Five Main Concepts for Understanding The Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden

More than four years in the making, the Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden is now open, welcoming a world of timeless tranquility. Kangei: Welcome. The journey begins…

We have put together these five main concepts for understanding the Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden in order to help you further understand its basic components:

Concept 1

Our Japanese Garden is both traditional and innovative.

It is traditional because it includes traditional Japanese garden components: an entry gate, meandering paths and stepping stones, a variety of views, authentic Japanese architecture, evergreens, flowering trees, shrubs and other plants that will be maintained in specific ways, waterfalls and ponds, boulders, and textures and colors that have great sensory appeal. Equally important it is traditional because it is intentionally designed to be contemplative.  It is innovative because it includes carefully selected examples of Contemporary sculpture by international artists. The addition of Contemporary sculpture makes our Japanese Garden consistent with Meijer Gardens’ uniqueness in combining gardens and sculpture and carries the tradition of the Japanese Garden into the 21st century.

Fact Two

Our Japanese Garden is based on reverence for nature but is also an artfully manipulated environment.

Although this space looks very natural, much of the garden has been transformed by human design. Hills were created, a peninsula and islands were built and waterfalls were constructed. Thousands of boulders were brought to the site. Much of the natural vegetation was preserved, but hundreds of additional plants selected by Hoichi Kurisu were added. These include trees that have been cultivated and pruned for decades to look like mature trees, such as pines and those with curving trunks. Some trees have been planted to angle out over the water, which in time will replicate the growth observed in nature. The entire garden will need timely maintenance by seasonal pruning of trees and shrubs, and will continue to mature and evolve over the decades and even centuries.

Fact Three

Our Japanese Garden is the result of an intentional design that emphasizes the experience of space.

As a master garden designer, Hoichi Kurisu is renowned for his use of space. Here, he has thoughtfully transformed an expansive marsh and wooded valley into a spectacular Japanese Garden. The space now offers dramatic changes in elevation, includes both densely planted areas and broad open spaces, provides intimate areas for reflection as well as larger expanses across the main pond and contrasts the geometry of built structures with the organic qualities of nature. Central to Kurisu’s intention is a pathway that surrounds the Lena Meijer Pond which, depending on vantage point, can appear wide and vast, or divided or narrow. In the tradition of all great Japanese garden design, Kurisu heightens guests’ awareness of space in small but important ways—by forcing them to duck under branches purposely allowed to grow over a path, by luring them into intimate settings surrounded by trees or by letting them stand on a waterfall bridge to experience water rushing from above and cascading down below.

Fact Four

Our Japanese Garden was designed to be a sensory experience.

Our Japanese Garden was designed to be a sensory experience, enjoyable in all seasons. Moving along meandering paths of crushed stone, guests will come upon sights and sounds to engage them—niwaki (garden trees pruned to look like the essence of mature trees), colorful blossoms, textured boulders, rushing waterfalls. You will enjoy the scents of lilacs, irises and cherry trees, the texture of moss, the pattern of wood grain, beaches of pebbles and raked lines in the Zen-style Garden (sponsored by The Wege Foundation). You will encounter stunning views of distinctive Japanese architecture across water, down hills, around turns. And you will have the Viewing Hill (sponsored by Mike and Sue Jandernoa) as a visual anchor, with its densely planted spirea, featuring golden foliage and light pink blooms. Even in winter the sparkle of sun on snow and bare branches against the sky will produce moments to remember. This ingenious design that was carefully planned but feels so natural will produce a truly unforgettable experience.

Fact Five

Our Japanese Garden was designed to be a contemplative environment.

The Japanese Garden aesthetic emerged from centuries of Shinto and Buddhist thought which emphasized a reverence for nature and a contemplative lifestyle. There are many ways our Japanese Garden promotes this meditative approach. The paths meander and turn, coming upon new views unexpectedly. The view from the top of the Viewing Hill is panoramic, taking in large vistas of the Japanese Garden. There are several smaller, enclosed spaces perfect for private reflection, including three Faith Reflective Gardens. There is water that suggests power and water that suggests tranquility. There is the quiet oasis of the Zen-style Garden and the provocative Bonsai Garden (sponsored by Mark and Elizabeth Murray) with its plants trained to look timeworn. There is a Poet’s Path (sponsored by Harvey Lemmen), suggesting the long tradition of philosophical poems inspired by nature. And there are seven Contemporary sculptures by internationally-recognized artists that promote interesting and deep thought. Throughout the garden there are benches for reflection and contemplation.

While the Japanese Garden welcomes its first guests this month, it is important to note that it is neither complete nor will it ever be. Rather, this garden will continue to grow, mature and evolve over decades and perhaps even centuries, as others like it in Japan have. It is indeed a dream fulfilled and a journey that never ends. Welcome, the journey begins.

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