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Maymont’s Japanese Garden celebrates 100 years | Richmond Times-Dispatch

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Maymont’s Japanese Garden celebrates 100 years | Richmond Times-Dispatch

Maymont’s Japanese Garden is one of Richmond’s most beloved spaces, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Peaceful yet brimming with life, its very existence is an exercise in tranquility.

Narrow winding footpaths lead visitors past clusters of tall bamboo and manicured trees and shrubs. A sculpted 45-foot waterfall feeds a small stream that meanders its way to a pond filled with colorful koi.

Stone lanterns, raked sand pools and steppingstones within the pond accent the more than 6-acre space, most of which can be viewed from the azumaya, a small pavilion that juts over the water at the pond’s edge.

“Japanese gardens are all about slowing your pace,” said Maymont’s director of horticulture, Peggy Singlemann. “They’re all about forcing you to look and to be able to appreciate nature and what’s around you.”

The lanterns within the garden “put light on your path,” she continued. “You enter this garden and leave the world behind.”

That’s exactly what James and Sallie Dooley had in mind a century ago when they hired Japanese garden masters to create the intimate space for them.

Maymont is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Japanese Garden with events planned throughout the year, including an official anniversary celebration in September that will feature Japanese delicacies, Ikebana displays and bamboo sculptures.

But today’s Japanese Garden barely resembles the one created by the Dooleys, who built the Maymont Mansion in 1893 and lived there until 1925. Their garden was much smaller, Singlemann said, encompassing only the area in front of the waterfall, which was the centerpiece. There was a gazebo, stone lanterns, an earthen bridge and plants and shrubs.

The stream running from the base of the waterfall led to a pond, and it was there that the Dooleys’ Japanese Garden ended, Singlemann said. Western influences took over, as evidenced by the European grotto that sits at the bottom of a pathway that, back then, started at the Italian Garden above.

When the Dooleys died, the property was turned over to the city and became a public park.

For 50 years, “Maymont was another public park in their minds,” Singlemann said. “The city had no funds to truly, properly give Maymont its due.”

But that changed in 1975 when a group of residents formed the nonprofit Maymont Foundation to manage and care for the park.

Among the foundation’s earliest projects was the Japanese Garden renovation. In 1978, it hired Barry Starke, president of Earth Design Associates, based in Casanova. Starke’s design expanded the garden to more than 6 acres and included the reshaped pond.

Maymont Foundation’s executive director, Norman Burns, said the Dooleys created their garden at a time when society was changing. Coming at the end of the Industrial Age, carriages were making way for autos, and life in general was getting faster. Very much like today, he said, where life moves at the speed of technology.

Yet for both eras, though a century apart, the Japanese Garden was and still is a place of peace.

“The Dooleys left this extraordinary gift to Richmonders to enjoy,” he said, a “place where people can come and get unplugged. From any vantage point in the garden, it’s a contemplative space.”

Walking through the Japanese Garden, Singlemann remarked on the artistry of the garden, citing as one example the rocks that outline the stream leading to the koi pond.

“They’re just pieced together perfectly like a puzzle,” she said. “The garden masters who created this garden really knew what they were doing. These were true artisans, and they created a beautiful Japanese experience for the Dooleys.”


Written by vaphc

March 18, 2012 at 9:03 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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