The State of Horticulture in Britain, With an Eye to Japanese Gardening

       The first public botanic garden opened in Liverpool in 1802.  The Horticultural Society of London was founded in 1804; it would become the Royal Horticultural Society in 1861.  The first of eight subsequent editions of John Loudon's immense Encyclopedia of Gardening was published in 1822.  The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew were established in 1840.  The Gardeners' Chronicle was first published in 1841 and would become the century's major gardening paper.  (pp. 11-12)

       While the use of rockery in gardens had been somewhat popular for some time, many of these were either simply geological agglomerates of several different types of rock or a "planting" of basically upward-pointing spikes.  However, those persons advocating the imitation of nature were gaining ground in the 1840s, with tons of rock in effect transplanted as methodically as the trees brought in from distances.  A few outstanding examples were created (specifically Pencarow, Cornwall, 1831-34; Elvaston Castle, 1838; and Chatsworth, 1842) and were regarded as setting new standards in naturalistic construction.  Yet, within a generation all were to be condemned or dismissed as failures or bad examples.  Thus, the first phase of naturalism -- consistency of material, natural scale, and massiveness of stone -- gave way to the second phase, whose criteria were position (not in the vicinity of the house where obvious art should reign) and stratification (should not defy the laws of gravity, should be inclined along similar angles, and should lie on their natural beds).  One great exception to the rule of congruity was allowed: Sir Charles Isham's rockery at Lamport Hall, Northamptonshire, begun in 1848, which received uniformly favorable treatment in the horticultural press despite its commanding position in front of the house.  It presented a surface full of 'deep recesses, bold protrusions, mounds as if fallen from ruins', and was planted with a wide range of climbing and carpeting plants, but above all it included dwarfed trees -- for instance, a miniature willow three inches high -- often the result of root-pruning (emphasis added by RJB) .  By this expedient, the planting was to some degree kept in scale with the rock work: the aesthetic of scale modelling was developed to such a degree that its sheer consistency of approach seems to have overawed potential objectors.   (pp. 94-97)

       As gardeners began to cope systematically with the problems of growing hitherto unfamiliar plants, their horticultural expertise blossomed in a way unknown to previous generations.  The fifty years of the mid-19th century (1833-1883) had 'seen horticulture developed from an empirical mystery to an art founded on the truths of nature and the achievements of science,' and even in 1828 'some of the best gardeners in the country did not know or understand the principle of potting plants.'  Much of the credit for this achievement was awarded to John Lindley, whose book ( Theory of Horticulture, 1840) was credited with 'raising horticulture almost to an exact science...and so demolishing that huge monster -- empiricism.'
       The development of horticultural science lay in great part in an immense program of experimentation by early Victorian gardeners.  Experiments on hardiness; experiments on wintering plants, or forcing them out of season; experiments on trenching and drainage, soil sterilization by burning, the use of earth closets; the great Rothamsted series of experiments on fertilizers, begun in the 1840s; Darwin's investigations of earthworms and the formation of vegetable mould in the 1870s, and the later discoveries about soil bacteria; experiments on pest control; experiments on pruning, cordon training, and root-pruning of fruit trees; experiments on tree regeneration; and, above all, experiments on plant breeding.
       But of all the technical improvements, the one that had the most obvious impact on garden design was the art of transplanting.  Le Nôtre's achievements at Versailles had served as a model for intermittent practice in the eighteenth century, but in the 1820s the subject was reopened by Sir Henry Steuart, whose transplanting machine and technique of moving large trees bare-rooted served as a model for many experiments during the next decades.  Then, in the 1830s, an alternative technique was pioneered by William Barron: trees were moved with their roots still encased in a ball of earth, and instead of being dropped into a hole, the rootball was rested on the ground and a new mound built up around it.  Using this method, Barron achieved a minimal loss rate and was soon transplanting trees of immense size and age over long distances, to the amazement of his contemporaries.
       Then there were the inventions: the lawn mower (1830), Portland cement (the search for which resulted in the development of James Pulham's artificial stone rockeries), the wrought iron glazing bar and cast iron for larger and sturdier greenhouses (and the related improvements because of the introduction of sheet glass in 1847), and the Wardian case.  This latter device provided a self-sustaining environment for plants, which thus had a profound impact on plant introductions from around the globe.  Before the 1830s, most exotics were delivered by bringing home either seed wrapped in moist cloth or growing specimens, which on sea voyages had either to be kept below decks in inadequate lighting, or on deck where they were exposed to corrosive salt spray.  Whereas nurseries had been lucky previously to receive one specimen out of twenty intact, after the Wardian case was employed it was seen as a misfortune to lose one plant out of twenty.
       Added to this all was an artistic ferment spread by the proliferating gardening magazines launched by gardeners or gardening journalists.  (pp. 16-20)

       Now, when the English gardener of the mid-19th century thought about Japanese garden-craft, he thought first about bonsai.  Robert Fortune had drawn attention to the Chinese art of dwarfing trees in his books of travel, and John Lindley mentioned the practice in his Theory of Horticulture (1840).  Yet even in that age of the proclaimed triumph of art over nature, dwarfed trees aroused little enthusiasm, especially with such a wide range of sizes available among the newly introduced shrubs, many from China and Japan.  Despite the interest in root-pruning, and Sir Charles Isham's experiments in dwarfing at Lamport Hall, the same prejudice that discouraged topiary militated more successfully against bonsai.  Indeed, the two were often conflated, as in Linton Park's head gardener John Robson's description of the topiary at Elvaston Castle as being in the Japanese-Chinese taste.
       The technical skill was there, however, and toward the end of the century it gradually emerged.  In 1872, for a banquet given in Liverpool for the Japanese embassy, the young G.A. Audsley, later an important authority on Japanese art, supervised a display of British-trained bonsai.  As topiary became more popular, bonsai was looked upon more favorably; by the Edwardian period it had already become a cult, particularly associated with patrons of horticulture as Joseph Chamberlain at Highbury. (pp. 199-200)

        It is notable that the small Japanese garden created at the 1873 Vienna Exhibition was so popular and made such an impression that it was re-created at Alexandra Park in London as a permanent feature by the same Japanese gardeners who had worked on it at the exhibition. (pp. 209-210)

        The scale-model approach dominated most early attempts at Japonaiserie in the garden.  The 'Japanese' garden at Ivy House, Shipley Glen, laid out in the 1880s by a Yorkshire restauranteur named Thomas Hartley, contained a miniature lake and islands, one carrying two pagodas, but on the other stood a miniature castle with no Japanese connotations.  After the publication of Josiah Conder's books about Japanese gardening in the early 1890s, however, such naïvety was proscribed.   (pg. 200)

        At the Paris Exhibition of 1900, for the first time, some valuable art treasures owned by the Emperor, noblemen, and temples were exhibited.  A model of Kondo (golden hall) in Horyu-ji, twenty meters in height, was erected near the Trocadero, with all the materials bought in France.  The hall contained collections of traditional fine arts and in front there was a small Japanese garden creating an impressive effect.  (pg. 213)

       The St. Louis Exposition of 1904 doubled the space allocated at the Paris Exhibition and the number of exhibits trebled.  A replica of the Kinkaku-ji (golden pavilion) of Kyoto was erected as an authentic architectural example, together with the usual features such as a Japanese garden, a tea house, a bazaar, a Japanese theater, and several gateways.  (pp. 213-214)

       The wealthier and more sophisticated sought to create more authentic effects by bringing genuine Japanese gardeners to Britain, and by 1905 their advice was being offered in the gardening magazines.  The best publicized of these attempts was at Tully, in County Kildaire, laid out by the gardener Tass Eida and his sons from 1906.  The garden was laid out according to a symbolic plan, representing the journey of life from womb (cave surmounted by flowering cherry) to tomb (weeping trees), and decorated with stone lanterns, bonsai, and a miniature village.  By 1910 the garden was announced as complete, and the Tully Nursery Company was established to keep the garden-making community together.  At Fanhams Hall, a scale model of Mount Fuji was erected.  (pp. 200-201)

- - - - -

The Setting for the Exhibition and The Event

       Now, in 1895 Japan had defeated China in war and in 1900 had joined the International Expedition to relieve the Legations in Peking from the Boxer Rising (pg. 9)

       The Anglo-Japanese Alliance (1905) was based on political inter-governmental factors; there would be no better way to develop an alliance between the peoples than to hold an exhibition in London.  This would give an opportunity for the British general public at large to gain more understanding of Britain’s ally, Japan, and the Japanese, and would also offer the possibility of increasing Japanese trade with Britain.  (pp. 44-45)

       The exhibition would be held at the White City, Shepherds Bush, London.  The great pleasure ground there was called the ‘White City’ after the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago; it did in fact strikingly resemble the Chicago Exposition.  (pp. 3, 39)

       The Japanese section at the White City covered in all 242,700 sq. ft., three times that occupied at the Paris Exhibition of 1900.  There were now, in addition, two Japanese gardens which occupied 3,020 tsubo and 3,260 tsubo respectively (approx. 222,877 sq. ft.), making 466,000 sq. ft. (equivalent to approx. 11 acres) in total.  There were some 2,271 Japanese exhibitors.
       At that time, when a journey from Japan to England took a good two months by ship, all the people and things necessary for the Exhibition had to be shipped well in advance to be in time for the opening early in May. 
       As Japanese gardens had to be constructed from scratch at the Exhibition site, the Japanese Commission sent experts and experienced workmen to London in advance to design the lay-out and to list what was needed.  Since authenticity was regarded as of the utmost importance, trees, shrubs, wooden buildings, bridges, and even stones had to be shipped over from Japan.  (pg. 61)

       The work of selection, collection and packing of the whole of the exhibits was carried out between April and October 1909.  Shipment to London began in the autumn and lasted until the middle of February 1910, when the last shipment was made.  (pg. 62)

       With the arrival of the first shipment to London in early January 1910, preparations for the Exhibition on the ground on both sides got under way in earnest early in the New Year. 
       A visit to the site by Queen Alexandra in mid-March, in advance of the opening, was highlighted by all the newspapers, adding royal prestige to the Exhibition.  The Queen’s appreciation of the preparation of the Japanese gardens by landscape gardeners with all the materials sent over from Japan stimulated the morale of the men, both British and Japanese, working at the site.  The principal Japanese garden designer was the celebrated Izawa Hannosuke, who had arrived in the middle of December 1909 and worked on the two gardens for almost six months before the opening of the Exhibition.  The Queen complimented him on his effort during her visit to the garden.   Izawa encountered various problems while he was working, particularly on the groundwork at the White City site, such as difficulty in digging hard frozen ground to prepare foundations during the winter.  He and his employees, British and Japanese, managed the task by working extremely hard without missing a single day.  (Izawa would go on to design the 2-acre garden for the 1915 San Francisco Exposition.)  (pp. 67-68)

The smaller garden was titled "The Garden of Peace"; the larger one, "The Floating Garden."  The most notable exhibit, howver, was the collection of "pigmy trees" exhibited by the Yokohama Nursery Company.  The 2,000 plants which ranged from age 25 to 300 years included Thuja obtusa, Pinus pentaphylla, P. massoniana, Larix leptolepsis, Juniperus procumbens, J. rigida, Tsuga Sieboldii, Cryptomeria japonica, Acers, Quercus dentata, Styrax japonica, Lagerstömia indica, Punica granatum, Cerasus, Wistaria, Crataegus cuneata, Zelkova keakii, Euonymus alatus, Hedera, and Bambusa (Frese's article, pg. 1)

       A significant number of models of old buildings were exhibited, far more than in previous exhibitions, and arrangements for these were carefully made.  Eminent Japanese artists and craftsmen were employed to construct and erect the model gateways, temples, and other halls with their showcases.  (pg. 68)

       The death of King Edward VII on May 6 caused the opening to be delayed two days till the 14th.  Immense crowds showed up that first day.  On the day of the King’s funeral, the 20th, the Exhibition was closed.  By the time the event closed on October 29, over 8 million visitors had attended what had taken three years to prepare.   (pp. 3, 72-73)

       The Exhibition was widely known in London as 'the Japanese Exhibition' rather than ‘the Japan-British Exhibition.’  Full British commitment was not made, however, because of her political preoccupations and her simultaneous participation in the Brussels International Exhibition (April 23 - Nov. 7, with 13 million visitors).  (Some critics said it was simply a matter of lack of interest on the part of the British government.)  Actually initiated by a London entrepreneur, the Exhibition was organized by him and the Japanese government but could not have materialized had it not been for the considerable involvement of the active and influential members of the British Empire League. (pp. 135, 145, 187)

       Displays about Formosa, Korea (annexed during the Exhibition), other territories, and the Ainu were meant to demonstrate Japan’s mission to improve people’s lives in the colonies.  This mirrored what Britain had been doing for some time herself, in order to justify her conduct in her colonies.  (pg. 84)

       As with most countries which participated in international exhibitions, it was also for Japan to show off her industrial products and ultimately increase exports.  (pg. 86)

       One of the many aims of the Exhibition was to teach the West about the great civilization of Japan, what she had been in the past, what she had become over the last half-century and what she would be.  Visitors would be able to appreciate her long history over the previous two-and-a-half thousand years and discover that Japan was not a country that had suddenly newly emerged in the middle of the nineteenth century, but had always been progressive, and that the modernization Japan had been carrying out since 1868 was a natural continuation of Japan’s past progress and great history.  Such educational aims manifested themselves in the impressive twelve full-sized Historical Tableaux (with wax figures), in the modern systems and facilities proudly displayed by all the governmental departments, in the manufactured goods, in the retrospective and modern fine arts, in the arts and crafts, in the elaborate gardens, in the women’s section, and in other exhibits, all of which were of the highest possible quality and were meant to broaden the minds of the British public. (pg. 92)

       Numerous publications on Japan in London accompanying the event attempted to give as much detailed information about Japan as possible.  In addition to The Times' voluminous Japanese Edition and the 1,000 page Japan Today (traditionally bound with its delicate silk cover and providing many Japanese leaders with a timely platform from which to disseminate their messages to the British public), there were the eighty accompanying books and booklets which ranged from catalogues on the Japanese fine arts on display to the Official Guide to the Exhibition.  (pp. 95, 114,115)

       By the time of the Exhibition of 1910, the period of the greatest impact of Japanese arts on the West had passed its zenith and the British visitors might be expected to have had some idea of Japanese arts before their visit.  There had nevertheless not previously been the opportunity to see such an unprecedented and extensive range of representative fine arts of such high quality.  Cheap and vulgar Japanese arts and crafts, which had been flooding into the West over the previous several decades, had been produced purely for export purposes.  The Exhibition thus supplied many art experts and the general public with the best occasion for them to appreciate, examine, and study rare and authentic examples of high quality Japanese art.  (pg. 119)

       Most of the important paintings were changed fortnightly, partly because there was only a limited space available to them, but also because they could not be exposed too long to the light because of their rarity and preciousness and the risk of fading.  (pp. 120-121)

       The number of Western-style paintings by Japanese artists in the international exhibitions in 1900 (Paris), 1904 (St. Louis) and 1910 (London) were 142, 105, and 38 respectively.  Traditional Japanese paintings at the same exhibitions were 389, 498, and 595 respectively. (pp. 121-122)

       Almost 500 leading Japanese firms sent items of mainly traditional craftwork to London.  These included Miyagawa Kozan (see Bonsai Book of Days entry for May 20 ).  One of the most popular craftsmen actually in the Exhibition was Horikawa Kozan, a celebrated potter in Japan, whose works were treasured not only in the households of many noblemen, but also in the Imperial palace itself.  He was invited especially to come to London to demonstrate to the British public pottery-making and repair (and supply of missing parts) of priceless antiquities, some of the latter having been in the possession of British collectors and noblemen for generations.  (pg. 123)

       The Exhibition remained open right from the first day until eleven o’clock each night in order to take advantage of the long summer evenings.  Many people made it into an evening-out and seem to have enjoyed strolling around the fully-illuminated site in the cool summer air.  The illuminations were particularly effective as the white oriental-style buildings were magically highlighted against the dark night sky, while the Japanese gardens were lit with lanterns to create a mystical atmosphere.  Evening visitors were provided with an additional bonus: three evenings a week at the stadium, spectacular fireworks displays were presented by a reputable British fireworks company.  (pp. 100-101)

       At a luncheon on 30 June, the Royal Horticultural Society presented their awards to several garden designers for their contributions in creating the impressive and authentic Japanese gardens in such a difficult and different environment.  (pg. 103) 

       A Thuja obtusa (below), reportedly 125 years old, was awarded a silver cup as the finest example of a pigmy tree.  (Frese's article, pg. 1, photo pg. 2)

Thuja in London 1910

       Among the Japanese exhibits and displays which drew the most attention from the British public and journalists, the Japanese gardens seem to have particularly appealed to and delighted the visitors, as the display of these gardens on such a scale could not be accommodated in previous exhibitions.  To most of the visitors, it seems to have been an eye-opening experience, specially in regard to the authenticity of the gardens.  A writer in one of the London daily newspapers predicted that Japanese gardens, though unorthodox would become fashionable in England.  [Indeed, a few Japanese gardens were constructed in England in this period and these might well have been influenced by the Exhibition.  For example, Mount Ephraim in Kent and Tatton Park in Cheshire, both of which still exist in fairly good condition, the latter being managed by the National Trust, are believed to have been constructed by Japanese workmen between 1910 and 1912.  These workmen could well have been those who had worked on the gardens displayed at the Exhibition, as it is difficult to conceive of any other reason for a group of workmen skilled in such work to be in England at that time.]  (pp. 126-127)

       A number of the Japanese London residents or visitors felt that  “…the Japanese Village is a mere sketch of the life of the lowest class of peasants in the north-east of Japan and is a sight which must fill Japanese gentlemen with nothing but displeasure and shame.”  Some Japanese correspondents in London even stated that certain exhibits in the shape of side-shows had been calculated to bring discredit to Japan.
       Moreover, the exhibition of the Ainu and Formosan natives together with their native huts and so forth to public gaze might also have been regarded as “raising the question of personal rights.”  (The Ainu themselves did, however, leave a message of gratitude to the British public before making their way home.) 
       There were said to have been around 300 Japanese residents who were registered at the Embassy in 1910.  And Japanese residents in London in Victorian and Edwardian times were mostly diplomats, government officials, bankers, businessmen and students, unlike the many unskilled Japanese laborers who emigrated to the United States in search of work during the same period.   Thus, the Japanese in London were more highly sensitive to "correct" portrayal of their homeland and did not want anything to be shown as feudal, backward and old-fashioned.  The excessive contempt shown towards their own traditional culture and the blind indiscriminate admiration of almost all things Western seem to have been usual in the Meiji period. 
       There seems, however, still to have been a general conception in the West of Japan as a backward and undeveloped country, despite the lessons of the Boxer Rising and the Russo-Japanese War.  Most of the Japanese visitors were quite aware of these misconceptions, so even if some of the displays they regarded as vulgar were in fact not far from the truth in some parts of Japan in those days, what those proud Japanese residents could not swallow was evidence that might confirm the Western public in its existing preconceptions. 
       The minority of the Japanese London residents did not see the Exhibition in such a negative way, and expressed their pride in the Japanese leaders as well as in the Japanese artisans and workers who made such a grand Exhibition possible. (pp. 133, 137, 138, 140-143)

       The negative opinion that "the exhibition was a failure" dominated in Japanese newspapers and elsewhere, in part for unknown reasons and in part because of the comments by the Japanese articulate elite class who had witnessed the Exhibition at an early stage and who were not pleased with the approach of the entrepreneur who initially organized the event.  While he was preoccupied with how best the Exhibition could appeal to as many people as possible and by providing the public with exotic and entertaining "attractions," the Japanese authorities were more concerned with how best Japan could, with proper dignity, promote her long history, high culture and modern systems to the British public to convince them she was worthy to be a modern and civilized ally of Britain.  Although neither the opinion of the British public or media nor of most of the Japanese public as well, this hostile attitude seems to have prevailed and become almost widespread in Japan towards the end of the Exhibition.  Consequently, in the Japanese historical context, the 1910 Japan-British Exhibition had to take second place to such minor events as Captain Shirase's South Pole expedition or other events of similar magnitude which coincided with it that year.  Indeed, in an extreme case, such a great event for Japan is amazingly not listed, for reasons unknown, even in Japanese books dealing exclusively with international exhibitions, while exhibitions such as the Franco-British of 1908, in nature, very similar to the Japan-British Exhibition, and the Brussels International Exhibition of 1910 are included.  (pp. 182-183, 190)

       As the Japan Weekly Mail in London summed up in August, 1910, the general belief of foreigners about Japan was that her condition had been the outcome of a single leap from a state of semi-barbarism to one of high civilization.  Such a view naturally carried with it a measure of contempt, and it had been most desirable that such a false conception should be corrected.  This is precisely what the Exhibition had managed to accomplish, proving that there had been a panorama of progress from the earliest days up to the present time, and that the Meiji era was not a sudden transformation but merely a progression from one civilization to another. (pg. 183)

       The negative views of the Exhibition in Japanese newspapers were in contrast to those of almost all British newspapers, which gave wide and detailed coverage of the Japanese section and contained favorable reviews, especially on some of the exhibits of rare fine arts and the Japanese gardens.  (pg. 91)

       The final stage of the Exhibition, as in all such events, was the disposal of the exhibits.  In the end it was decided that they would be divided into three categories: those to be sent back to Japan straight away (four hundred boxes in three separate shipments), those to be presented to various institutions and organizations (over 200 divided between thirty recipients), and those to be sent on to other cities in Europe where international exhibitions would be held in the near future (Dresden and Turin, both in 1911).  (pp. 106-107)

       The two Japanese gardens remained as they were, and even today a fragment of one of the gardens can be seen in a public park at the White City near the BBC Centre.  Alas, it has not remained in its glory, since it has not received the constant maintenance that a Japanese garden requires.  (pg. 108)

      The Japan-British Exhibition, being the exposition to which Japan was most heavily committed, was the main platform for such a display before Japan’s first international exhibition, Japan EXPO ’70 in Osaka.  (There had been aspirations for a proposed Grand Exhibition of 1912 in Tokyo, then postponed until 1917, but the War to End All Wars prevented its realization.) (pp. 182, 186)

- - - - -

      By the time of the Japan-British Exhibition of 1910, with bonsai exhibits and two miniature gardens created by Japanese gardeners, the public was ready to respond to the scale-model taste with delight.  In the wake of the exhibition, the horticultural journalist Walter P. Wright recommended the adoption of the Japanese style on a wide scale, listing among its features an irregular lake, waterfall, rustic bridge, waterside planting, and 'Alpine regions, perhaps planted with Firs, and with foothills that are clothed with miniature Pines.'  And so the Japanese garden was assimilated to the existing tradition of the rock and water garden in Britain; the distinguishing elements were the use of ornaments such as stone lanterns, Japanese plants -- notably irises --- and subdued color schemes, with the use of dark backgrounds to create a sense of mystery.  Gardens of this sort flourished during the Edwardian period, both on private estates like Holland house, Newstead Abbey, Hinchingbrooke, and Friar Park, and in public parks like Battersea and Abbey Park.  Reginald Farrer completed the process by recommending an oriental inspiration as a corrective to the rock garden of his day: 'A Chinese or Japanese garden set with European alpines is my ideal.'  (pg. 201)


Elliott, Brent  Victorian Gardens (Portland, OR: Timber Press; 1986).

Hotta-Lister, Ayako  The Japan-British Exhibition of 1910, Gateway to the Island Empire of the East (Richmond, Surrey: Japan Library, 1999)  Because it is one of the few works about the subject and so thorough, we have quoted extensively from this.  Hotta-Lister incorrectly gives Shirase as going to the North Pole (pg. 183) and an international exhibition also in Budapest after London (pg. 107).  Our researches show that there was no large exposition after 1881 for that Hungarian site.

Frese, Paul F. "Bonsai Exhibits Come West," Journal, ABS, Vol. 16, No. 1, Spring 1982, pp. 1-2.  Based on material from articles in The Gardeners' Chronicle, April 16 and September 24, 1910.  Includes these instructions for the treatment of the trees:

        "During spring and summer it is preferable to keep them in a sunny, airy situation, where the wind passes freely through the branches.  The soil should be kept moist, but not too wet.  During the winter the trees should be placed in a cold greenhouse or unheated orangery, and the roots should be watered sparingly.  Repotting is necessary once in two or three years, and the operation should be carried out in May.  Lift the tree out of the pot, remove about one-third of the old soil, and replace it in the same pot, supplying rich, fresh soil.  To maintain the dwarfness of the tree, pinch back the young growths in spring and summer." 

Virtually identical to good maintenance instructions of today.

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