“When one tugs at a single thing in nature,
he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”
Josiah Conder's 1893 publication of Landscape Gardening in Japan (Kelly & Walsh, 1893) introduced the aesthetic of Japanese gardens to the Western world. The publication came out the same year that the Mr. & Mrs. Dooley built Maymont. Not surprisingly, Mrs. Dooley who was a devoted student of horticulture took an active role in planning gardens on the estate. I cannot imagine that with this aesthetic being so fashion-forward for the time that Mrs. Dooley would pass up having one.
From the website, the Dooley’s may have hired a master Japanese gardener named Muto who had created gardens for other East Coast estates including one in Philadelphia.
Maymont’s Japanese Garden is by far my favorite on the estate, and is probably where I developed a love for Japanese maples. With their leaves in hues of deep reds and having a furry-like appearance, Japanese maples stand out among other trees. In October, some of the Japanese maples even have a beautiful orange shade. They are easily my favorite tree.
Maymont’s garden combines various styles of traditional Japanese gardens including a residential style garden that was popular at the turn of the century. It also is considered a promenade or “stroll garden” where visitors follow a path around the garden to see carefully-composed landscapes and changing impressions of nature.
Presently in the garden you will find blooming azaleas and dogwood trees, along with a 100-year-old Japanese maple, Acer palmatum.
While the gardens on the estate have changed since the original designs there are a few reminders that this once belonged to a family.
You may wonder how the Japanese Garden connects to a goth aesthetic. For me, it is the return to the idea of the picturesque. Literally meaning “in the manner of a picture; fit to be made into a picture”, this along with the aesthetic and cultural strand of Gothic, was a part of the emerging Romantic sensibility of the 1900s.
Horace Walpole, author of The Castle of Otranto which is generally regarded as the first Gothic novel, explains, "I am almost as fond of the Sharawaggi, or Chinese want of symmetry, in buildings, as in grounds or gardens" (1750). Wait, what? Many scholars have attempted to trace the etymology of Sharawaggi , which is often spelled sharawadgi, to various Eastern terms for garden design. While the scholars may continue to debate this, Walpole links this term with irregularity, asymmetry, and independence from rigid conventions seen in classical design, all of which is found in the traditional Japanese Garden. And just like an old Gothic novel, you never know what is going to creep around the next corner. That was how I felt when I was meandering through a secret trail surrounded by bamboo only to discover some old steps. Where might these lead?