News and Events

Botanical Buzz - Animal symbolism in Shoyoen

Monday, January 13, 2014

The design of ShoyoenDubbo Regional Botanic Garden is rich in symbolism. Some of the animals that live in Shoyoen are also important in Japanese cultural history. Of particular note are the dragonfly, the turtle and the visitors’ favourite, the koi (carp).

In samurai culture, the dragonfly has a unique word “kachimushi”. Kachimushi literally means “the bug that wins” or more commonly “Victory insect”. Dragonflies are revered for their agility, vigour and for only flying forwards. Dragonfly motifs are often found on samurai swords.

Incidentally, the spear of the ferocious samurai, Honda Tadakatsu was named Tonbo-Giri  (Dragonfly Cutter) because it was said that its tip was so sharp, that once, when a dragonfly landed on it, it was cut in two.
Dragonflies are also a common motif on kimonos and other traditional garments worn during late summer and early autumn. In folktales it is associated with joy and the bringing of wealth.

An Eastern Snake-necked Turtle is a regular visitor to Shoyoen. Turtles are referred to in stories belonging to Hinduism, Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism. Consequently, when a turtle motif is used, its full meaning may not be obvious. However, it is primarily a symbol of longevity and felicity. One of the groupings of stones in the Zen Garden represents a turtle.

The word koi comes from Japanese, simply meaning "carp." In Japan, the colourful koi at Shoyoen are referred to more specifically as nishikigoi.

In Japanese, koi is a homophone for another word that means "affection" or "love"; koi are therefore symbols of love and friendship in Japan.

In art, koi are often depicted in motion, arched upward with sprays of water. This suggests the virtues of a determined warrior. A design of carp ascending rapids symbolises the Children’s Day Festival in May and images of carp are often found on young boys’ kimono.
                                                                                                                By Ian McAlister and Karen Hagan

Botanical Buzz - Cherry Blossoms

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The annual appearance of cherry blossoms in Shoyoen is always eagerly awaited.

In Japan, picnicking under a blossoming cherry tree (sakura) is an ancient tradition called “hanami”. The custom is said to have begun during the Nara Period (710-794). Hanami was originally limited to the elite of the Imperial Court, but soon spread to samurai society and, by the Edo period, to the common people as well.

Tokugawa Yoshimune (1684 –1751), one of Japan’s greatest rulers ordered the planting of cherry trees to encourage people to follow the custom. To this day, Japanese people enjoy cheerful feasts under blossoming sakura trees.

The custom is so important to the Japanese that every year the Japanese Meteorological Agency track the sakura zensen (cherry blossom front) as it moves northward up the archipelago with the approach of warmer weather. Japanese pay close attention to these forecasts and turn out in large numbers at parks, shrines, and temples with family and friends to hold flower-viewing parties. Hanami festivals celebrate the beauty of the cherry blossom.

Most Japanese schools and public buildings have cherry blossom trees outside of them and the first day of school in Japan often coincides with the cherry blossom season. According to the Buddhist tradition, the breathtaking but brief beauty of the blossoms symbolizes the transient nature of life.

The annual hanami, the many cultural symbolic interpretations of the cherry blossoms, and the extensive use of the blossoms in art have ensured the blossoming trees’ position in the cultural identity of Japan.

The cherry trees in Shoyoen are cultivars of Prunus serrulata which is native to Japan, Korea and China. They are ornamental trees and do not produce fruit. Edible cherries generally come from cultivars of the related species Prunus avium and Prunus cerasus.
                                                                                                                            By Ian McAlister & Karen Hagan

Botanical Buzz - Albizia julibrissin (Pink Silk Tree)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Beautiful salmon-pink, pompom-like flowers have begun to appear on the Albizia julibrissin (Pink Silk Tree) next to the waterfall in Shoyoen, Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden. The flowers which have been likened to the crest of a peacock are not the only unusual thing about this tree. At night and during rain, the leaves slowly close and the leaflets bow downwards earning the tree the Japanese name “nemunoki” – sleeping tree.

When the present Empress of Japan, Empress Michiko was a young girl she was so enthralled by the tree that she wrote a poem about it. This poem was later set to music, a lullaby, to celebrate the birth of the Empress’s second child, Prince Akishinomiya.

Albizia julibrissin is a small deciduous tree which belongs to the Fabaceae family. It is native to south-western and eastern Asia and grows to 5–12 m tall. It has a broad crown of level or arching branches. The bark is dark greenish grey in colour and striped vertically as it gets older. The flower-heads are composed of many small flowers and the clusters of 2-3cm long stamens look like silky threads. The leaves are feathery and from a distance the flowers appear to be floating along the top of the branches. The fruit is a flat brown pod 10–20 cm long and contains several seeds inside.

In traditional Chinese medicine Albizzia jublibrissin (He Huan Hua) is used to nourish the heart and calm the spirit.

Perhaps partly because of its royal connections and certainly because of its distinctive beauty, the tree is highly valued within Shoyoen. Head Gardener Ron Watson still recalls the enormous care taken by the Japanese gardeners from Dubbo’s Sister City Minokamo and Dubbo City Council’s Director Parks & Landcare Services Murray Wood, to plant the tree in exactly the right place and at exactly the right angle.

                                                                                                                                                By Ian McAlister & Karen Hagan                         

Botanical Buzz - Camellias

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Camellias are remarkable. Their flowers have been associated with the ultimate in style and femininity. The seeds of Camellia oleifera, Camellia sinensis and Camellia japonica yield an oil which has been used in Asia for centuries as an ingredient for beauty products and as cooking oil. The leaves of Camellia sinensis have been credited with changing the course of history.

Camellias belong to the family Theaceae and are evergreen shrubs or small trees up to 20m tall. Their leaves are usually glossy and their flowers are usually large and conspicuous. There are many different species and tens of thousands of cultivars.

Camellias had been cultivated for centuries in Asia before being introduced to Europe in the eighteenth century where they became highly sought after for their attractive flowers. Camellia flowers later became the iconic symbol for the Chanel fashion house's haute couture.

The oil pressed from the seeds is used in skin and hair care products. Sumo wrestlers use the fragrant oil to slick back their hair into a traditional topknot style. The oil is also the main cooking oil in some parts of southern China.

The leaves and leaf buds of Camellia sinensis are used to produce tea. White tea, green tea, oolong, pu-erh tea and black tea are all harvested from this species, but are processed differently.

The eighteenth century tea trade had an almost global impact. The demand in Europe outstripped supply and this led to many dastardly deeds, political upheaval and widespread misery in Asia.

The Japan-based Urasenke Foundation now uses Chado, the Way of Tea to promote peace, harmony, respect, purity, tranquility and unconditional loving-kindness. 

The beautiful flowers of Camellia sasanqua may presently be observed near the tea house of Shoyoen, at the Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden.

By Ian McAlister and Karen Hagan


Botanical Buzz - Suikinkutsu at Shoyoen

Monday, December 31, 2012

The Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden is growing and changing so rapidly that in all the excitement it would be easy to miss the subtle details that make it a very special place.

Upon close inspection many of the plants and features in the garden reveal surprising and delightful characteristics. One such feature is the suikinkutsu, the Japanese water harp near the Chakoya (Japanese Tea House). 

The mysterious, melodic suikinkutsu cannot be seen, only heard. It is constructed using a large empty ceramic pot, buried upside down in the ground to create a resonant chamber. When water drips into the chamber through a hole in the top, the pot rings like a bell, making a sound resembling a Japanese zither (koto).

The suikinkutsu has been installed next to the chouzubachi, a traditional Japanese stone basin for washing hands before the tea ceremony. Water splashed from the basin drains through the stones at the base into the suikinkutsu causing it to quietly chime. 

The famous tea ceremony teacher, Kobori Enshu who lived during the Edo period (1603-1867), is usually credited with inventing the suikinkutsu and had one in his garden. After the Edo period, the instrument was largely forgotten until it experienced a revival in popularity during the late twentieth century.

When you next visit Shoyoen (the Japanese garden) find the chouzubachi outside the Tea House, gently splash water onto the stones and listen closely for the soothing and relaxing sound of the suikinkutsu.

by Ian McAlister and Karen Hagan