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A Landmark for the Gardens at Lake Merritt

A marker and a portal from the profane world of our modern civilization to a primeval sacred place where people feel awe and wonder of forces larger than their individual selves, also unity and identification with that.

The large vermillion Torii gate serves as a landmark for the entire Gardens of Lake Merritt.  Located at the end of the back entry path and at the edge of the forested heart of the garden, it represents the inward journey from the profane to the sacred. The original Torii Gate was a gift from our sister city in Fukuoka, Japan many years ago. That Torii Gate (in a different location) was taken down because the foundation had decayed. The Oakland-Fukuoka Sister City group raised funds for five years to build the current Torii Gate and unveiled it during its 40th anniversary in 2002.

The Torii Gate has existed throughout history for peoples all around the world. In Japan, from the first rustic Torii, Kami-ike (island shrines), and Iwa-kura (stone seats of the gods), through the Tea Ceremony, Sukiya living, and today when millions view Cherry blossoms in Spring or changing colors of Maples in Autumn.

It has existed in Western Civilization since the creation myth of the Garden of Eden and the search for a Promised Land and heaven on earth, through the Romantic Rebellion against urban civilization and industrialization. The Romantic Movement inspired the creation of naturalistic urban public parks and the preservation and public use of scenic places like Yosemite – mysticism on a mass scale.

Today, people go there to be cleansed of the profane stresses of ordinary life and reconnect with the supernatural force from which we derive our life. So the Fukuoka Sister City Garden in Oakland is both ancient and modern, both specific to Japan and universal to the world.  In that way, going beyond the duality of east versus west, it serves the mission of the Sister Cities International movement for world peace through mutual understanding appreciation, by pointing toward mutual recognition that we are all people, one in the same.

Torii Landscape Layout

Torii Landscape Layout
1497713_944442682239569_7501878876572884640_nImprovements were built on an existing, run-down, hill and pond garden, modeled after California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. The hill and pond embody the geography and experience of Japan. It is the dominant garden form in that country, as well as Northern California.

The hill and pond garden already attracts appreciative visitors and provides the rocks and water for Iwa-kura and Kami-ike elements.  Improvements formalize a path through the Torii.  There are four destinations on this path:  park benches at the pond edge, a clearing suitable for a circle of stone seats (Iwa-kura) with a fine view of a waterfall; a remote hilltop with a spring and cascade; and the deep forest beyond.

Proposed Kami-ike islands are elongated east to west, arranged in a zig-zag manner and slightly overlapping when viewed from the south and diminishing in size to the north and west.  Edaphically dwarfed Japanese Black Pine over-story and low evergreen aquatic species on three islands in lower pond are similarly scaled – all communicating the distance and expanse of the sea. In the upstream pond, Iris and other freshwater marsh plants locate the senses above the ocean and below the foothill and mountain setting of the cascades.

Flowering Cherry trees connect the clearing with the edge of the evergreen forest. New forest under-story plantings of dwarf Maples on the hill tsukiyama bring light into the forest. The riot of spring blossoms and the turning of leaves in fall provide occasions to gather in awe & wonder, a custom that continues in modern Japan and throughout the temperate regions of the world.

New plantings of low mounding (tamamomo) and taller (entoh-kei) evergreen shrubs , massed on both sides of the water feature further unify garden. Massed, the low Azalea and Rapheolepsis and tall Osmanthus may be clipped to resemble foothill & mountain landforms (o-karikomi).  The Osmanthus match those across the road at the edge of the Bonsai enclosure.  By screening and foreshortening depth, they diminish the road’s visual impact. The shrubs lend partial enclosure to open meadows. By the upper cascade, these topiary foothills hide excess concrete, and reveal falling water and boulders. A variegated Hinoki Cypress planted above the fountainhead adds a sense of sunlight in the highest spot, above the blue sky of the Weeping blue Atlas Cedar, in the upper left corner of the entire landscape composition.

The meadow grasses evoke the agricultural valleys of inland Fukuoka prefecture. They also accommodate large gatherings. The adjacent meadow of Daylilies is extended into the Torii clearing, and hopefully along the edge of the Bonsai enclosure.  By borrowing scenery from adjacent gardens, the sister city garden improvements unify and enlarge the landscape of the garden center, as the sister city movement does for the world’s citizens.

Autumn Lights Festival Water Show Piece

Autumn Lights Festival Water Feature

Click photo to enlarge.

Two amazing waterscape artists/designers have been working in the garden for years, creating a totally natural, ecologically correct filtration system for two of our ponds.

16095_944442505572920_1345289765464030350_nRather than pumping out 4000 gallons of water each week (used in watering, but still!) Cash French (French’s Waterscape) and Steve Capper (Wild Rose Gardens and Ponds) worked with Eagle Scout Jordan Soulman on his project to design a model gravel-and- plant filtration system. Add a pitch of beneficial bacterial and a bunch of Google volunteers who dug the needed three foot hole, and we have a sustainable showpiece! For the 2014 Autumn Lights Festival, they added lights to a jet fountain between the ponds for Keiko Nelson’s installation art.

Click map to enlarge.

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The Torii Gate and Our Sister City

The large vermillion Torii gate serves as a landmark for the entire Gardens of Lake Merritt. Located at the end of the back entry path and at the edge of the forested heart of the garden, it represents the inward journey from the profane to the sacred. The original […]