By Julie Moir Messervy
Japanese gardens have been back on my mind lately. Several years ago, the Museum of Fine Arts’ Tenshin-en was skillfully and elegantly renovated by my friend and colleague Shinichiro Abe’s firm, Zen Associates. Shin and I worked together in Professor Kinsaku Nakane’s office in Kyoto in 1976 (!), alongside his son, Shiro Nakane. So it was a wonderful reunion for the three of us to come together to honor Sensei’s legacy at the Museum and to see his design for the Garden of the Heart of Heaven be beautifully revivified at last.
Then I was asked to design a Japanese-style garden for the home of a wonderful couple in Edinburgh, Scotland. Collaborating with talented architect Helen Lucas of Helen Lucas Architects and excellent landscape contracting company Stephen Ogilvie, Erica Bowman and I laid out a plan that included a handsome cut-stone patio, meandering stepping stone paths, sweeping bed lines, stony mounds, a grassy pool of space, and swaths of elegant plantings. I flew in to Edinburgh in spring of 2016 and created the mounds and set out the major trees and stones—ancient pieces of gneiss from Scotland’s Isle of Lewis.
Then last year, Erica and I laid out the rest of the plantings and worked out the design of the front walkway and tree plantings. The result is a contemporary Japanese-inspired garden for a renovated stone house that features huge windows along the kitchen and hallway, bringing inside and outside together into one elegant whole.
A few weeks ago, I received a beautiful book from my old friend and colleague, David Slawson. Both he and Shin Abe’s work is featured in Visionary Landscapes: Japanese Garden Design in North America by Kendal H. Brown with photographs by David Cobb. David apprenticed with me at Professor Nakane’s studio during my second trip to Kyoto in 1980-81 and has been a leading author and landscape designer of naturalistic Japanese gardens in this country since then. His book Secret Teachings in the Art of Japanese Gardens is a classic in the field. This beautiful book shows the many different forms that this beautiful garden art can take, as created by five contemporary masters in the field.