Unlocking the mystery of Japan
Everything about this Japanese-style garden is shrouded in mystery, and for decades it was hidden away with only one key holder
Classic Japanese gardens are created within the confines of strict rules. In Japan, it is the creativity with which the gardener interprets those rules that earns praise and admiration. By these strict rules the Japanese Garden in the public park of Clingendael near The Hague is not strictly speaking a true Japanese garden. Instead it is a garden à la Japonaise, or garden in the Japanese style – and a beautiful one at that.
We don’t know exactly when Marguérite Mary baroness van Brienen van de Groote Lindt (1871-1939) – better known as ‘Lady Daisy’ (the English translation of her name) – turned part of the woodland on her family estate into a Japanese garden. What we do know is that she inherited the estate in 1903, and that she travelled to Japan in 1895, and again in 1911, apparently shipping back lanterns, statues, bridges and possibly even the pavilion, but what she planted and when or who was involved in the garden’s design are all shrouded in mystery. Archives from the estate did not survive the German occupation during the Second World War, and all information about the creation of the garden was lost. By the time the estate was acquired by the city of The Hague in 1954 and people started to wonder about the garden’s history, Lady Daisy had died, single and childless.
Clues to the original garden can be found in a couple of old blackand-white photographs, a barely legible photocopy of a planting list, probably compiled between 1905 and 1915, and the garden we see today. And what we see is utterly delightful, although markedly different from the original garden if the old list is to be believed. This shows more than 300 entries, with surprisingly lush and floral planting, in accordance with the fashion of the day. Originally, a simple log bridge across a narrow canal led to just one Japanese-style gate to which only Lady Daisy had the key. Most of the garden’s mature trees are remnants of the (planted) woodland that once occupied, and
still surrounds, this space. Today, with much of Lady Daisy’s underplanting gone, you can see far more of the structure of paths and waterways that meander through swathes of mosses. Beautiful, but the element of surprise, typical for a Japanese garden, has largely gone.
The style of the garden has some of the characteristics of a roji (a garden through which one passes to the chashitsu, or tea house), which is in essence a stylised version of ‘nature’, instilling a sense of harmony, humility and tranquillity. It includes many key elements (see facing page), such as lanterns and water basins, and typical Japanese planting, including rhododendrons, acers, hinoki cypresses, bamboo, ferns, cherry blossoms, hostas, Juniperus procumbens and 40 types of moss.
Not every plant is strictly speaking Japanese. A gnarled Wisteria sinensis (native not to Japan but to China) is a cherished plant from Lady Daisy’s days, while one lonely Yucca filamentosa (native not to Japan but the USA) is the sole survivor of an original six. Surely, having lived so long, they have both earned their place in this unique garden, which has miraculously survived both war and changing fashions?
USEFUL INFORMATION Address Clingendael 6, 2597 VH The Hague, the Netherlands. Open 29 April – 11 June and 14-29 October 2017.
The Japanese-style plot was carved out of a piece of woodland on the Clingendael estate near The Hague. The pavilion at the north end of the garden is thought to have been brought back from Japan by Lady Daisy.
Moss, seen here growing along the banks of the stream, is a signature plant of many Japanese gardens. To thrive, it needs semi-shade and damp soil. In Japanese gardens colour is often introduced through flowering trees, shrubs and perennial forest flowers, such as these Primula japonica, growing through leafy ferns.