The Lafcadio Hearn Japanese Gardens tell an intriguing and unique story. In their style and planting they contain elements of the gardening traditions of the countries and cultures traversed by Lafcadio Hearn during his varied life. The journey begins in a Victorian Garden to commemorate Hearn’s happy childhood summers in Tramore. Later there is an American Garden and a Greek Garden followed by a fascinating walk through the Japanese Gardens. Having passed beneath the Fuji-dana you will find a beautiful traditional Japanese Tea Garden, a Stream Garden, ponds, a waterfall and an extensive woodland area.
Beginnings / The Victorian Garden
This garden commemorates Hearn’s childhood summers in Tramore, in the care of his grand aunt and guardian, Sarah Brenane. The effect of this sheltered walled garden is to recreate the colours, fragrance and textures of a Victorian garden. Plants chosen are typical of plants used in the 1850s .
The mid 19th Century was a time of mixed styles and colourful schemes never repeated again. Victorian Schemes displaying coats of arms with bright , and often garish, colours were located within the immaculate lawns beside pathways where visitors were encouraged to admire. Here in The Victorian garden central beds edged with Hedera helix ‘Ivalace’ and Buxus pyramids provide structure while spring bulbs and summer bedding provide colour.
The walled garden’s open side is shielded by an established beech hedge and additional structure is provided by a mature magnolia tree. New additions, which will provide definition over time, include a pyramid pruned Taxus baccata, and a variegated Ilex aquifolium ‘Golden King’.
Throughout the garden the Roses used are old Roses popular during Victorian times. These include the Gallica rose, Rosa ‘Belle Isis’ (1845); Rosa ‘William Lobb’ (1855) and the climbing rose, Rosa ‘Sombreuil’ (1850).
In this garden colour and texture is evident all year round. VICTORIAN GARDEN PLANT LIST
The Transition Garden
Visitors enter the Transition Garden through the cedar wood niwa mon – a traditional Japanese style entrance gate. This space, which represents Hearn’s transition from childhood to adulthood, provides many hints of an exotic future.
The central rock formation depicts the four main islands of Japan. Another rock grouping references the Eastern legend of the turtle and the crane. A central pathway constructed from granite setts, is laid in the shape of a large koi fish. An ornamental pagoda echoes Hearn’s first introduction to the East, through his cousin’s oriental shop in London. A grassy undulating mound represents the timeless ocean which so fascinated Hearn in Tramore, and which so influenced his future life as a writer.
The planting here contains Pinus austriaca ‘Nigra’ on the bank surrounding the stone structures of a turtle and a crane. Spring colour is provided by several cherry trees, including Prunus Tai-Haku. Groundcover is provided through Herniaria glabra, an evergreen perennial which carpets the base of many of the rocks in this garden. Camellia japonica ‘Dr. Burnside’ provides a rich red floral display in late winter/early spring, together with a bank of crimson flowered azaleas. TRANSITION GARDEN PLANT LIST
The American Journey
The planting in this area reflects Hearn’s time spent in the United States. Stands of Quaking Aspen, under planted with Sumach, and drifts of grasses and herbaceous plants native to Ohio, have been introduced. These plants are much used in popular prairie schemes. The Quaking Aspen, Populus tremula, catches perfectly the breeze drifting inward from Tramore Bay. The Feather Reed Grass, Calamagrostis x acutifolia ‘Karl Foerster’, and the Ohio native, Panicum virgatum – otherwise known as Switch Grass, are planted in drifts, again to reflect the movement of the vast prairies.
Punctuating this planting are the upright structures of Rhus typhina. Coppiced to the ground annually, the Sumach provides both structure and intense autumn colour and much needed late interest. Colour at ground level is achieved through two Ohio natives widely used in informal prairie planting schemes, Physostegia virginiana and Echinacea purpurea. The American prairie scheme is mirrored by a drift of Miscanthus Ferner Osten ‘Far East’. This symbolises the next phase in Hearn’s epic life journey, which took him to Japan. AMERICAN GARDEN PLANT LIST
The Greek Garden
This garden commemorates Hearn’s birth to a Greek mother and Irish military surgeon father, on the Island of Lefkada in 1850. It also marks his lifetime longing for his mother, Rosa, whom he last saw at the age of four. As an emerging writer in America, in the early 1870s, Hearn decided to use his middle name ‘Lafcadio’ as his first name.
In this small space many large flat rocks have been carefully set into a sloped bank to provide a wonderful tiered seating area in the shape of a Greek amphitheatre. The ground has been levelled in front of each row to allow for easy access.
The Greek Garden receives full sun and is the ideal setting for the aromatic Mediterranean herbs which have been planted in abundance here. These include Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Prostratus’; Thymus citriodorus and Origanum vulgare . The handsome evergreen shrub Phlomis fruticosa with attractive grey green foliage is also included in the planting scheme in this location. Standing at the front of the Greek Garden is a magnificent ancient olive tree (Olea europaea). It is postioned in the ground beside a small well. A hedge of evergreen Euonymus japonica acts as a windbreak and provides shelter from the coastal breeze and to the rear of the garden, on top of the earthen bank sits a row of Pinus sylvestris accompanied by Olearia virgata. GREEK GARDEN PLANT LIST
The Japanese Gardens…..
Arrival in Japan
This garden is entered through a Fuji-dana (wooden pergola) which has been planted with Wisteria sinensis on each side. The many trees, shrubs, bamboo, ferns, grasses and perennials in this area are all native to Japan and eastern Asia to reflect this period of Hearn’s life.
The abundance of evergreen shrubs in this location include: Ilex crenata, Pieris japonica ‘Little Heath’, Fatsia japonica, Camellia japonica, Ilex aquifolium ‘Harpune’ and Euonymus japonica. These provide year round interest and a variety in texture and contrasting foliage. Large flowering cherry trees and pines add height and structure. Spring colour is provided by the camellias and azaleas and stunning autumn colour from the foliage of Euonymus alatus and Acer palmatum.
Attractions in this garden include a natural stream, a granite bridge, natural stone paving and a Japanese tea garden which is complete with bamboo fencing, stepping stones and hand-carved granite basins. The stream begins in this part of the garden and meanders its way gently downwards. ARRIVAL GARDEN PLANT LIST
The Stream Garden
A natural Spring rises here and creates a stream which journeys through the garden. It’s passage is flanked by large rocks, meticulously placed to provide a beautiful visual experience. The stream supplies water to the first of three ponds in the gardens, which can be viewed from both a natural stone paved viewing area and a traditional wooden bridge standing directly over the pond at the entrance to the woodlands. In keeping with Japanese tradition, a ‘Guardian Stone’ is in place overlooking the pond. It is a high standing stone in the heart of the garden.
Other notable features in this area include a natural rock grotto, a second granite bridge and a turtle shaped island formed beside the bridge. The head and back of the turtle are formed with stone and the body has been planted with the black grass Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’. Planting also includes the attractive groundcover Herniaria glabra to soften up the edges of the paved areas and rocks; Agapanthus Blue Storm has been mass planted to follow the course of the stream, producing a profusion of delicate blue flowers for weeks on end in high summer. STREAM GARDEN PLANT LIST
The woodland area is a combination of stands of mature trees and newly underplanted areas. The path rises up to the highest point of the site and gives a wonderful view of the entire garden and also of Tramore Bay, particularly in late Autumn and Winter.
Features include: a large timber boardwalk complete with sycamore hand-rails, providing a safe and comfortable passage down through the woodland; a bamboo grove; a large stone lantern, and also a hidden embedded log path.
A number of cherry blossom trees have been planted, including Prunus Tai Haku which give a truly spectacular spring time display of flowers. These are underplanted with Japanese Anemones, evergreen groundcover, Japanese Hollies and many ferns and grasses. A beautiful row of Cryptomeria japonica – Japanese Red Cedar – has been introduced among the deciduous species. Camellias, Fatsia japonica, Hellebores, Zelkova, Drimys winterii and Davidia involucrata are other noteworthy additions and are ideally suited in the attractive dappled shade provided.
The Gardens of Peace & Harmony
Emerging from the woodlands, visitors arrive at a vista of the largest of the garden’s three ponds, into which the stream enters through a gentle waterfall. Here a beautiful and tranquil space has been created. A bench, located near the pond’s edge, allows visitors to relax and enjoy the calm surroundings. A dense planting of tall bamboos provides a screen around the perimeter of the pond.
A large rock formation surrounding the pond and waterfall area has been augmented by the addition of generous planting of Camellias, Ferns, Azaleas, Rhododendron, Japanese Maples, Pines and Pieris japonica.
Higher up the slope and overlooking the large lower pond is a rectangular pond. Here the beautiful Azumaya created by our own garden carpenters in authentic Japanese style, offers a peaceful resting place for visitors and is the perfect location for wedding ceremonies, special occasions and events. Planting in this area includes a bank of Azaleas, Magnolia, Cornus kousa ‘Miss Satomi’, Enkianthus, Camellia japonica, Camellia sasanqua. GARDENS OF PEACE AND HARMONY PLANT LIST
The Garden of a Living God
This garden commences with a rising ‘mountain’ path, which is flanked by large rocks on either side. Mass plantings of Hebe ‘Sunset Boulevard’ & Hebe ‘Baby Boo’ have been included at the top of the climb on either side of the path. This location provides a clear view of the remaining lower end of the gardens.
To the left of this area an unusual lawn with an abundance of grassy mounds has been created. Accompanying the mounds are random plantings of globe shaped Buxus sempervirens balls. This part of the garden is immaculately maintained with regular trimming to keep both the Buxus globes and grassy mounds in shape. Also planted in different parts of the lawn are Cornus kousa ‘Milky Way’, Pinus sylvestris, Quercus Ilex and Acer palmatum ‘Atropurpureum’.
Downhill from this area, across the avenue, mass planting of azaleas, camellia, and pieris create a colourful spring spectacle. GARDENS OF LIVING GOD PLANT LIST
Closing the circle, this graveled garden provides a space to reflect on the cycle of Hearn’s life and death, crystallised through the featured signboard containing a moving tribute to him by Waterford poet Sean Dunne (read full poem). The main elements of this space comprise a carefully raked gravel bed, overlooked by large dominant moss-covered stones, one of which assumes an altar like presence.
The planting is deliberately kept minimal with just a select few Ferns, Hosta, Ilex crenata and Nandina domestica, the ‘Heavenly Bamboo’. The groundcover Herniaria glabra is again used and is allowed to creep up on to the edges of the stones and the gravel bed. These subtle plants are chosen for their non-intrusive habit and gentle foliage, which allow the main elements of stone and gravel to come to the fore.
Surrounding this final garden is an informal hedge of evergreen Euonymus japonica providing a screen and windbreak. A bronze relief of Lafcadio Hearn, generously gifted by the City of Matsue in Japan, set beneath a cedar canopy, stands reflectively to the side of the gravel bed. JOURNEY’S END PLANT LIST