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A Visit to Kenrokuen Garden

December 1, 2016

Last month, I took a photography trip to Japan led by the incomparable Sam Abell. Our itinerary was unusual since most of the cities we visited were off the beaten track for most tourists, and I didn’t expect it to include any memorable gardens, especially since we weren’t headed to Kyoto, known for its stunning public and private gardens.

To my delight, I quickly discovered how wrong I was. In almost every city we visited, there was at least one breathtaking garden, often associated with a local temple, whether small or large. And in Kanazawa (located on the Sea of Japan in north central Honshu island), we spent most of a day exploring Kenrokuen, which is considered one of Japan’s three most beautiful gardens.

In 1985, Kenrokuen was designated as a National Site of Special Scenic Beauty by the government (having been merely a “place of scenic beauty” for several decades prior to that). Its construction began in the late 1600’s as part of the feudal lord Maeda Tsunanori’s creation of a garden adjacent to Kanzawa Castle. “Kenrokuen” means “having six factors,” and refers to six attributes considered by the Chinese and Japanese to create a perfect landscape: spaciousness, tranquility, artifice, antiquity, water sources, and a magnificent panoramic view. This garden, which extends over 25 acres in size, has them all.

Although we encountered rain off and on during our visit (not surprising given Kanazawa’s reputation as a “distinctly wet” city with over 190 days of rain a year), we enjoyed taking in the peak fall color of the leaves and watching the gardening staff taking part in yukitsuri. Yukitsuri, which literally means “snow hanging,” is the name for the annual process in which garden staff erect ropes in a conical shape over garden trees and shrubs in order to create structure to keep their branches from breaking in the wet, heavy snow the region gets every year. The resulting structures are not only practically useful but aesthetically appealing – a ‘win-win’ situation for garden visitors. The pine trees, in particular, are carefully taken care of; there is one that is over 200 years old and has many of its lower branches supported by sturdy wooden ‘props.’

Kenrokuen is visited year-round by many people, especially now that bullet train service is available from Tokyo. In the winter, the landscape must be breathtaking in snow. Spring brings cherry trees, azaleas and irises in bloom, and in summer the landscape views are all green and lush. In fall, when we visited, the trees are ablaze with golds, reds and yellows of countless varieties of Japanese maples. And year-round there are ponds to visit, paths to stroll, and teahouses placed for their views and to offer sustenance and contemplation for the visitor. By the time I left, at the end of the day, I had resolved to return in another season, and I hope you will be intrigued by these images to consider a similar resolve.

Kenrokuen Garden is located in Ishikawa Prefecture in Japan. It is open year-round from 7 am to 6 pm during March to mid-October, and from 8 am to 5 pm from October 16th to the end of February. Admission fees vary (free for senior citizens with ID). More information can be found on its website.

Beauty Within and Without – Visiting the Franciscan Monastery

November 21, 2015

In Northeast Washington DC, in the Brookland neighborhood, sits the lovely Franciscan Monastery.  Earlier this week, a group from my camera club took a field trip there.

Although I had been to the Monastery before, it was only in springtime, and I didn’t venture inside.  That time of year, tulips are lavishly planted on the grounds and around all parts of the garden areas.

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A statue of Mary, arms full of flowers, in the lower level of the gardens, the week before Easter.

Franciscan Monastery

More tulips near the Church, with the Rosary Portico in the background.

On my more recent visit, although there were still a few roses in bloom here and there near the Portico, most of the visual interest outside the Basilica came from the Rosary Portico, the statuary, and magnificent trees in the last stages of fall color.

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A magnificent oak (I couldn’t identify the kind) serves as a backdrop for the Rosary Portico, which frames the main area surrounding the Basilica, and the Ascension Chapel (right background).

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The Rosary Portico contains plaques (not visible here) with the text of the Hail Mary shown in nearly two hundred ancient and modern languages.

Around the corner from the Basilica, planted next to a stone building that was closed when we visited, I spotted what seemed to be Ilex verticillata (winterberry) shrubs in fall color, still hanging on to their berries.

Franciscan Monastery

Ilex verticillata with berries. Guess the birds hadn’t discovered these yet!

Eventually we made our way into the Basilica and before starting to photograph, had a fascinating tour about the history of the building – including a walk through some catacomb areas. Then we re-emerged into the sun-lit interior, where for an hour we were allowed to photograph to our heart’s content, using tripods as we looked for large vistas and small detail images. Hope you enjoy what I came home with.

For more information on the Mount St. Sepulchre Franciscan monastery, visit its website or read more about it in Wikipedia.

“Seeing Deeper” at the National Cathedral

January 23, 2015

Living in the DC suburbs, one of my favorite places to photograph both gardens and architecture has long been the Washington National Cathedral. Earlier this month, the Cathedral cleared its nave of chairs for a four-day period. It publicized this event, offering (paid) access to photographers on two mornings before it opened to the public.  The Cathedral called it a “week of exploration and experience” and christened it “Seeing Deeper.”

Although the price tag was a bit steep  ($25 per person; the Cathedral has recently instituted an admission fee of $10 on normal days for sightseeing except when worship services are going on) and there was no guarantee of good sunlight to illuminate the stained glass windows, I signed up right away. As luck would have it, the day I signed up for turned out to be cloudy, so I got no striking photographs of sunbeams on the walls. But I found much to admire and photograph on the main floor (which is the only part we were allowed to visit), and put my tripod to good use. I hope you enjoy the results.

Autumn Vistas at Dumbarton Oaks

November 15, 2014

One of the most amazing gardens in the Washington DC area is tucked away at the top of Georgetown. I’m speaking, of course, of Dumbarton Oaks, designed over a period of thirty years (more or less) by Beatrix Farrand. Farrand, the first woman landscape architect in the United States, worked with Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss to create an expanse of garden “rooms,” and designed every aspect of the landscape, from the plantings down to the finials and stone benches you find throughout. (For those of you who follow such things, National Geographic just ranked Dumbarton Oaks as one of the top ten gardens in the world.)

On the first of November, I went to visit the gardens. The last time I saw them, several years ago, I had been disappointed in the herbaceous borders. But this time the whole place looked spectacular; and there was a new “performance art” installation in the form of sound pipes in the Lovers Lane Pool, by Hugh Livingston. The Dumbarton Oaks website describes them as “an imaginary chorus on a watery stage.”

Dumbarton Oaks, Hugh Livingston, Lovers Lane Pool

“Pool of Bamboo Counterpoint,” by Hugh Livingston, at Dumbarton Oaks.

Livingston’s sound “piece” follows on other temporary art installations that have graced other parts of the garden in past years, including Patrick Dougherty’s “Easy Rider” installation in the Ellipse, which I wrote about in an earlier post.

After investigating the pool installation, I spent several hours in the rest of the garden – the weakening fall sun was low enough that photography was less challenging than I’d anticipated. Hope you enjoy the show.

Dumbarton Oaks is located at 31st and R Streets NW in Washington DC. From now until March 15, 2015, the gardens are open only in the afternoons from 2 – 5 pm and admission is free.

 

Chihuly’s Magic at the Denver Botanic Gardens

September 6, 2014

Where did summer go? Technically we have until the third week of September before we officially bid adieu to its glories. Fortunately, you have longer than that to catch the Chihuly exhibit at the Denver Botanic Gardens. I made my first visit to the DBG in early August on a bright, sunny Sunday afternoon. The place was packed and the shooting conditions about the most challenging you can imagine with all that sun and all that glass.

The friend who took me said her husband wasn’t a big fan of how the glass sculptures work in the garden (they are in virtually every part of the multi-acre space). In some areas, I agreed with him, but in others I thought the additions were brilliant. A film in the visitor’s center gave us some insight into his work in other venues, including cities like Venice and Jerusalem. If you’re in Denver between now and when the exhibit closes in late November, don’t miss it – and if you go at night, the sculptures are lit! How cool is that?

In the meantime, here are some photos to give you a vicarious experience.


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