KIDS ACTIVITY – LEARNING ABOUT JAPANESE GARDENS
My daughter is very into all things Japanese at the moment. Having read a lot about Japanese gardens, one of the things she was keen to try was making a miniature Japanese flat garden. Full-sized Japanese gardens are themselves miniaturised; they are a microcosm of the macrocosm whereby rocks can represent mountains, ponds can be seas in order to create a controlled image of a perfected version of the natural world so creating a miniature version of this is merely another step in this process.
Japanese gardens are deceptively simple; they appear sparse but are full of symbolism and the working together of the different elements in the garden. We have visited the Japanese Garden at Gatton Park and are planning to return to the wonderful example at Kew Gardens, but there are others fairly nearby which we would love to see including the Kyoto Garden in Holland Park.
We used a semi-opaque plastic tray for the base of the garden because it was only £1 and because we wanted a neutral shade that wouldn’t detract from the garden itself. We weighed up using sand or gravel for the white sand traditionally used in Japanese gardens to suggest purity and the movement of water. Sand is more traditional but much messier; we wanted it to stay put, rather than encroach all over the house, and we wanted it to stay clean. We found white aquarium gravel at the garden centre (we bought Hugo Kamishi) and the 2kg bag was just enough to cover our tray.
My daughter really wanted to add a proper bonsai tree so we also bought one of these at the garden centre. It was £15, so not cheap (last time we looked they were only £12, which was annoying).
For the rocks we used pebbles we had saved from various trips to the beach and which we found particularly smooth and calming. We also used a lump of weirdly iridescent green glass we found embedded in the ground at the park. Japanese gardens traditionally have waterfalls, streams or irregular ponds but for now my daughter used the lid of a cake sprinkle jar for a small pond.
Then she used a chopstick to rake into the gravel the swirling meditative patterns typical of a Karesansui, or dry rock, garden.
There are other possibilities that she might include in the future, such as a basin of water, blossoms, a miniature tea house or a bridge. She is keen to have a bridge but so far we have not found one that we liked and could justify spending more money on so we are keeping a look-out for something suitable.