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Submitted by Erica Glasener, Marketing Manager for Gibbs Gardens: Just an hour north of Atlanta, in Cherokee county, is Gibbs Gardens, a 220 acre public garden with one of the largest Japanese Gardens in the United States. Here one can see examples of how water, stone and plants are used in a Japanese garden. Opened to the public in 2012, the garden was under development for over 30 years. Gibbs Garden’s overall design is influenced by years of working with well known Atlanta gardener Dottie Fuqua, and a visit to Japan in 1973 where he studied with a Japanese master gardener.
At 40 acres, the Japanese garden at Gibbs Gardens is one of the largest Tsukiyama gardens in the nation. What visitors see when they visit today is a far cry from the bog covered with invasive smilax vine that owner, creator and designer Jim Gibbs was faced with in 1987. It took five years of searching just to collect all the rocks and stones he needed for the garden. Today visitors enter the garden through a Torri gate, a gate with two overhead cross bars or lintels. Whether this style of gate originates from Japan or is a foreign import, it is found at the entrance to almost every shrine in Japan. The literal translation for torii is “bird’s perch.” Some references describe the gate as a way to separate the profane and mundane from the sacred. Gibbs designed his Japanese garden to be a four season garden. “Tsukiyama” (which refers to the creation of artificial hills) originate from China. Water, stone, plants, lanterns, ponds, bridges and paths are essential elements. This style of garden usually covers many acres but it may also be adapted for a small backyard. Ponds represent the sea, or lakes and rivers, while hills symbolize islands.
Once inside, visitors encounter a Kasuga-doro, a granite pedestal type of lantern. Tall and thin, it is a hexagonal box or square with a hexagonal top with prominent scrolls. Carvings represent deer, sun or the moon. This type of lantern was first used in 768 AD at a Shinto shrine.
Meandering paths with sudden descents lead you through the garden, where you will encounter seven spring-fed ponds, boulders, rocks, islands and bridges. Pagodas are strategically placed to frame views. Borrowed views in the distance also contribute to the overall effect.
There are 40 lanterns in the garden which provide sculptural interest and year-round beauty. The Kotojii lantern has one leg in the pond and one on land. This is sometimes called the harp lantern for the shape of the legs. A Yukimi lantern is also known as the snow viewing lantern for its simplicity and beauty when the cap is covered with snow.
Plants such as azaleas, iris, flowering cherries and evergreens provide interest throughout the year in the garden. Many are trained as bonsai, a way of directing the growth of trees and shrubs through pruning to maintain them as miniature versions of their mature counterparts. The garden also features thousands of Japanese maples that add beauty and grace throughout the year, especially in October and November when their leaves turn brilliant shades of orange, red and yellow. The show continues even when the maples begin to shed their foliage and create a carpet of color on the ground.
No matter what the season the Japanese Garden offers a tranquil place to stroll and admire the ever-changing scene or sit and relax.
1 Data & photos submitted by Erica Glasener, Marketing Manager for Gibbs Gardens.