Appreciating Nature through Gardening

A Day in Kamakura: Temple Gardens Part I

Overcast skies but no rain on my second solo day in Japan, so I took the JR Yokosuka line to Kamakura.  It is very easy to get around — the automatic ticket machines and posted maps are fairly intuitive, but it does help to have a good orientation skills.    A forty-five minute trip dropped me at Kita-Kamakura Station on a little side road lined with private residences.  The numerous temples were located at the end of long narrow roads heading up into the  surrounding hills.  I only had time to visit six sites, plus lunch and a brief stop in a lacquer shop.  I wish I’d had more time here — a wonderful place of temples, shrines, and gardens.

This gardener pruned a row of tree peonies down to a couple of strong buds on each stem.  Using sign language, he told me that not only did it keep the plants from outgrowing their space, but also made for larger blossoms on the remaining framework.  I will have to try this with some overgrown specimens.

Casual bonsai like this pot were popular everywhere.  This arrangement of a maple, toad lily, and gemmiferous spikemoss (Selaginella moellendorffii) is a charming microcosm of natural woodland growth I observed.  Coincidentally, I purchased a pot of this spikemoss at Arrowhead Alpines last summer for use in a container — I’m over-wintering it inside since it’s only hardy to zone 7.  According to Phytozome, this member of the ancient family of lycophytes has the smallest genome of any plant reported, making it invaluable for understanding plant evolution.  After 400 million years of perseverance, I hope it survives my basement.

The Hojo garden at Engaku-ji enclosed “Hyaku Kan-non,”  a hundred sculptures of the goddess of mercy from the Edo period.  Petitioners left offerings to accompany silent prayers.

Tradition says that these 750 year-old junipers at Kencho-ji were planted by founder Rankei Doryu (1213-78) from seed brought from China.

Natural springs trickled from the steep slopes surrounding the temple complexes.

Shimenawa (sacred ropes) mark an iwakura, an ancient rock seat of the gods.

Meigetsu-an, “Bright Moon Hermitage,” features a dry landscape garden with a background of karikoma, tightly clipped shrubs simulating verdant mountains.  The rock arrangement represents Buddhist cosmology, with Shumisen, the world mountain, rising from the center of supporting stones.

Supplicants adorn the statues with red garments and leave tokens of loved ones as they pray for the well-being of both the living and the dead.  A color traditionally signifying good fortune and protection from evil, red also decorates buildings, lanterns, and gates.  A classic example is the Hachiman-gu Shrine (1063), dedicated to the god of war.


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