I bought the Cascades house and the surrounding land in 1996. The idea for the garden began that summer when I visited Eheiji a Zen Buddhist monastery (Temple of Eternal Peace) in the western Alps of Japan. I was only allowed to stay there by agreeing to follow the practices of a Zen priest and found myself in meditation sessions at 4 am daily and in other rituals. Importantly, I was able to view the formal monastery gardens set in woodland. It was a deeply spiritual place. On the way back, down to Kyoto, I visited Daitoku-ji monastery and had green tea with the Abbot. I sat by the famous garden of the sub temple Daisen In. I was greatly inspired by its rocks, representing mountains and raked sand – a river. I always felt that the Cascades had the potential to have the natural calmness and spirituality of these Japanese gardens and in 2015 the new conifer rockery was created with a raked gravel path and rocks rising up to the natural cliff.
In June 2016 I decided to re-visit one of the most famous Conifer gardens in the UK, “Foggy Bottom” at Bressingham Gardens, Norfolk. I thought I would see how this 45 year old conifer garden had evolved. It was beautiful and soothing and of course in many cases the conifers were fully sized. I was able to talk with Adrian Bloom, the creator of the garden, and one of the things we discussed was how he was now under planting the conifers with grasses, ferns and hostas. The inter-relation, spacing and texture of the various plants he used was important. Following this view point, our new shade border was designed with hostas, hellebores and ferns on beech tree bank, part of our woodland.
In the same year as my Japan trip, which was part of my personal search for meaning and purpose, I had my first private audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Daramsala, India. On my return journey I also had a discussion with a Hindu priest in a temple in Amritsa. With a background of the problems of the Middle East and turbulent international political scene, both talked about the need for World Peace and Harmony and our individual need to refresh the spirit by becoming “one with Nature”.
Gardeners have struggled to imitate Nature over the years. The Japanese have impressively taken this to a very sophisticated level. Over the centuries wealthy people across Europe tried to control Nature with a formal garden layout and tightly pruned shrubs and trees, and this still evident in some stately homes today. Of course Nature does not grow in straight lines or shapes.
I am most at peace when I am in an unspoilt natural setting like a stream, mountain or woodland. I am trying to create a meditation garden with a sense of peace and spiritual well-being at Cascades Gardens by growing the garden to blend into the natural rocky, stream and woodland landscape, and letting it naturalise. There are many places in the garden to sit, relax and reflect.
A recent visitor to The Cascades, a Danish lady, Thuri, said:
“Beautiful and soothing garden, with gifts for your eyes in every corner- and every sight shows you Nature is the great creator of harmony and balance”.
I think she got it right!
Alan Clements May 2017