We’ve all been enjoying short episodes of armchair travel for the past few months yet our senses weren’t fully satisfied. However, spring has arrived and it's time to get up from that cushty armchair and go on a Japanese adventure! Japan celebrates its nature like no other country and gardens in particular are an important part of the local culture. While in the UK everyone has heard of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, in Japan every child will be able to name all Three Great Gardens of Japan (Kenrokuen Garden in Kanazawa, Kairakuen Garden in Mito, and Koraken Garden in Okayama). You don't have to be in Japan to experience its revolutionary aesthetics and on the menu today we have Japanese gardens you can visit in the UK and Ireland, broken down by region. There are a few things to bear in mind before you head to the listed gardens, make sure to visit their official websites to book if necessary. Now that places are slowly opening up we can’t wait to visit our top picks!
North & South England
We’ll start our journey in London where you can find one of the old time classics, Kew Gardens. Easily accessible by public transport and with a car park, it makes for a lovely day out. Kew Gardens boast a five storey pagoda that can be spotted from miles away (from the correct angle of course). The Japanese Garden at Kew consists of three parts which allow you to enjoy different aspects of Japanese culture from flowing waters to a reflective stone garden. Make sure to watch out for the historical replica of a gate from Kyoto, it looks incredible with spring blossoms!
There are countless nooks and crannies that have marks of Japan in London but another place that you need to visit is the Holland Park in Kensington. It offers not one but two Japanese gardens: Kyoto Garden which was opened in 1991, and a more recent addition, the Fukushima Memorial Garden. With stunning water features and a muster of peacocks, it’s a great place for an afternoon visit. It’s a unique park that gives you an opportunity to relax and reflect on the past. What makes us love this park even more is that there are no entry fees and you don’t have to book so you’re free to visit as many times as you would like!
Giulio Veronese, Birmingham Botanical Gardens
Moving north, the Japanese Garden and Bonsai Collection are a real highlight of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Stepping through the massive torii gate welcoming visitors transports you straight to Japan and the colourful koi carps, bamboo groves, and bonsai exhibition only entrance you even further. You can easily reach the botanical gardens by any means of transport. Every year they organise a bonsai-boot sale so if you want to bring a bit of Japan back home, check their website for more details! This year (2021) it’s on the 25th of April between 8 and 10 am!
When talking about Japanese gardens in the UK, Tatton Park in Cheshire deserves a special mention. Deemed to be the ‘finest example of a Japanese Garden in Europe’, it was created in the style of a Japanese tea garden. Every detail carries a symbolic nature, and all Japanese elements in the garden have been brought from Japan! Visiting Tatton Park by car is a more comfortable option as it’s a 30 minute drive away from Manchester. You can get there using public transport but you need to prepare yourself for a longer adventure.
Scotland boasts a variety of Japanese gardens. One of them is the Lauriston Castle in Edinburgh where you will find the beautiful Kyoto Friendship Garden. The garden was gifted to the city of Edinburgh to celebrate the occasion of twinning it with Kyoto prefecture. Fans of traditional gardens can rest easy; one of this garden’s features is a rock garden overlooking the incredible natural Scottish views.
Another option is the Stobo Japanese Water Garden. Unfortunately it’s closed this spring (2021) for renovations but it’s definitely worth the wait. It’s a secluded woodland garden located on the grounds of a castle that has been turned into a spa! We also recommend the Japanese Garden at Cowden which reminds us of the Ritsurin Park in Takamatsu!
The National Botanic Garden’s Japanese Garden is a mecca for all Japan enthusiasts in Wales. It may be smaller than some of the other gardens but it was an award winning design from the first time it was shown to the public at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2001 where it won a gold medal and ‘Best in Show’ for the designer! It was so impressive, the garden was recreated in the newly opened National Botanic Garden in Wales. Visiting this garden, you can enjoy a certain tranquility that emerges from moving through a space which combines three traditional Japanese garden styles. Reaching the gardens by car is the most convenient (around 30 min from Swansea and 55 min from Cardiff) but if you use public transport or cycle here, you can get an entry ticket half price!
The West Country
Everyone looking for a peace of mind need to add this garden to their list - you can find your inner calm at this Cornish meditative garden called The Japanese Garden! It’s the best place to indulge in what Japan does best, observing the fleeting beauty of the passing seasons. This is another hot spot for bonsai fans, as it was established by two people passionate about them explaining why it also has a bonsai nursery! You can reach this garden by car or public transport (it takes around an hour by bus from Newquay).
Hopping over to Ireland, we visit the Lafcaido Hearn Japanese Gardens which are focused around the turbulent life of this famous writer. The idea for the gardens arose when Hearn’s great grandson visited Tramore where Hearn spent summers in his childhood. The landscapes reflect the fascinating life of the author - the path begins in a Victorian garden as he spent his formative years in the UK, but the second half of the garden is entirely devoted to Japan, where he spent the rest of his adult life. You can enjoy a pre-booked tea ceremony in the marvellous tea house. This garden is located in the city centre of Tramore, a charming town in the south of Ireland so it’s really easy to reach, and is the perfect place to plan a follow up visit to Lafcadio Hearn's favourite spots in his Japanese home prefecture of Kumamoto.
An additional spot in Ireland is the Japanese Garden at the Irish National Stud and Gardens. Laid out by a renowned horticulturalist, this garden’s elements combined symbolise the ‘Life of Man’. 45 minutes away from Dublin city by car and easily accessible by public transport, it’s a great day trip destination for garden and horse fans alike. Quaint stone structures and a crimson red bridge are definitely the focus points of this garden.
When visiting a Japanese garden, we recommend you listen closely to the whispering leaves and murmuring waters, for the full effect of transporting yourself to Japan.
There are other interesting options out there to visit with your friends and family so keep your eyes open! The last two gardens that deserve a mention are Compton Acres in Dorset and the Pure Land Centre in Nottinghamshire. Compton Acres offers unforgettable vivid colours, and a Tea House draped with Japanese wisteria. On the other hand, Pure Land Centre is a garden ran by a Japanese ex-monk with a memorable crystal garden. Let’s hope for the best weather this year and see you soon in one of the gardens!
And if you've exhausted all the outdoor options, why not try some indoor ones? Our Japanese Day Out in London Itinerary has you sorted with all the must-do and must-see Japanese experience you could shake a stick at.