Home :: Showcase garden: William Corey - Imperial Gardens of Kyoto

Showcase garden: William Corey - Imperial Gardens of Kyoto

Garden Showcase - Gardens of Kyoto by William Corey

William may well be considered the premier garden photographer. At this point in his career, he is considered the foremost western artist to photograph Japanese Gardens and the only western photographer ever invited to photograph the gardens of the Japanese Emperor. We hope to bring you these pictures shortly. For more information about Williams work, please visit www.williamcorey.com

From the spring of 1979, through the summer of 1991, William spent four months of each year, in different seasons, photographing the temples and gardens of Kyoto. 'My concern was not to merely document the rich, cultural heritage that these gardens represent, but to pursue the inner, hidden reality, the very essence of beauty that embraces the symbolic and sacred realm of the gardeners art.'

We believe that Williams work should help get your creative juices flowing - through the use of colour, ornamental placement and some excellent examples of topiary. Accompanying the pictures are the artists thoughts which we hope will further inspire you to create a wonderful Japanese themed garden.

Tetsugaku No Michi (The Philosophers Walk)

Kyoto is situated on a gently-inclined plane, enclosed by a horeshoe-shaped perimeter of low mountains, open only on the south. From a climactic standpoint, it is far from ideal, for the surrounding mountains cut off the winds in summer, resulting in a high, constant humidity and act to preserve the penetrating cold which marks the long winter season. During the summer, when the humidity generally continues throughout the night, the climate is particularly enervating, a condition which has given rise to the practice of utilizing water in a variety of ways to mitigate the heat. Thus, networks of canals have been constructed in various parts of the city and it has been customary in Kyoto since ancient times to channel water from rivers and springs and direct its flow through gardens, close to dwellings. This practice, known as (yari-mizu (fashioned streams), creates an atmosphere of coolness by its sound, as well as actually relieving humidity through the presence of running water.

Sesshu-Ji c.1465

At the end of the corridor the old nun opened the heavy screens just far enough to form a tiny gap, and the smell of clean air burst over my nostrils. She hesitated, and I wondered whether she was strong enough to pull them further apart. Just as I started forward to help, she seemed to reach down into herself and with a mighty tug...the wide garden was before us. It had the look of perfection, a look of everlastingness. And something else-an unmistakable vitality, something alive and breathing there. It seemed to hug the contours of the forest and the hillside. I felt a desire stir in me like some nearly extinct beast shaking off the effects of a long and troubled hibernation.

image courtesy of William Corey

Haku-Ryuen ( The White Dragon Garden)

The last brightness of the already-gone day burned darkly on a cloud that went slate colored as I watched. The air hummed and buzzed with insects, but their noise was a form of silence, not a sound, and over the whole garden lay a cushiony emptiness that absorbed and blotted up every vibration of air. I listened until the stillness rang in my ears. The garden, unstirred by the slightest wind, darkened as I watched it, like a curing Polaroid film.

image courtesy of William Corey


Haku-Ryuen (The White Dragon Garden)

I pick my way across stepping stones, into the midst of the garden, each step turning my attention to a continual series of sequential focal points that heighten the sense of space and arrival. Instead of following a straight axis, the path veers-first left to focus on the splendid cypress trees, then right to capture a glimpse of a rock grouping on the pond's shore. Irregular placement of the stepping stones force me to look down to watch my step, looking up, a new vista of the garden unfolds before me.

image courtesy of William Corey

Byodo-In (The Phoenix Temple) c.1053

A pink blossom dangled from a spider web on a branch far out over the pond, catching a divine light each time it revolved. It was as if a tiny revolving door were floating in the heavens. I gazed at it, wondering what world would be opening beyond its fragile beauty each time it turned. Perhaps, as it revolved in the gentle wind, it would give me a glimpse into another world, another life, if...

I kept looking...

The vivid colors of the leaves and flowers glowed like a mosaic in the dazzling sunset-cherry, maples, tea shrubs, dwarf cedars, daphnes, azaleas, camellias, pines, box trees, bamboo. The colors seem to hang around me in clear, blowing sheets. A trance was upon my eyes; I saw up, down, ahead,and to both sides without moving my head or eyeballs.

Sizing things up...

Beyond a profusion of tea bushes were the red buds of an oleander. A single plum tree bloomed white in the midst of the cedars. Blue dew-flowers dotted the path, and delicate traces of greenish lavender sprouted among the leaves. The white spears of dwarf bamboo among the steppingstones repeated the white light from the sky above the wooded hills. Through the branches the sky shone like a string of blue beads. The entire garden seemed to be standing on tiptoe and stretching upward to reach the sky.

image courtesy of William Corey

Sanzen-In (The Shuheki Garden) c.1630

I slide back the delicate frames to reveal the garden outside, bathed in the soft light. Standing on the threshold of this room, now open to the air, its name rings in my ears, "The Garden That Gathers Green". Created by the master of tea ceremony, Kanamori Sowa (1584-1656) , the sweep and curve of this elegant and perfectly maintained garden, filled with a lush palette of plant material selected to change color and shape throughout the year, seems to glow against the backdrop of gently sloping hills. I lean forward with my chin pressed against the old camera, searching for the shapes and forms, colors and relationships-the core of feeling on which to construct this photograph. Behind my closed eyelids, I fade calmly into the elegiac color of distance and...

image courtesy of William Corey

We would encourage you to visit Williams main website where you can find out details of how to purchase some of this wonderful work.

We aim to make this part of our website a resource to show the best of design and ideas - if you want your garden to be considered, please just let us know.