On 5th December 2016 members were treated to a lecture about the history of the Japanese gardens at Newstead Abbey. This was given by Professor Charles Watkins, School of Geography at the University of Nottingham, assisted by Professor Setsu Tachibana of Kobe Tamate University in Japan. When she studied at Nottingham University some years ago her main research was on the Japanese Garden at the Abbey, something that she has continued to investigate for many years.
The Newstead Abbey Japanese garden was one of the first in the country dating from about 1899. There is still some mystery as to whether Ethel Webb travelled to Japan herself, or whether she employed an Englishman (who became Japanese), or a female Japanese gardener who came to England/Scotland, who inspired the design the garden.
Unusually the Japanese garden at Newstead is located in a dip away from the main house, whilst traditionally Japanese gardens are near to the house.
Stone lanterns have been recovered during the gardening work, some of them having been found collapsed into the ground. Some are missing. Professor Tachibana explained how they were lit to allow the gardens to be enjoyed in the evening. The influence of moonlight on the garden was an important spiritual feature.
A few mysteries still remain. Old magazines, post cards and photographs reveal how the garden looked soon after it was created and how it has changed over the years.
These sparked a lively debate with the audience about the way the garden should be restored. The tea house was considered – its restoration and colouring. Natural colours of wood were recommended, not coloured paint. The original trees have become overgrown, and the ground cover and bamboo are too intrusive. Should tall trees be removed? The flow of the water is crucial according to Professor Tachibana.
The evening was an informal event, introduced by Patrick Candler (chairman of NAP), and refreshments were provided by the abbey staff.
Report by Julia Hodson & Philip Jones
Photo by Julia Hodson
Readers interested in The Japanese Gardens at Newstead Abbey can contact Philip Jones at: