Harrogate’s Award-Winning Park

June-July 2017 - Looking at Rock Arrangements
Within our Japanese Garden there are now three distinct rock arrangements which have been created by the team from the Japanese Garden Society to whom we owe a big ‘Thank you’ for their time and effort.
Our designer Graham Hardman and his team identified suitable rocks at the quarry, and, with just a couple of variations, these are the rocks which have been used. Two of the rocks weighed in at 1.5 ton each! Handling rocks of this size so that they sit perfectly, both showing the best face and relating correctly with each other is a real skill and can take years to perfect.

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The accompanying photos will give some idea of how they look and the construction process, but to get the best idea you will need to come along and have a look once the contractors have finished, which is likely to be the end of August.
The Chairman of the Japanese Garden Society, Robert Ketchell, is an experienced Japanese Garden designer and did an apprenticeship in Japan. I have drawn from his online blog which I can certainly recommend if you are interested to research further. You will find it at www.robertketchellblogspot.com. The blog I quote concerns symbolism in the Japanese Garden.
Robert tells us that numbers and their symbolism are significant; the Shichi-go-san, 7-5-3 grouping is used in arrangements and you will see this with the Sacred Mountain arrangement and an arrangement of 3 rocks up at the top of the slope near the new bench. Each of these arrangements also has an outlying rock to signal towards the arrangement as you approach it.

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Sacred Mountain Arrangement

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Three Rock Arrangement

He also describes that the earliest gardens created in Japan were a recreation of the Buddhist paradise. According to legend paradise lay off the coast of China as a series of 5 towering islands, each of them blessed with sparkling streams and luxuriant flora and fauna, including mushrooms which guaranteed immortality to anyone who consumed them. All these islands were supported on the backs of giant tortoises. After a confrontation with a giant, two of the islands were lost leaving Penglai, Yingzhou and Fanghu. According to legend anyone who achieved eternal grace would be transported to these isles borne by cranes, a bird that has long been associated with mystical qualities. Depictions of Tortoise (Kamejima), Crane, (Tsurujima) and islands have been a feature of Japanese gardens for centuries.
Our garden contains both the turtle island and the crane which you can see illustrated below. Both these arrangements look very realistic when viewed from within the garden. I hope that children walking round will identify the Turtle by the rock which forms his head, from one angle it looks almost real!

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Turtle with head facing left

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Crane with head facing left

In another blog I will talk about the symbolism of plants and lanterns.
The construction work continues steadily and we are looking forward to the arrival of our bridges, and to seeing Johnny Clasper’s designs completed.

May 2017 - Main Contractors Start Work
May has been a busy month for the contractors with some mixed weather. The site has been well secured by fencing covered in green netting which allows the public to see through and observe progress; popular with small children too when they catch site of a big orange dumper truck and a digger.


As you can see from some of the photographs the pond and stream have been cleared of sediment, which was left to drain before being taken off site. Care was taken with the invasive American Skunk Cabbage and the Umbrella plant rhizomes which were bagged and taken to a special area for disposal. The reshaping of the stream and ponded area, with additional rocks to be placed all along it, is scheduled to commence the week beginning June 6
th when the Japanese Garden Society specialist team make a return visit.

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The old fence adjacent to the boating pool has gone, and a new one in the same style will be fitted later. The new woodland path and steps up the hillside have been created. A beautiful oak bench ( see the photograph) made by TWS Site Manager Robert Wood, who is also the firm’s specialist carpenter, has been securely fitted at the top of the slope giving a view across the garden. We have installed some new drainage for the grassy area where the two benches will be, and tried to control the spring which was always running across the main path. The turning area for wheelchairs is being shaped and seepage from the hillside drained down into the stream; so we hope these measures will alleviate some of the problems with muddy feet during wet weather.

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Five members of The Japanese Garden Society from the Manchester area plus one from Tockwith, have spent 3 days creating three rock arrangements of which more later. They are due back in June after half term for another three days and will tackle more rock work. The three rocks in one of the photographs of the woodland path were removed from the island bed where they had been providing edging stones and now have a new life at the top of the hill looking as if they have always been there. Positioning rocks to look natural is a great part of creating a Japanese Garden and I plan to write a blog just about that next.

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The Community part of the project is moving steadily along, although Grove Academy horticulture students are now looking after our plants in their own garden at Grove House. The Harrogate High School GCSE art group has now commenced their module on Japanese Art, kicked off with a talk from Graham Hardman the garden’s designer, on the design process using Japanese garden plans as a basis for their exercises. In addition they have a workshop on Chinese Brush Painting planned for mid-June as part of the project. Anne Allan from the Chinese Brush Painting Society will bring all the materials for a 2 hour session and show the students how to paint camellias, bamboo and butterflies in the Chinese way using coloured inks and special brushes and paper. We look forward to seeing some of their work which will be displayed in due course.
So cheerio until next time when I will blog about Japanese Mythology and rock arrangements. The main contractors are making great progress as can be seen in the photos.

Woodland Bench

April 2017 - The End of Phase One
As we reported in March the clearing phase which has been carried out by the gardening volunteers, Grove Academy students and staff, and Horticap students and staff has now finished. 22 Volunteers have put in over 250 hours of gardening time in addition to the hours by Grove Academy and Horticap. The Valley Gardens’ permanent staff has helped us to remove 18 trailer loads of material for composting, leaving the garden in much better condition and ready to move forward with the restoration.
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Upper Entrance before clearing
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Upper Entrance after clearing

Students have been involved in pruning shrubs into shape, potting up the ground cover and perennial plants we want to save, and even digging out a large clump of bamboo which was in the way of the new path to the lower bridge.
We have enjoyed taking stock of wildlife in the garden but not always had the time to photograph them. We did catch a Comma butterfly. Comma Butterfly
We have taken care of the frogspawn so that the tadpoles will have a better habitat in which to develop this year away from the machinery, spotted a pair of bullfinch and been serenaded by robins as they claim their territory.

Our designer Graham Harman and his team from the Japanese Garden Society have chosen the rocks for the new features from a York stone quarry on the edge of Huddersfield, and will start the installation later in May.
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Designer Graham Harman and Project Co-Leader Ann Beeby
Japanese Garden Volunteers including Project Co-leader Liz Chidlow
The arrival of the main contractors at the end of this month will mean that the site is closed off for some weeks whilst the groundwork is done, the watercourse desilted and reshaped and new paths created.

March 2017 – Volunteer Gardeners Prepare the Way
The weather has generally been kind to the volunteer gardeners and the results of their weekly labours of love in managing the trees and shrubs are beginning to give us an idea of the shape of the restored garden.
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The tools we bought have already been put to good use. We have been very busy pruning out dead and damaged woody material, and local tree contractors helped by removing dead and overcrowded trees, so opening up the tree canopy, views and the way for the paths. We were excited to uncover the base of one of the original Japanese lanterns in the Garden, which you can see in the photo below.
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Some shrubs, which are not characteristic of Japanese gardens, have been re-located elsewhere in the Valley Gardens, to prepare the way for new planting starting later in the year.

Horticap have helped us tackle some large clumps of bamboo which we needed to cut down to make way for paths; other bamboo clumps we have thinned to create the feel of being able to ‘look through’ to the garden beyond.
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Grove Academy student Tom, with his supervisor Pauline, have pruned the holly and Berberis into shape as you enter the garden, and now you can see glimpses of the reflection of the café in the boating pool, and the beautiful shape of the bark on the nearby dawn redwood tree.
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A little more gardening to do up to Easter and then it is the Contractor’s turn…..

February 2017 - Cloud Pruning of Juniper
Specialist pruners Steve and Jo from the North West branch of the Japanese Garden Society have paid their first visit to our garden to work their magic on a mature Juniper which was threatened with the chop. Click on the photo below to see a video of their work and the final results. Shall we keep it?
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January 2017 - Japanese Garden Project Launch

On Tuesday January 17th the Japanese Garden Project was officially launched in the presence of the Mayor, a representative from Heritage Lottery, and volunteers from all the groups represented, a grand total of 59 people.
It was a very happy affair with plenty of opportunity for different groups to interact and the weather stayed dry, which was a bonus. Adrian Murray took some excellent photographs, and we got a good report in the Harrogate Advertiser, with one of the photos showing the whole crowd. Sue Mendus, from Heritage Lottery thanked us for an excellent event which she thoroughly enjoyed.
Our first ‘spend’ from the grant money was for tools to be used by our gardening volunteers and students from Grove Academy. The shiny new stainless steel spade was duly plunged into the soil by the Mayor, Cllr Nic Brown, who was wreathed in smiles, to declare that work can now officially start.
Since then we have had a good turnout for gardening each Tuesday and have made great progress with pruning out dead and overgrown shrubs from the woodland and clearing areas where paths are planned to be.
The administrative work necessary for contractors to be appointed etc is on track, so I am delighted to say that we are definitely underway.

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December 2016 - Just in Time for Christmas, A Heritage Lottery Award for the Japanese Garden Restoration
Well we have done it, almost a year to the day I first registered with HLF in Leeds, we have today received official permission to start our project.
Early in the New Year a partnership agreement for the duration of the project will be finalised with Harrogate Borough Council who are working with us to deliver the restoration of the Japanese Garden.
There will be regular bulletins on this page about our progress, the planned community activities, and opportunities to volunteer.
We can all look forward to an exciting year ahead, during which the main part of the construction should be completed.
So Watch This Space…………………………………………………!

October 2016 - Autumn Colours and Shrub Planting Plans

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Autumn tints are beginning to show in the garden this morning, particularly on the acers which will be one of the glories of the finished garden as we will ensure that any competing shrubs which spoil the shape of these trees will be carefully managed.

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This watercourse area is where we have a lot of work to do, you can see how it is entirely silted up and growing a good crop of buttercups, hopefully by this time next year we can show a very different picture.

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One of the key new shrubs is the autumn flowering camellia, Camellia Sasanqua. This comes in both pink and white forms and is particularly favoured in Japan as when the blooms fade they drop petals individually rather than drop the whole flower as the spring flowering variety do.

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Another shrub which will look well during summer and early autumn is the Hydrangea Serrata. We have planned for ten new shrubs. This is available in a variety of colours, but it does react to soil conditions needing some acid in the soil to stay blue. As yet we have not identified the exact variety we will use.

And finally for this month a picture of the beautiful golden bamboo, Phyllostachys Aurea, which will be a feature of the new entrance arch at the southern end of the garden. This variety grows up to 10m high in the right conditions, and is a clump forming variety and so easier to maintain.

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July 2016 in the Japanese Garden
Everything is growing up now in the garden and the watercourse is completely concealed by tall planting which has taken over. The hazel is looking a good colour and the trees are in full leaf. We have managed to commence control of the invasive Skunk Cabbage which is a bonus, but as you can see there is now no water at all in the ponded area. The frogs did manage to lay some frog spawn earlier in the year, but despite what we feel has been a wet season, there is nothing to show as the silt has filled the area completely.
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The project is moving forward slowly although it must appear that nothing is happening. The plans are finalized, the consultation process is complete and has been a positive exercise with many people getting involved and some good new contacts made.
We are getting costings now from contractors and finalizing our partnership with Harrogate Borough Council. They will need to complete a partnership agreement before we can submit an application to Heritage Lottery which we now hope to do in September.
Community Involvement
We would be delighted to meet any of you who are interested in becoming involved with this project either individually or as a group. We are happy to come and talk about it to groups, so do get in touch.
Horticap have agreed to help us to tidy up the woodland area during the winter when they are not so busy with regular clients.
There are several school projects associated with the restoration. Grove Academy Horticulture Department is going to be involved throughout the project and have expressed interest in assisting with the future maintenance of the garden which is great.
A recent talk to Harrogate and Nidderdale Art Group should result in some paintings for their Autumn Exhibition at Ripley in late November which will reference the garden and the new design with the artist’s vision of the project.
We have agreed with Rossett School that they are going to assist with the layout and graphics for the creation of information panels for when the garden is completed, and they will also design publicity leaflets for distribution around Harrogate.
Harrogate High School are very interested in our Project and plan to include modules on Japanese Art and Culture for the Art GCSE students with a workshop sponsored by the project to give the inspiration.
We would also like to plan something for the infant and Junior age group but this has yet to be agreed.
Our links with the Japanese Garden Society are strengthening and we hope for a long association with them and to be able to learn from their expertise.
So a very positive situation, but this is all dependent on getting a grant from Heritage Lottery, so wish us luck.

May 2nd – 9th 2016
Consultation on the draft plan for restoration of the Japanese Garden at St Peter’s pending a Heritage Lottery Application this year.
The Japanese Garden group from the Friends set up an exhibition in St Peter’s Church foyer as part of the Consultation which is being carried out online by Harrogate District Council our partners in this venture, we had good volunteer support to enable us to staff the exhibition from 10.00am -5.00pm every day, so thank you everyone for your help.
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The Japanese Shop lent a bright red kimono and a mannequin, and a bright parasol.

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We had support to create some lovely Origami Cranes which were ‘flying’ happily across one window, and a member of the Japanese Garden Society lent us a lovely Acer which he had potted up specially, and a small stone lantern.
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The exhibition included an A1 drawing of the draft plan (which can be downloaded by clicking here) and some supportive concept drawings of rock arrangements, bridges and entrance gates; photos of the garden in 1930 and now looking particularly bleak during the winter.
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Provided we can get all the permissions and agreement with HBC together with full costing of the plan we hope to get the application in by September, which if we are successful at the first attempt will enable us to start the work on the watercourse and woodland during the winter months.
A big part of this application is the Community involvement and I will talk about that in a future blog. Meanwhile I attach a summary from the report of our week which was extremely positive.

Report of comments recorded ‘in situ’

254 visitors came to see the display over the whole period. Most were local to Harrogate and District with some from the Leeds City Region and a few from other parts of the country and abroad e.g. USA. One person designed Japanese gardens in New Zealand. Some came from the groups we have already involved e.g. Harrogate and Nidderdale Art Club, Grove Academy. The majority of people were not aware that there was a Japanese Garden in the Valley Gardens.

“When I was a child I remember that children were not allowed in the Japanese Garden, when I did eventually get there it was rather a disappointment” she went on to say that we should be doing something better now as people’s expectations are greater.

The overall response was extremely positive with 99% supportive of the proposed plan. Of the one or two exceptions, one lady did want any change to the Valley Gardens and another wanted English garden plants. The large majority of people thought it was interesting, exciting and would look both distinctive and lovely, moving forward a garden which was becoming more ordinary. They felt that it was good to have a specific use for that space and it should attract visitors.

‘So nice to have something good happening in Harrogate’

People also said it would be peaceful and that Harrogate needed a calm place amidst the stress. They were impressed with and welcomed the community involvement. A number of very useful comments for the design, activities and contacts were made. Many people had personal connections with Japan or had visited the country and one or two involved with garden design or other horticultural aspects. Just one lady believed that Harrogate Gardens should all reflect ‘English plants’ and local views.

People asked about when the project would start and how it would be funded. It was emphasised that it would be funded externally, not by the council, and that we were going to try and get heritage lottery funding. .