A Japanese Garden Grows in Middletown


The "chozubachi" is a small water basin placed near the garden gate.

Patrick Dowdey

     It’s the season of garden tours, when ardent nature lovers turn out en masse to stroll through splendid formal rose gardens or other lush retreats at their summertime peak glory. But one of the rarest and most intriguing gardens in Connecticut is the beautiful Japanese garden, Shôyôan Teien, a hidden gem at Wesleyan University’s Mansfield Freeman Center for East Asian Studies in Middletown, and it’s open year-round.
     The small courtyard garden is a contemplative space for viewing only—no strolling here. Its purpose: to calm the mind. In keeping with Japanese tradition, visitors may view the garden from a shôyôan—a small cedar-paneled room that connects the garden to the main house and provides a full vista. The room effuses tranquility, with woven-reed tatami (mats) on the floor  (shoes must be removed before entering) and translucent shoji doors that slide open to reveal the garden (the doors’ lower panels can also be raised to allow views of snow falling on the garden in winter).
     The garden was designed by landscape architect Stephen A. Morrell in 1995. He used Japanese principles to evoke scenic features from the surrounding landscape of the Connecticut River Valley. Rolling hills are expressed through groupings of shrubs, a winding gravel path has a raked pattern to suggest the flowing water of the Connecticut River as it runs through Middletown, and a triad of Portland brownstone boulders symbolizes the “three jewels” of Buddhism: the Buddha, the dharma and the sangha. To fully enjoy the experience, meditate or simply sit quietly (cushions are provided), and shut out life’s distractions—at least for a little while.
     Morrell offers garden tours and Japanese tea ceremonies in the fall and spring. Call ahead to verify open days and times.

     For further information call (860) 685-2330 or visit wesleyan.edu/mansfield.                    

A Japanese Garden Grows in Middletown

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