Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Indoor Japanese garden of dreams

This outside-in garden captivated me, when I first saw its picture in 'The Modern Japanese Garden'. I just had to meet its creator, and so I did, yesterday and today.
Nagakura-san is one of Japan's most celebrated potters, living far, far away in a mountain forest, by the old pottery village of Machiko.

Her garden, it seems, came about the same way as her pots: a collaboration between mud and human, chance and strong visual tastes. "I was watering the potplants as usual, which sat on the traditional tramped-earth floor. And I thought, 'why bother', and just planted them. They liked it and spread, some other seeds joined in, and it all just happened".



Although she claims 'accident', anyone could match the pots and the garden to the same creator: there are the frilly lines and dapples of geranium, maidenhair fern and clover. There are the jewel-like pockets of color that appear, radiating surprise and liveliness, all hovering over a background of undisguised earth.

Now the consistancy gets uncanny when you get familar with her conversational style - once again, frilly, unabashedly earthy, multi-layered, spontanious and shimmering.
"Where are you? I thought you would be here at two" said the voice on my mobile, as I wended my way towards her house, through the labyrith of unnamed steep and narrow country lanes. "Oh dear", I thought. I've made an important, busy lady wait. "Don't worry" whispered my companion. "She is old, and has probably been looking forward to visitors since she woke up."
Later she told me: "yes, once it got to 2pm, every time a car passed, I turned on the kettle, re-arraged the platters..".
She doesn't seem to think that hiding her 'mud' is necessary in conversation.
I asked what it was that caused her to become a celebrated professional, while most do not.
'My husband. We married young, I was 19. I'd make a pot, and he would say 'excellent', which made me strive harder, and he would say 'genius', which made me striver harder, and soon I was starting to win big prizes, starting to criticizing him, and then the praise got less and less, and we finally got divorced."

Total focus on one thing may be the reason for her success, but there are two sides to everything. Her arms started to seize up about three years ago, stopping her from working. This is a terrible thing, if your life is your work, she said, and told of the various treatments that all failed, and other emotional troubles that went with infirmity, and that had kept her at home for the last three years. "People were wondering if I was dead, and I was wishing I was, I couldn't bear it. But now here I am, half-better." then she added "The investor-buyers will be very dissapointed"
Posing for this shot, she first untangled a thick rope that was hanging on the tree 'I'll take down the noose" she said. "I guess I won't be needing it after all".

Nagakura-san is 72 years old, with the perfect complexion that I've learnt to associate with Japanese women who do three things: avoid sun, and avoid 'yang' foods like sugar and meat, and avoid unsatisfying work. She served us salty plum tea, in which floated flecks of gold, and platters of macrobiotic-style food: sweet potato, baby sardines, and a spinach and yuzu citrus dish. The ingrediants were so simple, it made me wonder where the deliciousness came from.
"I only know five dishes. I'd wake up, and find myself kneading clay for a pot. I'd work all day, then cook myself one of my five dishes" she said of her daily routine.
When you walk in the house, the air is forest-like, tinged with a humid cool greenness. While the floor is happily spreading green moss, the walls and tatami-mats are fresh and crisp, the blessings of having a house made of materials that breathe: Porus local Oya stone, old timber, and straw matting. I guess the walls are 'shikui', a kind of clay render.

One spot in the earth floor kept my footprint "Oh", she said "I just dug a plant up from there to give a friend. I have a constant spreading supply".
While I took photos in the fading light, my driving companion drove off with her, so he could get a bit from a neighbour to fix her outside light. 'You-hoo, Its Nagakura. I found a good looking man, so came to show you'.
Well her charm has worked, as he has already made a plan to do the 3 hour drive again later in the month. Gardens bring people together.

10 comments:

Tammy said...

wonderful post. thank you.

Rachel said...

what a beautiful post, C. I can practically feel the atmosphere in the house. Pottery and getting in touch with the earth must be something floating around the world at the moment; at the blog I "reside" in, MotherTalkers, one of my favorite people has just written of her experiments in pottery as well. I believe that there is a craving to reconnect, you know?

Cecilia said...

Dear Rachel,
I enjoyed Mothertalkers pot experiment. How good, that we can all get passionate with different things, and then share the results. I like my earth soft enough to grow things in - pottery is hard! Im so glad there are others enjoying make it for me.

Tammy, its good to hear from you, and get to meet people who have met me in my blog.
C

Rachel said...

I find it very interesting - there seems to be a real feeling of wanting to connect back to what is real and what we can see. Kate at Hills and Plains Seedsavers just wrote a post on taking responsibility. You have these beautiful posts on permaculture, gardening and Japan, my friends at MotherTalkers are taking up crafts like pottery. There seems to be a global zeitgeist towards grabbing hold of our world with two hands and holding on to what is real and doing what we can to walk softly. (or fire hard!) I find it fascinating.

merkaba said...

wow!! this really was a lovely post. how wonderful to have a home like that- open to the elements bringing the greenery inside. beautiful.

orangedevil said...

hiya!

I saw this lady's house in a book when i was doing a foundation course in art and design and was enthralled by it! probably one of the reasons i love plants so much, especially indoors...

im a 3rd year garden designer at falmouth university, cornwall, uk and im doing an 8000word dissertation on 'the future of interior planting'.

im trying to get some information on new technologies and peoples views on the subject, and have a questionnaire that id be very grateful if anyone could fill it out for me!

please email me at sf106896@falmouth.ac.uk and i will send you a copy.

cheers!

sam
x+x-x

orangedevil said...

hiya!

I saw this lady's house in a book when i was doing a foundation course in art and design and was enthralled by it! probably one of the reasons i love plants so much, especially indoors...

im a 3rd year garden designer at falmouth university, cornwall, uk and im doing an 8000word dissertation on 'the future of interior planting'.

im trying to get some information on new technologies and peoples views on the subject, and have a questionnaire that id be very grateful if anyone could fill it out for me!

please email me at sf106896@falmouth.ac.uk and i will send you a copy.

cheers!

sam
x+x-x

sunmi said...

I LOVE TO MAKE A GARDEN INDOOR. Japan is the best country for this style of garden. I visited Japan and wished have a small garden like that. I'm going to move to a new house have a small balcony, i decide to make my own garden. nice to share!!

Aiko said...

Lovely! It reminds me of Michael from Earthship Biotecture..are you familiar Cecilia? I wonder what you think about it..

http://earthship.com/

Thank you!

Aiko

TeddyBear said...

What a great posting...i like it very much. Its all so natural and beautiful. Thanks for sharing this wonderful experience