2016 NAJGA Conference Florida

Two Australian Gardens of Wellness and Healing

Aim: To discuss and show examples of two gardens constructed by Imperial Gardens in Sydney, The Westmead Children's Hospital and a private inner-city residence, which share the properties of wellness and healing.

Westmead sitting chairThe garden at Westmead Children's Hospital is a traditional Chinese garden, 150 metres long, 12 metres wide and surrounded by 30 metre high hospital buildings. The funds for this $400,000 garden were a gift from the Chinese Doctor's Association to Westmead Children's Hospital. Imperial Gardens' brief was to create a nurturing environment within the hospital for staff, patients and their families. Based on the Elements of a journey from the mountains to the seas, the garden rises and falls and winds its way through four interconnecting courtyards, with pathways and steps connecting the different areas.

The first great challenge was to address a design decision by the architects to place the staff café directly opposite the morgue, which had bright red external walls. In terms of Fung Shui "wind and water" or geomancy, this was a disastrous design decision that required a powerful remedy. Chinese and Japanese gardens share many characteristics, and we decided the most effective cure was to use water, the symbol of purity and life to energise the space facing the café.

Works began by constructing a 4 metre high and 12 metre long "mountain" from which multi-cascade waterfalls would drop and dance in different configurations into a 25 metre stream and pond. The dynamic rock arrangements of the waterfalls were 3 metres high and 8.5 metres long, and great care was taken to ensure the water not only caught and reflected the sunlight throughout the day, but also created a gentle multi-layered sound like forest cascades. The pond became a stream which wound its way under a bridge to a quite sitting garden and pond. A zig zag pathway then leads through a Chinese gate draped with Wisteria and up a series of large granite steps to an eight-sided Pavilion on top of another mountain. The gardens are lush and varied, with flowering plants, trees, and groundcover which changes throughout the year.

Westmead sitting chairThe garden being a charitable gift to Westmead encouraged every trade contractor and builder to make significant donations to the project, with gifts of materials, granite lanterns, labour and the mountain pavilion. These type of contributions make the work a joy to participate in.

I am approached by many people every year to thank me for the gardens. Doctors, nurses, family members, and patients speak of the beauty of the garden and the atmosphere and creative life they experience there very often when they are experiencing life challenging conditions of illness and extended medical treatments. They are grateful for the direct experience of the balance the heart can feel within in troubling times and many have expressed the phrase in different ways that "the garden speaks to the heart in a language without words".

It is a space of reflection, meditation and repose for all to experience, each in their own way.

On a different note, I was engaged by a client to create "the best Japanese courtyard garden in Australia" and he wanted the biggest and best of everything in his relatively small 10 metre x 12 metre walled garden in Sydney's inner city suburb of Bondi Junction. The concept sketch I presented was a 3 metre high mountain with waterfalls cascading to and fro over 5 cascades and into a large Koi pond. The Serpentine rocks were half a tonne up to 2 tonnes in size and chosen for their dynamic shapes and features. The main trees, Japanese Black Pine and Weeping maple, were fully mature and trained for 30 years. Every element in the garden had to be craned in off trucks on the suburban street.

The garden included a carved stone tower, and lanterns, two stepping stone pathways, timber bridge, and pebble beach. The pond had an EPDM rubber liner and Dual pumping Biological & UV filtration Sydney that ran 24 hours of the day.

temmpleAll the trees, plants, rocks & materials were stock-piled at Imperial Gardens' Nursery & cranes organised to start the following week. Rick, the client, rang me on the previous Friday, very distraught and asked to see me straight away. I immediately drove the 45 minutes there, and while he was clearly upset, he put me at ease by saying "Don't worry Ken, the garden is still going ahead on Monday, but I have just received some devastating news. My daughter has just been diagnosed with a very rare form of Leukemia and only has one week to live if we can't find a bone marrow donor."

I felt like I was being hit by a truck, here was this highly successful dynamic business man, for which we were building a dynamic Japanese garden with bold rocks in the Kamakura tradition, suddenly humbled by the threat to his daughter. He said if she survives then she will have to live for 12 months in the upstairs bedroom over-looking the garden for her recovery.

Deeply moved, I placed my hand on Rick's shoulder as tears were welling up in this eyes, and I said, "Don't worry Rick, I can make this a healing garden for your daughter." He started to cry and embraced me & said thank you so much. I felt touched that I could offer a ray of hope to him.

I felt quite happy driving home that late afternoon, until it suddenly struck me "What have you said, Ken ? What do you know about healing gardens and how could you possibly have said that the garden could help heal her?"

Now I was in torment for two days. I had given my heartfelt oath with no credentials whatsoever. I hardly slept that Friday and Saturday night, and developed a 2 day headache. I was wracking my brain for a solution. Suddenly in a quiet moment on Sunday afternoon, I had a revelation and an insight.

In many of the Japanese gardens in Zen Temples in Kyoto and Nara, there are dynamic rock arrangements, yet an atmosphere of incredible peace and harmony. One of the ways in which this is achieved is the dynamic rocks resolving into a series of horizontal spaces, which move throughout the garden. This was it! It may be possible to arrange Rick's rocks in this way, yet I had never intentionally done it before.

With renewed vigour, we began the garden, and it was completed in three weeks. Rick's daughter found a compatible bone marrow donor in her cousin, and was able to successfully come through the major operation.

Rick demanded the highest quality garden maintenance, and attention to detail. We had two men work on his garden for one morning every month for 12 years. Rick's daughter spent a year over-looking the garden and fully recovered. She is now living in London and married with two children.

During the 2012 International Symposium of Japanese Gardens in Sydney, we visited a number of gardens in Sydney, including this one.

Kozo Iwatani, one of Japan's leading tea masters, garden maker of the Ura Senke School, and one of Japan's most outspoken critics of gardens both within Japan and internationally, said of this garden that in his experience it was "the most perfect expression of the Japanese garden spirit of any garden outside of Japan."

Thank you.

Ken Lamb

Managing Director

Imperial Gardens Landscapes Pty Ltd
Sydney, Australia.

Imperial Gardens Landscape at Hidden Orient Interiors & Nursery

208 Forest Way (Corner Crozier & Waldon Roads) Belrose NSW 2085

02 9986 3968

enquiries@imperialgardens.com.au www.imperialgardens.com.au

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