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Drought, floods (as well as elections and double-dip recession), everything is getting very apocalyptic so perhaps it is time for some meditations on water.

According to Genesis, God separates dry land from the water after the creation of heaven and earth, light and darkness. In other cosmogonies water is the primeval substance from which all forms come. Christian Norberg-Schulz, the Norwegian architectural theorist, highlighted this when he wrote on the nature of landscape and place in his book ‘Genius Loci – Towards a Phenomenology of Architecture’. He suggested that

the presence of water thus gives identity to the land and the legend of the Deluge presents the ‘loss of place’ as a great flood. Although it is the opposite of place, water belongs intimately to living reality.”

According to Mircia Eliade in ‘Patterns of Comparative Religion’,

The most primitive of the ‘sacred places’ we know constituted a microcosm: a landscape of stones, water and trees.”

Water is one of the basic elements in Japanese gardens, which were essentially symbolic representations of the cosmos and places for meditation and contemplation. They became popular in the West from the 1860’s with the opening up of Japan after trade agreements with the USA and Britain. The London World Fair of 1862 showed Japanese objects in London for the first time. The Water Gardens at Kingston-upon-Thames, nine acres of ponds, streams and waterfalls, were created by the Veitch family in the 1860’s.

This was originally part of the Coombe Wood Nursery and many of the plants were collected for the Veitch family in China and Japan, some by the famous plant collector Ernest Wilson. His Japanese Kurume azalea hybrids became immensely popular in the 1920’s. Incidentally he later became the director of the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard in America.

These gardens are open to the public twice a year, in spring and the autumn, for charity under the National Gardens Scheme.

These photographs are from my spring visits.

In the Heian period (794-1185) in Japan, water poetry ceremonies were held in gardens, so I thought it was an opportunity to try a haiku:

Jet stream fading

cranes poised for eternity

fishing silently

The Isabella Plantation garden in nearby Richmond Park is a woodland and water garden at its best in spring when the azaleas are in bloom. Created after the Second World War it houses the National Collection of Kurume azaleas.

Another Japanese garden in London is the Kyoto Garden in Holland Park.

This was built as a souvenir of the Japanese Festival in 1991, but is on the site of an earlier late 19th century one. It is authentically based on a ‘lake and stroll’ type of garden.

I found this pond and statue in another part of Holland Park echoing the same elements.

Although azaleas are actually named from the Greek for drought ‘azaleos’ because they supposedly inhabited dry conditions, they seem to thrive in these watery situations as well. However there is another type of Japanese garden called Karesansui. These are rock gardens or Zen gardens which are specifically meditation gardens where white sand or gravel replaces water.

This example at Kew Gardens uses gravel to represent rivers and the sea. Wave patterns are echoed in a carving on the Japanese Gateway nearby, which was built for the Japan-British Exhibition in London in 1910.

In true complementary Japanese style I happened to have a peacock posing for me in this garden last week.

It wasn’t long before the rain returned and so to the second part of my title and a quote from Van Morrison’s ‘Sweet Thing’ on Astral Weeks:

We shall walk and talk in gardens all misty wet, misty wet…..

in gardens all wet with rain, wet with rain.”

So having managed to come around again to one of my favourite topics of water and music, how about some suggestions for watery music to accompany a future post at the beginning of June as my concession to the Jubilympics. Any alternatives for Handel’s Water Music?

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