CHABANA RESEARCH GARDEN
There is a saying in Chado, the Japanese tea ceremony, ‘ichi go – ichi e’ which translates as ‘one time – one place’. This meditative feeling of embracing the present moment is thoughtfully represented in Chabana, a simple flower placement for the appreciation of those partaking in the tea ceremony.
With a rich history dating back hundreds of years, “Chan-No-Yu, which literally means “hot water for tea”, is known in English as the (Japanese) tea ceremony which has the objective of a relaxed communion between the host and his guests. It is based in part on the etiquette of serving tea, but also includes the aesthetic contemplation of landscape gardens, tea utensils, paintings, flower arrangement, and all the other elements that coexist in a harmonious relationship with the ceremony. Its ultimate aim is the attainment of a deep spiritual satisfaction through the drinking of tea and through silent contemplation… “ (SEN’O TANAKA, The Tea Ceremony)
From gardens, architecture, calligraphy, and flowers to metal, bamboo, ceramics, and textiles – no other cultural art in Japan so seamlessly melds together its nation’s timeless crafts. As such, tea has been embraced by the Portland Japanese Garden as a vehicle to support its outreach of Japanese culture. Part of the recently completed Cultural Crossing Project, the Bill de Weese Chabana Research Garden supports this mission by providing year-round flowers for the tea ceremony through its ongoing botanical collection. The first of its kind, the Chabana Garden will combine Pacific Northwest wildflowers with historical Japanese wildflowers specifically cultivated for use in the Japanese tea ceremony. The singular living element present in the tea ceremony, Chabana holds an important role in awakening the senses and embracing the current moment.
Imagine walking through the forest in early spring or a meadow in peak summer. Here, simple small sophisticatedly subtle wildflowers grow and evoke the aesthetic sense of flowers suitable for use in Chabana. With so many unspoken Chabana guidelines present, the concept of designing and constructing a Chabana garden was daunting and required years of research and cultural studies. Beginning in 2012, Desi created a multi-layered cultural, historical, and horticultural design approach with the leadership of Sadafumi Uchiyama, the Garden Curator of the Portland Japanese Garden. Since then, she has delved into Japanese cultural studies of Chado (tea) and Ikebana (flower arrangement), historical research on the development and meaning of Chabana, and created a horticultural master list of relevant plants for use as Chabana. This project has encompassed input from a diverse international advisory board as a part of each step and has led Desi around the world to build the requisite knowledge base for the creation of this garden.
Tucked into the forested hillside at the top of the Portland Japanese Garden above the new Cultural Village, the Chabana Garden makes use of inaccessible steep terrain with four stone walled terraces. Personal construction of the stone retaining work and foundational planting was completed in 2017 by Uchiyama-san and Desi at the end of the Cultural Crossing Project. To create a garden which bloomed year-round, Desi looked to natural environments which provided this range of supporting climates – a meadow for summer and fall, and a forest for winter and spring. Starting on the lower terraces an open meadow slowly transitions to a native forest embracing the upper terraces. Beautiful ‘scenes of bloom’ are arranged to flow up the hill through the seasons and are symbolic of the cyclical energy of life.
Seeking what the tea masters sought as they collected Chabana – a simple walk through fields and forest – the garden cultivates this mindset along with a deeper personal expression in tradition as each seasonal terrace is paired with a principle of tea. Marked by a chiseled stone plinth, each level of the garden follows a winding stone pathway up the hill. Just like in a tea garden, the path materials change from being geometric and formal to abstract and informal as one travels further into the garden. A fine balance between wildness and control is achieved by these different materials. Bamboo and stone retain land and mark the intended passage, while amongst the order of these manmade elements, the wild softness of the meadow and forest plants creates a unified feeling of harmony.
Originally, the master plant list contained over 350 species. Through a curation process which sorted the plants by ease of propagation, season of bloom, micro-climate, scenic pictures, and flow of bloom up the hill, Desi was able to refine the plant palette to 52 species. Local and national acquisition and planting, began in the Fall of 2018 for the lowest seasonal terrace, summer. Each subsequent terrace – fall, winter, and spring – was planted in six-month phases to allow time to get to know the plants. Success of the garden lies not only in the design and construction but rather in the ongoing maintenance. Viewed as part of the creative process, Desi’s personal involvement in the care of the garden keeps her in touch with the changing seasonal moment, a vital aspect of the aesthetics and mindset of tea. As the garden continues to establish through this care, additional rare and wild species will be added to the research collection.
The only element of the tea ceremony that hasn’t been codified, Chabana, is left up to the individual to collect (and place); it reflects the host’s heart to the guests. In this way, the Chabana Garden reflects the Portland Japanese Garden’s mission to share the art of craft, connection to nature, and experience of peace with the world. Whether flowers from the Chabana Garden are used as part of the tea ceremony or as appreciation of everyday flowers, they surely maintain our link with nature in our daily lives and ground us in the beauty of the present moment. Flowers remind us that we are alive. The joy of flowers brings happiness and when we look at indoor flowers, it makes us aware of the faint presence of life we normally take for granted.
INTERNATIONAL ADVISORY BOARD:
Christy Barlett, Diane Durston, Adam Hart, Tsutomu Hattori, Hideko Hearn, Kazuo Mitsuhashi, Tomohiko Muto, Taikyo Nakamura, Lincoln Proud, Hananofu Shuho, Sadafumi Uchiyama, Jan Waldmann