Kingston Lacy Teagarden

Historical context

Kingston Lacy Estate extends to some 8,000 acres of Dorset countryside and is one of the many jewels in the National Trusts crown, situated just outside Wimborne and the home of the Bankes family for many years. The original Japanese garden was built in the early 1900's by Henrietta and laid out by the main pathway (Lady Walk) from the house to the kitchen garden, the other side of some woodland. At the time the Estate was bequeathed to the National Trust in 1982, the Japanese garden area was largely overgrown with little evidence of the original design other than a few bamboos, old prunus trees and recollections passed down from the early gardeners. An architectural survey identified the location of the teahouse and the iron boundary fence but little else. The whole area is about 7˝ acres (3 hectares) including the tea garden. There are five areas all adjacent to the Lady Walk, the acer grove, cherry orchard, quarry garden, evergreen glade and the large tea garden. It is the tea garden which is the subject of this article. The restoration project was funded by the Gordon Bulmer Charitable Trust and carried out by National Trust staff and volunteers.

Design Concept

It was paramount that the restoration should follow the ideas and use materials available to Henrietta Bankes in her original interpretation, based on books and early photos, without having the privilege of seeing Japanese gardens at first hand. In view of the lack of records some elements of more traditional design could be followed including the use of the surrounding woodland to provide an element of Shakkei.

The purpose of a tea garden is to prepare for the ceremony of taking tea, by taking the guest on a journey from the real world (epitomised by the outer garden into the spiritual world (inner garden) through to a mountain retreat (Cha-shitsu). In this way the journey through the garden should not excite but calm the senses and the winding path should imbue a sense of humility and purity, leaving ones worldly cares behind along with the shoes. The buildings were therefore simple, plain and drab and not at all appealing to Western garden taste where the teahouse is for taking refreshment, alcoholic or otherwise and chilling out after a hard day.

The Tea Garden

The garden is approached at the top of the Lady Walk through a large (2.4m wide) thatched Chumon gated entrance with timber and bamboo panels in the style of the Meimei-an teahouse entrance in Matsue, Japan.  In this instance the gates were a direct copy of the Meimei-an entrance although the thatch is to a local design.  The photo illustrates the lovely work of a master thatcher. A diversionary path further down the Lady Walk takes you under the torii entrance which is a traditional Myojin design seen at Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto (by the 10,000). Here conservatism has prevailed and a more reserved dark oak has replaced the usual ghastly vermillion colour.

The tea garden is set in an excavated area with a backdrop of a substantial bank and is enclosed by a wrought iron fence of Edwardian design to the front and proprietary bamboo panels on the bank top. The enclosure of the garden is necessary to keep the wildlife at bay and provide an element of security. The garden has an inner and outer garden with winding path of rolled grit for wheelchair access in the outer garden and large tooled Purbeck stone with natural fossilised mud cracks providing the winding path to and from the teahouse. A granite (Kasuga) lantern stands near the gate amid a bamboo clump to illuminate the entrance, which leads to an area of mossy undulating hills with a rock arrangement invoking the gods standing amidst the forest canopy. The moss effect is achieved by extensive planting of "mind your own business".

The path leads on the waiting arbour (Machiai), which has been loosely styled on one at Jikko-in in Ohara, near Kyoto. It has the traditional bus stop style roof with a solid rear panel and open lattice panels to the side. To the side of the arbour is a lantern illuminating a water basin (Tsukabai) with rock arrangement and moss effect. There is sparse planting of azaleas and rhododendrons on the hillsides. The path leads to a 3m long arched bridge over a dry stream.

The stream starts from its source, high on the bank and tumbles down by a series of small dry falls to a sump, which flows under the bridge and meanders through the outer and inner garden. The dry stream bed is lined by rocks in places where there is high energy flow with the moss and sand reaching down to the stream where the energy is low and sand bars form. A small island is set in a wider part of the stream. The stream surface is set with water worn paddle-stones suggesting the direction and strength of current flow. A rankei cantilever lantern illuminates the stream at the promontory near the bridge end.

The path leads to the entrance to the inner garden with its cedar clad chumon entrance and shiorido bamboo lattice gate. The inner garden is not normally available to the public and the main path remains within the outer garden crossing a smaller bridge before returning to the main entrance. A bamboo yosume-gaki (4-eye) fence separates the inner and outer gardens.

A winding pathway of Purbeck sandstone crosses an area of open white sandy gravel with sparse planting of a few acers of various older species leading to the teahouse at the foot of the bank. The teahouse is 4m in length by 2m in depth and has an internal partition separating the preparation area and the ceremonial area, which includes a substantial tokonoma. The building has dark oak timber framing with white panelling. A lean-to roofed area provides a covered entrance with a false door (the main entrance being through the three removable sliding shoji style door panels which open up most of the front for observing the tea ceremony). The exit path winds back through the inner garden and through a similar chumon gate back to the main entrance.

The garden has taken some 80 tonnes of topsoil, 4 tonnes of Welsh slate paddle-stones, 1000 plants, 100 acres and involved 8000 hours of labour to complete. Jade Pavilions has been closely involved with the project in a professional capacity designing and building, the arbour, teahouse, bridges and entrances. The garden is a truly impressive achievement. Counsellor Futao Motai of the Japanese Embassy formally opened it on the 7th June 2005.