Maymont's naturalistic Japanese Garden contrasts strongly with the formality of the Italian Garden. Descending into the Japanese Garden and entering through its distinct gates is like stepping onto a different continent. The space is cool, shaded and intimate. Sounds are muted and even children become more introspective and observant. While not a religious garden, the space is unmistakably reflective.
Maymont's Japanese Garden is blend of several different styles of Japanese gardens and two distinct periods of design. In 1911, the Dooleys purchased a wedge-shaped section of the Kanawha Canal that bordered Maymont. To create their garden, it is believed they hired Muto, a master Japanese gardener who had designed gardens for other estates along the East Coast.
Landscaped gardens originated in China, and around the 7th century they were introduced into Japan by Korean gardeners. The Japanese adapted the Chinese and Korean ideas to suit their own purposes.
The original Japanese Garden at Maymont encompassed a much smaller area. Several features from that garden remain, including the stonework around the base of the waterfall, several trees and the winding watercourse that leads to the large pond. Unfortunately, during the decades following Mrs. Dooley's death, the garden gradually lost much of its original splendor and detail.
In 1978, the garden was renovated by Earth Design, Inc. The style reproduced at Maymont is called a "stroll garden" and is designed to offer the visitor changing impressions of nature as the various areas come into view. In renovation, elements from classical gardens in Kyoto, Tokyo and Nara were incorporated.
The Maymont Japanese Garden now includes trained and pruned trees and shrubs, raked sand pools, stone groupings and multiple water areas—all designed to create the impression of an old, naturally developed landscape. Design elements include stone lanterns, paths and bridges.
Green, brown and gray colors are emphasized to represent the ruggedness of natural scenery. Flowers are used discreetly. Water iris bloom along the water's edge in spring, followed by the floating blooms of the water lily in summer. Cherry blossoms mark the passing of time.
Recent additions to the garden include the north entrance gate, a traditional archway; accent plantings by the pond; two new lanterns; and a new pathway along the pond. These and other renovations have been made possible through the ongoing support of Ikebana of Richmond, federal grants and the William B. Thalhimer and Family Foundation.
When visiting Maymont's Japanese Garden, understand that the beauty of this garden is in its subtleness. Consider its sparse use of flowers, notice textures and observe the numerous shades of green, brown and gray. Contrast the gardens of the East (Japanese) with those of the West (Italian).
A Japanese Garden Guide and Map, available for purchase at the Visitor Center, provides interpretive information, including history and Japanese symbolism, to enrich appreciation of the Japanese Garden.