|The Malott Japanese Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden|
Japanese gardens are all about peace, harmony and tranquility, a place for contemplation and the appreciation of nature. Trees, rocks, stone lanterns and winding paths are there to enjoy year round.Most visitors to the Chicago Botanic Garden, though, probably visit its Elizabeth Hubert Malott Japanese garden in the spring and summer given our temperature swings. That's a shame because winter, at least in my opinion, is the best time to appreciate its design.
The surrounding lake is now covered with ice, providing a white backdrop for the many plants along its shoreline. Snow also sets off the twisted and pruned shapes of the trees and shrubs. And when the sun breaks through the clouds, the shadows created are all the more dramatic as a result.
|Trees on Horaijima stand out against the snow.|
I recently visited the Japanese garden as part of a free photo walk sponsored by the CBG on the first Saturday of every month. The sky was overcast at first, but patches of blue started peaking through in the early afternoon, lifting my spirits.
This place officially is Sansho-en, Garden of Three Islands, designed by Dr. Koichi Kawana.
The main island, Keiunto (Island of the Auspicious Cloud) is reached by an arched wooden bridge and is connected to Seifuto (Island of Clear, Pure Breezes) by a zigzag bridge. Both have winding paths around their perimeters and various buildings.
The third island is Horaijima (Island of Everlasting Happiness) which represents paradise, a place that can’t be reached by mortals. It is not accessible to the public although it can be seen from the other two islands and provides a lot of “borrowed” scenery, a key element in Japanese gardens.
During the rest of the year, these islands have plenty of greenery – deciduous trees and shrubs as well as bamboo and other groundcovers. In winter, though, it’s stripped to its bare essentials. It’s a scene right out of a Japanese ink wash painting – simple, serene and striking, all at the same time.
By Karen Geisler
|The north end of Keiunto as viewed from the entrance bridge.|
|The twisted shape of this tree is highlighted by the icy lake.|
|Stone lanterns and rocks are essential parts of a Japanese garden.|
|The shape of this tree is more easily appreciated in the winter.|
|"Borrowed" scenery, a common element in Japanese gardens, is everywhere.|