear sounds from beyond the space: traffic, sirens, dogs barking, planes and the strident calls of peacocks; it’s just that in this special space designed for meditation and reflection, they simply have no significance. The only time this reverence is disrupted is when a squadron of parakeets swoop over the garden, their shrill squawks piercing the peace.
A pair of moorhens paddle like clockwork, trailing little shimmery wakes across the pond surface
The paths are narrow and I have to stand aside to allow room for mothers pushing buggies past. A little dark haired girl of about 4 is holding her younger sisters’s hand and squints at my drawing. She asks “Is there frogspawn in there?”
And I reply I don’t think so. And she says they saw some frogspawn earlier in another pond in Holland Park and then tells me in detail the life
story of tadpoles and frogs, almost without taking a breath. I say thankyou and their mother smiles indulgently as she steers her daughters away. A little later I look across and see them kneeling on the bridge and peering down into the water. Looking for frogspawn.
A crescent of lawns and shrubberies wraps to the south. This is the Fukushima garden
, opened in 2012 as an adjunct to the Kyoto Garden. Designed by famed Kyoto landscape gardener Yasuo Kitayama
, this was a gift from Japan to honour the help and support of the UK following the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster at Fukushima
. It’s a simple space, half hoops in bamboo fringe the pebble paths. Weeping birches trail their branches to the grass. Two girls drink tea and chat on a shaded bench. A path leads to the top of the garden and goes no further. Just some trees and rocks and an ishi-dōrō
. And the glint of pond below.
A pair of peacocks appear and begin to strut haughtily, owning the garden, tails swishing and flaring; posing for photographs, electric blue necks proudly plumped.
(In his ‘Sticks in the Smoke’ project, Nick Andrew has been visiting, researching and drawing a different public park or garden in Central London since January 2016. This is leading to a collection of paintings exploring the theme of city green spaces from the perspective of a rural landscape painter. These will be shown in a London exhibition in 2018. Sadly, the original planned exhibition at the Curwen Gallery, London in April 2017 has been cancelled as Curwen Gallery has had to close unexpectedly) www.nickandrew.co.uk
Kyoto Garden, Holland Park, Kensington, London W11 4UA
Open 7.30 am to half an hour before dusk
Google earth view here