« 1 of 35 »

Use arrows to browse images, or click photo for full screen slide show.


Maymont’s naturalistic Japanese Garden contrasts strongly with the formality of the Italian Garden. Descending into the Japanese Garden and entering through its distinct gates is like stepping onto a different continent. The space is cool, shaded and intimate. Sounds are muted and even children become more introspective and observant. While not a religious garden, the space is unmistakably reflective.

The Garden is blend of several different styles of Japanese gardens and two distinct periods of design. In 1911, the Dooleys purchased a wedge-shaped section of the Kanawha Canal that bordered Maymont. To create their garden, it is believed they hired Muto, a master Japanese gardener who had designed gardens for other estates along the East Coast.

The original garden encompassed a much smaller area. Several features from that garden remain, including the stonework around the base of the waterfall, several trees and the winding watercourse that leads to the large pond. Unfortunately, during the decades following Mrs. Dooley’s death, the garden gradually lost much of its original splendor and detail.  In 1978, the garden was renovated by Earth Design, Inc. The style reproduced at Maymont is called a “stroll garden” and is designed to offer the visitor changing impressions of nature as the various areas come into view. In renovation, elements from classical gardens in Kyoto, Tokyo and Nara were incorporated.

Maymont’s Japanese Garden now includes trained and pruned trees and shrubs, raked sand pools, stone groupings and multiple water areas—all designed to create the impression of an old, naturally developed landscape. Design elements include stone lanterns, paths and bridges.  Green, brown and gray colors are emphasized to represent the ruggedness of natural scenery. Flowers are used discreetly. Water iris bloom along the water’s edge in spring, followed by the floating blooms of the water lily in summer. Cherry blossoms mark the passing of time.  Recent additions to the garden include the north entrance gate, a traditional archway; accent plantings by the pond; two new lanterns; and a new pathway along the pond. These and other renovations have been made possible through the ongoing support of Ikebana of Richmond, federal grants and the William B. Thalhimer and Family Foundation.

When visiting Maymont’s Japanese Garden, understand that the beauty of this garden is in its subtleness. Consider its sparse use of flowers, notice textures and observe the numerous shades of green, brown and gray. Contrast the gardens of the East (Japanese) with those of the West (Italian).

A Japanese Garden Guide and Map, available for purchase at the Visitor Center, provides interpretive information, including history and Japanese symbolism, to enrich appreciation of the Japanese Garden.

Contributed by Peggy M. Singlemann, Director of Horticulture – Maymont Foundation


Commodore Matthew Perry’s mission to Japan in 1853-54 ignited a fascination that produced a widespread and lasting impact on the West. In the last decades of the century and into the early twentieth century, this fascination grew into a craze that spanned the Atlantic and touched most fields of art and design as well as popular culture. Examples of Japan’s influence ranged from the paintings of James McNeil Whistler, the ceramics of the Rookwood Pottery, and furniture inspired by Charles Locke Eastlake, to the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, the music of Debussey, imported botanical specimens, and ubiquitous paper fans adorning domestic interiors. [1]

In 1876, large numbers of Americans attending the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia came face to face with Japanese culture for the first time.  There native workmen constructed a dwelling and garden using their traditional techniques, materials and design.  Japan filled its sales pavilion with antique bronzes, ivory carvings, lacquer work and more. [2]   In New York, Tiffany & Company sold imported Japanese artifacts, and in Paris, La Porte Japonaise furnished woodcuts, screens, fans, and porcelain to devotees.  In Gilded Age mansions, entire rooms were based on Japanese design. W.H. Vanderbilt’s 1882 Fifth Avenue residence included a Japanese parlor. [3]  Gilbert and Sullivan’s wildly popular operetta The Mikado, first performed in 1885, attests to the fever pitch that the Japanese mania attained in Victorian culture.

By 1900, Japanese gardens were among the favorite choices for ornamental estates. [4]  John D. Rockefeller, Jr. added one at his New York home, Kykuit, around 1909. [5]  Henry E. Huntington added the first Japanese elements to the landscape of his San Marino, California estate in 1911. [6]  In that same year, work began on the Japanese Garden at Maymont, the Richmond, Virginia home of James and Sallie Dooley.  For estate owners, inspiration may have come from international expositions that they visited, from world travels, and books such as Josiah Conder’s Landscape Gardening in Japan, first published in 1893. [7] In many cases, estate gardens were the creation of Japanese garden masters, some of whom had initially come to the West to create gardens in their native style at the expositions. [8]

The Dooleys’ Inspiration

Certainly, the Dooleys traveled widely.  It is not known, however, if the Dooleys traveled to Japan as did many of their cohort; nor is it known if they attended the Centennial.  While it is likely that they attended the World’s Columbian Exposition (1893) and the Jamestown Exposition in Norfolk, Virginia (1907), it is documented that they did attend the St. Louis Exposition (1904).[9]  Whatever the Dooleys’ exact source of inspiration may have been, it appears that soon after completion of the Italian Garden, the Dooleys began planning their Japanese Garden.  In June 1911, the Dooleys and the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad resolved the questionable ownership of a seven-acre area at the southeast corner of their property bordering the Kanawha Canal.  This area had served in the nineteenth century as a turning basin for canal boats.  In 1998, an archeological excavation in this area revealed old, sunken boats that were evidently used to help support the dam that separated the Dooleys’ property and the canal. As indicated in early photographs and the 1934 topographic map of Maymont, [10] the resulting pond was treated as a water garden with an island. [11] At the base of the old quarry in this area, the Dooleys envisioned their Japanese Garden.

The Maymont Japanese Garden Designer

Like other estate owners of the period who desired Japanese gardens, the Dooleys employed a Japanese garden master to design and construct their new garden, “Muto and Zuki, came to the estate from Long Island.”  [12]  Mrs. Dooley’s great nephew Fitzhugh Elder, Jr. recalled being told as a child that the Japanese gardeners responsible for the Maymont garden had also worked on the Japanese garden at Fairmont Park in Philadelphia.[13]  A newspaper article announcing Maymont Foundation’s plans for the garden’s renovation repeated the attribution, “Two Japanese landscape gardeners, came down from Long Island to do the work.” [14]

Although no documents from the Dooleys’ lifetime have been located to confirm the attribution, oral history and coincidental dates point to Y. Muto as the creator of the Maymont Japanese garden.  Muto built a Japanese garden for Alexander Tison at his estate Grey Lodge at Denning, New York, which was constructed between 1900 and 1904.  Tison had been a professor of law at the Imperial University in Tokyo, and after resuming his practice in New York, became director of the Japan Society in 1908 and later its President.[15]  According to Clay Lancaster, author of The Japanese Influence in America (1983), “Muto and an assistant improved the stream with channels and waterfalls, widened it into a little lake containing islands, and planted it with flowering trees and shrubbery.”  [16]

In 1905, Muto was employed by John and Lydia Morris to create the “Hill and Cloud Garden” at Compton, their Philadelphia estate, now the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania. The research files of the Morris Arboretum indicate that in 1908, Muto returned to Philadelphia to lay out the Temple Gate Garden in Fairmount Park (coinciding with Mr. Elder’s recollection).  The Temple Gate at Fairmount Park was actually reassembled the two-storied gateway to Japan’s display at the St. Louis Exposition. [17]

After a period of several years, Muto returned to Compton in 1912 to work on the Japanese Overlook.  Documented Maymont projects help to bracket the period of the Japanese garden construction between 1911 and 1912. [18]  While absent from the Philadelphia area, could Muto have spent time working at Maymont?  Following his last known work in Philadelphia, he reportedly went to England. [19]   While no period documents survive placing Muto at Maymont, his career and his artistry provide valuable context for understanding significant influence of Japan on estate landscaping in the early twentieth century as reflected at Maymont.

More Details:

Situated at the base of the 45-foot, simulated waterfall, the original Japanese Garden encompassed a much smaller area than the present expanded garden.  Probably conceived as part of the garden, the waterfall flows over a natural granite outcropping to provide a dramatic backdrop. The waterfall, like the cascade, was supplied by water from the Kanawha Canal pumped from the pump house adjacent to the pond up to the water tower.  Selection and placement of large stones leading to the pavilion on a ledge adjacent to the waterfall suggest the hand of a Japanese garden master.  As Barry Starke of Earth Design (the landscape architect responsible for the 1978 renovation plan) writes, “At the beginning of our study of the Dooley garden it was intuitively obvious to me that someone sensitive to the design of Japanese gardens had worked with the area immediately around the waterfall . . .” [20]

A winding watercourse originates at the base of the waterfall and flows through the garden. It was originally crossed by a small earthen bridge.   Other original features included stone lanterns, or ishi-dōrō 石灯籠, native Japanese plantings and two pavilions.  The waterfall viewing pavilion or azumaya 東屋 was reconstructed in 1985, based on old photographs and set on the original foundation.  An original planting from the Dooley era is the Japanese Maple which grows near the location of the second pavilion, which was demolished prior to 1975 during the City era of Maymont’s operation.  Descriptions of this Japanese style pavilion indicate that it had fan shaped windows.

An early photograph taken by Dementi Studios in 1926 shows the original Kasuga-style stone lantern and a smaller Tasoya type wooden post lantern.  Another original stone lantern of the Kotoji type stands near the base of the waterfall.  As Kendall Brown points out, these elements are illustrated in Josiah Conder’s 1893 Landscape Gardening in Japan. [21]

After Mrs. Dooley’s death in 1925, the garden gradually lost much of its original detail, the City ran cement side walks through the garden, and severe damage resulted from flooding in hurricanes Agnes and Camille.   In 1978, Maymont Foundation engaged Barry Starke of Earth Design, Inc. to plan its renovation. Barry Starke’s plan has evolved and developed over the years through funding from the Ikebana of Richmond and other generous donors.  This plan left surviving Dooley-era features largely intact yet greatly expanded the Japanese Garden into surrounding areas.  The renovated garden is encyclopedic.  It incorporates a number of different Japanese elements added to the Dooley-era garden.  It now represents a ‘stroll garden,’ a type of Japanese garden that is designed around a system of paths and bridges, arranged to offer changing impressions of nature as the various areas come into view.

Rocky Overlook

Directly to the east of the Japanese Garden, the large granite outcropping marks the southeastern corner of the Maymont tract. The Dooleys enhanced this picturesque natural feature, creating a rustic landscape or rockery with a system of stone steps winding up among the enormous boulders. The Rocky Overlook was a major design component of the landscape as emphasized by historic landscape architect Christine Doell in the 1989 Maymont Historic Landscape Conservation Survey.   Azaleas and other plantings were planted among the rocks.  From the top, the Dooleys and their guests could enjoy stunning vistas of the river and to the west the towers of the mansion dramatically jutting forth into view like a distant castle.  Unfortunately, as a result of severe erosion, public access to this area is prohibited.  As interpreted by historical landscape architect Christine Doell, it terminates the proper sequence of gardens recommended for estate landscape design which should move from the most formal—the Italian Garden—in closest proximity to the residence, to the informal—the Japanese Garden—and at the furthest extreme from the residence–the rustic garden or “wilderness.” [22]


Although Barry Starke’s plan for the Japanese Garden continues and in other areas of the estate new plantings and small temporary display gardens have been added (e.g. the Day Lily Garden, the Walled Garden and the Herb Garden), the overall scheme of the Dooley-era Maymont landscape is largely intact. Maymont today is a special place that encapsulates many aspects of a distinctive era of America’s past, including the Gilded Age fascination with Japan.  With the passage of time and the unfortunate destruction of similar estates, Maymont’s value increases as an unusually complete Gilded Age ensemble of architecture, landscape, and decorative arts.

Excerpt of “Maymont, Gilded Age Estate”,  Dale Wheary 2000; revised 2013

Fun Facts:

In 1911, James and Sallie Dooley purchased a wedge-shaped section of the Kanawha Canal that bordered Maymont. To create their garden, it is believed they hired Muto, a master Japanese gardener who had designed gardens for other estates along the East Coast. The Dooleys’ Japanese Garden was completed in 1912.

  • Maymont’s garden is the largest public Japanese garden on the east coast, covering approximately six acres.
  • The 45-foot waterfall was constructed during the Dooleys’ time, and originally, the water was pumped from a nearby pond to the top of the hill with an early-model, gasoline-powered pump.
  • The Koi (members of the carp family of fish) in the pond may sometimes live 100 years and are often passed down through generations like Westerners pass down china or silver.
  • The Dooleys’ Japanese Garden encompassed a much smaller area than the garden of today. It included the waterfall, a gazebo, stone lanterns, an earthen bridge over a winding stream, and many trees and shrubs including the Japanese maple in the dry island between the entry gate and moon bridge.
  • During the nineteenth century, the area served as a turning basin for canal boats. In 1998, an archeological excavation revealed old, sunken boats that were evidently used to help support the land mass that separated the Dooleys’ property and the canal.
  • Ikebana of Richmond, Inc., a local organization whose purpose is to promote the study of Ikebana, related arts, and Japanese culture, has supported Maymont’s Japanese Garden since the 1970s, raising funds for numerous important projects including the addition of the Moon Bridge, lanterns and the entrance gate at the western end, as well as the reconstruction of the viewing gazebo. The group also provides funding for a summer intern to work in the Japanese Garden each year.

[1] Gabriel P. Weisberg, The Orient Expressed: Japan’s Influence on Western Art, 1854-1918, Mississippi Museum of Art, 2011. Hannah Sigur, The Influence of Japanese Art on Design, Gibbs Smith, 2008.  Clay Lancaster, The Japanese Influence in America, Abbeville Press, 1983.
[2] Dallas Finn, “Japan at the Centennial,” Nineteenth Century, Autumn 1976, pp. 33-40.
[3] Artistic Houses, 1883, reissue Benjamin Blom, Inc., New York, 1971, p, 115.
[4] Rudy Favretti, Landscapes and Gardens for Historic Buildings: A Handbook for Reproducing and Creating Authentic Landscape Settings, AltaMira Press, 2nd edition 1995, p.
[5] Clive Aslet, The American Country House, Yale University Press, 1990, p. 56.
[6] Kendall H. Brown, Quiet Beauty:  The Japanese Gardens of North America, Tuttle Publishing, 2013, p. 27.
[7] Josiah Conder, Landscape Gardening in Japan, republication by Dover Publications, 1964.  Dover’s reprint is based on the second edition by Conder published in 1912.
[8] Kendall H. Brown, p. 11-13.
[9]  “Special to the Times Dispatch,” Times Dispatch, 23 October 1904, p. 10.
[10] Maymont Mansion Archives Collection.
[11] Christine K. Doell, Maymont Historic Landscape Conservation Survey, 1989.
[12] “Maymont,” Richmond Times-Dispatch, 2 May 1935.  “Maymont,” Richmond Times-Dispatch, 9 July 1933, sec. 5, p.3.  Note also that L.W. Taliaferro, the Dooleys’ estate manager, employed in 1898, mentions in an interview that two Japanese designed the garden; “Lovely Gardens: Expense Held Secondary in Building Park,” Richmond Times-Dispatch, 9 July 1933.
[13] Fitzhugh Elder, Jr., interview with Dale Wheary, 26 January 1981.  Maymont Mansion Oral History Files.
[14] “Japanese Garden Grows at Maymont,” Richmond News Leader, 19 Feb. 1976,
[15]  Clay Lancaster, The Japanese Influence in America, 144-149.
[16] Clay Lancaster, p. 198.
[17] Clay Lancaster, p. 144.  Lancaster notes that a photograph of the Fairmount Park gateway was published in an essay “Artistic Japanese Features for Gardens and Country Estates,” in House and Garden in 1907, a source that should be checked.
[18] Etta Donnan Mann, wife of Governor William Hodges Mann notes seeing the Dooleys’ Japanese Garden in her diary entry for November 16, 1912. Four Years in the Governor’s Mansion of Virginia, 1910-1914, The Dietz Press, 1937, p. 151.
[19] Elouise Binns and Bian Tan, “The Search for Mr. Muto,” an unpublished paper, Morris Arboretum, 1988.  Elouise Binns, “The Japanese Hill and Cloud Garden:  Present Care, History and Recommendations,” unpublished paper, Morris Arboretum, 1988.  Bian Tan, “A History and Analysis of the Japanese Overlook with Recommendations for Its Improvement,” an unpublished paper, Morris Arboretum, 1988.  See Japanese Garden file in Maymont Historic Structures Files.
[20] Barry W. Starke to Dale Wheary, 14 Oct 1993, Japanese Garden File, Maymont Historic Structures Files.
[21] Kendall H. Brown, Quiet Beauty:  The Japanese Gardens of North America, p. 33.
[22] M. Christine Klim Doell and Gerald Allan Doel, “The Historic Landscape at Maymont:  A General Survey of Conservation Needs and Priorities,” an unpublished report for Maymont Foundation, 1989.