Hanoke Gardens, CA

Another stop on the great 2016 California trip was Hanoke Gardens in Saratoga Springs. Hanoke is a classic Japanese style garden, an outward expression of many far east ideals coming out of Japan beginning with the emergence of Buddhism in AD 538. In short, these spaces seek harmony in the natural landscape and highlight natural materials as a focal point to express Japanese teachings and philosophy. Everything is grown, trained, planted, and trimmed to have meaning. Nothing in the landscape is unintentional. I’d like to think that its very obvious to people when they’ve arrived into a Japanese garden. Certain adjectives that come to mind are tranquil, contemplative, sensory, and sensitive. There’s not too many modern societies today in this post industrial world that are able to fully understand their connection to the landscape as an extension of their culture. There’s certainly a disconnect in most of the western world. Take waste, for example. Most Americans probably have no clue where their trash goes, and actively participate in gross consumerism not truly knowing the origin of materials and their manufacturing processes. The Japanese however have a Buddhist-derived word in their everyday vocabulary called Mottainai, which is used to convey a sense of regret concerning waste. The expression “Mottainai!” is used as an exclamation when something useful, such as food or time, is wasted, meaning roughly “what a waste!” or “Don’t waste.” I guess the important takeaway here is that even through the platform of display and botanic gardens we can learn from other cultures and share ideas.

Back to the garden. Hakone is framed by a collection of hillside gardens which provide the backdrop for various features and structures including historic buildings, multi-tiered waterfalls and koi ponds, garden rooms, stonework, and other elements that evoke Japanese culture. Hakone has four principal gardens, being: The Hill and Pond Garden; The Zen Garden; The Tea Garden; and The Bamboo Gardens. The history of the gardens are also abundant and began as the private estate of San Francisco philanthropists Isabel and Oliver Stine. Their inspiration for Japanese gardens came from their visit to the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, which featured a remarkable Japanese pavilion. Isabel later traveled to Japan and used her visit to the town of Hakone in Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park to name her garden.  That year, the Stines purchased 15 acres of land in the hills of Saratoga for their second home, and when the Pan Pacific Exposition ended, Isabel arranged to have plantings, trees and ornamental fixtures from the Japanese Pavilion brought to her property in Saratoga. They commissioned Japanese imperial gardener Naoharu Aihara to design and create a hillside garden pond, and hired renown architect Tsunematsu Shintani to design and construct the Moon Viewing Upper House, the Lower House and koi pond.

Major Charles Lee Tilden next purchased Hakone in 1932 and added features that gave Hakone the formal look of a Japanese garden estate. Tilden commissioned Japanese craftsmen to build the impressive main gate called “the mon” and also added the upper pavilion, the wisteria arbor, and network of pathways. From the beginning of the Tilden ownership, James Sasaki was employed as the head gardener and lived with his wife and four children in a house on the grounds. Mr. Sasaki worked at Hakone as the gardener and caretaker through three decades, except during WWII when he and his family were interned at Topaz, Utah.

The remaining line of the Tilden family sold the property in 1961 to a partnership of six couples, two being local residents and four being Chinese-American couples. The partners made many restorations and improvements to the buildings and grounds, but kept the gardens traditionally Japanese as originally designed. In 1966 the partners decided it was no longer practical to own Hakone as a private retreat and offered it for sale to the City of Saratoga. The first Hakone Foundation was organized by leading citizens to help maintain the estate as originally intended, and continues to this day.

Here are a few of my thoughts and observations from my visit to Hanoke:

  1. The Hill and Pond Garden is the centerpiece of the estate and its truly a magical space. The blooming wisteria gave color and life to the space that was a perfect balance of water, sky and landscape.
  2. Topography. The complex of hillside gardens and strolling paths makes for some great views and vantage points. Every corner turned was a unique framed view that highlighted something new and exciting in the landscape. This experience seemed never ending!
  3. I loved the bamboo garden! The use of bamboo in landscape elements for purpose, structure and ornaments was very inspiring and imaginative. I am for one very appreciative of elegant yet cost effective means for building fencing, and this garden showed many examples of this.
  4. Great community asset. Saratoga Springs seems to be an affluent town with a nice town center, but lack of public space. Hanoke has been a wonderful opportunity to bring the community together.
  5. Great interpretation! The gallery/visitor space and even the gift shop did a great of orientating the visiting and giving them an opportunity to learn about the history of the site. I enjoyed my visit!

See my photos here.


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