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Tea Gardens 101
A Tea Garden Can Be More Than You Think

September 1, 2009
John Stuart Leslie

A Tea Garden is commonly associated with the exterior entrance to a Japanese Tea House. A tea hut or small room was constructed so that the tea ceremony could be conducted.

Traditional Japanese tea ceremonies are ritualized practices whereby its participants honor virtues of politeness, wisdom, trust, righteousness, loyalty and humility. Much of the tea ceremony is infused with the culture of Japan hence, the development of an entire culture of tea, based upon these virtues and other moral and ethical practices steeped in Japanese society.

The Tea Garden historically is not limited to Japan. In early 18th century England, tea was celebrated and consumed in exterior tea gardens where people gathered to drink tea, view garden grounds and statuary. There is a commonality between British culture and Japanese culture with the consumption of tea as a beverage. Tea rooms developed to serve tea and to socialize. British society still ritualizes the drinking of tea at specific times of the day, i.e. as in 'High Tea' and Afternoon Tea.

Designing a tea garden therefore must be done in a way that centers around the drinking of tea. Where the tea is consumed may be an adjacent structure, a house, a hut, or an outdoor sitting area.

For a Japanese style tea garden, one must consider the traditions surrounding the tea ceremony. Drinking tea in a Japanese Tea House is not a casual endeavor where one walks up to a serve-yourself bar and gulps down ice tea.

Japanese tea gardens are transitional spaces where the invited guests approach the tea house. They are expected to arrive to the ceremony with a purified mind and body. To assist, the tea master provided the garden itself which served to relax the spirit.

A principle feature in a Japanese tea garden is the 'Tsukubai' so that guests may cleanse the palette and rinse their hands. A Tsukubai is a stone basin (ideally filled from a diverted stream) with a bamboo ladle for spooning the water.

Specific stones are also used adjacent to the stone basin, namely the standing stone or a principle stone in front of the basin to position oneself while using the basin. Historically, such basins were intentionally placed close to the ground as a reminder of one's humility, a sort of forced action. Not unlike the intentional small and low placed entrance through which guests enter the tea house itself.

A stone lantern can often be seen next to the basin to illuminate the water basin for when tea ceremonies were held at night. Lanterns were also used to light the pathways within the tea garden, but not used excessively. Thus, the use and placement of a stone lantern should be limited to areas where the lantern would help guide one view of the path, and not just for decorative purposes.

A creative use of a stone lantern in a modern day asian style garden is to install a low volt lamp inside the lantern to create true asian ambiance at night.

Golden Gate Park San Francisco Japanese Tea Garden

Another type of 'Tea Garden' is one that is not so much centered around the tea ceremony, but the plants that can be used to make the actual tea. Not with authentic tea which uses Camellia sinensis, but with herbs to make herbal teas. Technically, tea is made with the caffeinated species C. sinensis, but herbal teas can be made from a variety of plants including some shown below.


If your 'tea garden' incorporates a variety of herbs from which you make tea, (also called an infusion in some herbalist circles) you can create a hybrid form of the traditional tea garden, not based on the tea ceremony, but the plants used to make the tea. An assortment of the different herbs can be designed and planted in a way that features their best aesthetic qualities whether that be their flower, their leaves or just the shape or form of the entire plant. Ornamental shrubs and flowers can be planted as well to balance and support the structure of the garden.

In lieu of a traditional tea house, a 'tea sipping area' can be designed and built as your focal point and which justifies the growing and cultivation of your 'tea plants'.

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