Artistic designs raked in fine gravel around carefully placed boulders offer peaceful settings for contemplation gardens. Known as karesansui (pronounced car-uh-san-swee), the dry landscape gardens are a centuries-old tradition in Japan but rare in the United States.
Soon, however, Oak Ridge will have its own karesansui garden. As landscaping begins around the International Friendship Bell Peace Pavilion in Oak Ridge, the Japanese karesansui gardens will lend a distinctive and contemplative element to the Oak Ridge landmark.
Introducing the gardens to Oak Ridge will be Martin McKellar, retired from the University of Florida International Center and now a volunteer as the Asian garden specialist at the university’s Harn art museum. He will present a public talk at 7 p.m. Thursday, January 24, on “Dry Landscape Gardens around the World and in Oak Ridge” at the University of Tennessee Arboretum auditorium, which is at 901 South Illinois Avenue in Oak Ridge.
The karesansui gardens at the Friendship Bell site will be maintained by volunteers who learn the skills to create the designs and maintain the gardens for the city. McKellar will hold four-hour training sessions for volunteers interested in designing, raking, and taking care of the Oak Ridge karesansui gardens on at 1 p.m. Friday, January 25, and at 8:30 a.m. and again at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, January 26.
Anyone interested in volunteering, whether you like gardening, design, or the Friendship Bell, may e-mail [email protected] for more information about the training and to sign up in advance for the sessions.
Dry landscape gardens near the Friendship Bell will include the Karesansui Contemplation Garden with a formal design, offering a quiet space to sit and view the garden and the Bell beyond it. A second area will be a play and practice karesansui, where children, adults, and volunteers will have the opportunity to create designs as they hone their skills in design and raking.
“Austere in their simplicity, often created in a contained area, these gardens emphasize the beauty of emptiness and tranquility,” said Pat Postma, co-chair of the International Friendship Bell Citizens Advisory Committee, who first proposed the addition of a karesansui garden near the Bell.
Postma contacted McKellar to learn more about the gardens, after reading about his work as volunteer caretaker of a dry garden at the Asian wing of the University of Florida’s Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art and his many trips to Japan to research karesansui gardens. At her request, he agreed to a visit to Oak Ridge to help the community learn more about such gardens and to provide training for garden volunteers.
The landscaping around the Friendship Bell Peace Pavilion will incorporate both Tennessee and Japanese elements. The planting of cherry trees and the placement of the karesansui garden will be the first phase of the landscape work this year.
“We know we want a place of contemplation. We want this to be a place for the community to feel physically engaged with the site,” Postma said. “The karesansui provides all of these.”
Robert Smiddy, horticulturalist and landscape designer with Willow Ridge Garden Center, is working with Postma to design the dry landscape gardens. Willow Ridge is lending his services to help design landscaping for the Friendship Bell site.
“The Karesansui Contemplation Garden at the Bell site is a way for us as residents to disengage from our busy lives and rebalance for a minute or an hour. The practice garden is a way for the community to physically engage with the Bell site and the Peace Pavilion,” Postma said.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
This story was submitted by Kay Brookshire.
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