Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

I spent Sunday afternoon drawing at the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden, located in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.  The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is a 52-acre urban oasis located between Park Slope, Prospect Heights, and Crown Heights in Brooklyn, NY. The Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden is a 3-acre expanse within the Botanic Garden, and was the first Japanese public garden in America, opening in June 1915. It is considered the masterpiece of Japanese landscape designer Takeo Shiota. The balance between natural and man-made elements is an important aspect of the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden,  and each man-made element has a very specific meaning.

Shinto shrine at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden © Carly Larsson 2014

Shinto shrine at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden © Carly Larsson 2014

The garden features a large pond in the shape of the Japanese character for "heart," and it really is the heart of the garden. Situated in the pond, among the pine groves, is a shrine dedicated to the Shinto god of harvest. The pine trees are a symbol of longevity and permanence in contrast to the ever-changing aspects of nature. Nestled in the pine grove, behind the Shinto shrine, is a bridge overlooking a small waterfall. The waterfall, in contrast to the pines, is meant to represent  constant change. 

Tōrō and bridge at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden © Carly Larsson 2014

Tōrō and bridge at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden © Carly Larsson 2014

Rocks and stones are used in a variety of ways around the pond. Some are believed to be conduits of "ki," meaning life energy, while others are sculptural religious elements. Pictured above is a tōrō, a Japanese stone lantern. Tōrōs were originally used in Buddhist temples to line and illuminate paths, and were considered an offering to Buddha. During the Heian period (794-1185), they began to be used in Shinto shrines. 

Koi fish at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden © Carly Larsson 2014

Koi fish at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden © Carly Larsson 2014

Turtle and koi fish at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden © Carly Larsson 2014

Turtle and koi fish at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden © Carly Larsson 2014

The pond is also home to many koi fish and turtles. The koi fish is a symbol of ambition, perseverance, courage, and success in Japanese culture due to its ability to swim against currents and travel upstream. They also symbolize longevity because of their long life spans (30-75 years, though legend has it that some koi have lived up to 200 years). Turtles are also considered a symbol of longevity and luck in Japanese culture.  In the above left image, the fish were competing for some potato chip crumbs being dropped in the pond (not sure how much that will contribute to their longevity, but they seemed to like them). The koi and turtles coexist peacefully within the pond (except where chip crumbs are involved - some turtles joined that competition). In the above right image, a turtle and koi fish seemed to be deep in conversation after their delicious snack. 

A small turtle suns himself at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden 

A small turtle suns himself at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden 

Last but not least, this tiny turtle was sunning himself on an equally-tiny rock. He was there for a long time, and he was stretching his neck out as if to say "I'm ready for my close-up now!" So as I was packing up to leave, I relented and quickly drew his portrait. He was a very still model. It was a beautiful, relaxing afternoon and I can't wait to go back to draw some more!