Country & Garden: Zen and the art of horticulture

A Japanese monk, with no gardening experience, has created an oasis of tranquillity in a Nottinghamshire field.
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Tucked away incongruously in a corner of Nottingham- shire's rural flatlands is an oasis of spiritual calm - a perfectly landscaped Japanese garden of undulating hillocks, twisted trees and flowing water. This verdant oriental scene is the home and the creation of one man - a Japanese monk, Buddha Maitreya, whose short stopover in England two decades ago turned into a permanent stay when he bought an 18th century house complete with red-brick barn and pigsty. An ideal setting, he thought, in which to teach his own methods of meditation.

This diminutive monk, whose gardening experience was nil, has, over the years, toiled alone to create a lush garden out of a dusty wilderness that now provides a tranquil backdrop to his teaching. The result is that even the western plants have taken on a Japanese character. Variegated holly trees are trimmed into lollipop shapes, lilac trees fan out like cupped open hands, willows are pruned to look aged, twisted and wind-blown and even the notorious leylandii stretches bare trunks skywards with tassled tops of clipped green growth. "When I came here, the land was a wild field and I didn't know what to do with it. But then one day I imagined a peaceful place where people could come and sit, alone and be still and think," says Maitreya, as he stands, wrapped in his blue cotton monk's working clothes, surveying his garden with satisfaction.

Maitreya found he missed the hilly and mountainous terrain of his homeland and decided to make his own in miniature; he shifted soil, created waterways and built his own tea house and pagoda. He had boulders delivered from Derbyshire to form outcrops and brought in a digger to shape hill-mounds in the two-acre field that lies in the village of North Clifton near Newark.

"I planted almost everywhere because when I came there was nothing, just brown, sandy soil like the Gobi desert. I thought I must make it more green, lush and pleasant. So I planted randomly." Mountains, water and trees are seen as the main ingredients of a Japanese garden. Stillness, too, is important. All these Maitreya has tried to combine in his myriad garden rooms that flow naturally into each other.

At every turn in the garden there is a fresh view. Mossy paths twist around open glassy ponds; koi carp- filled pools ripple from the cascading waterfall; the pagoda sits among forest trees and bonsai willows; the Zen garden gleams white with its raked sand and rocks.

There are bridges and streams, circular paths to confuse ancient devils - the entire creation coming from the imagination of this potter's son who left Japan in search of enlightenment and inner peace. It seems so ordered and planned. Not so, claims the monk, who says he lets the garden evolve as the inspiration takes him. Pureland reflects Maitreya's belief in the importance of tranquillity and the sense of being at one with nature and the universe. A state of harmony, he says, that many have yet to find.

For those who attend his meditation sessions, the garden offers a haven of peace. Visitors - some of whom are so overwhelmed by the spirituality of the place they are moved to tears - can but wonder at this garden of shapes and shadows. "That kind of appreciation gives great joy - that people have seen and felt the sense of peace."

Gardening, he says, is one way of getting rid of mental confusion and clutter: "Gardening gives a peace of mind that people have forgotten about in this busy world. It can rid you of stress and struggle and get you back to nature."

The Japanese garden is open to the public from Tues-Sun until the end of October (pounds 3 for adults). There are lantern-lit evenings held at Pureland every weekend until and including 11 and 12 Sept, 7-10pm. For details of the garden and Meditation Centre contact: Maitreya, Pureland, North Clifton, Newark, Notts NG23 7AT (01777 228567)

To Create Your Own Japanese Garden

COLOUR IS not important. Think different shades of green. Think shapes - nothing harsh or hard, but curves and meanders. Ponds are a central feature. Surround them with mounds and twisting pathways. Put lit lanterns near pools to reflect off the water.

Create places of tranquillity and calm - somewhere to sit in the evenings near the sound of water or in the shadows of trees.

To grow leylandii balls, strip away the side growth leaving vertical prongs and clip the top growth into round green blobs. Trim twice a year.

Clip conifers, birch and holly leaving bare trunks with ballooning shapes on top. Many English shrubs can look oriental with artful trimming. For wind-blown-style willows, encourage side branches and cut unwanted growth. Plant acers, azaleas, bamboo, pine and wistaria - all of which will bring a Japanese feel to a garden. Moss and green groundcover plants can help to add lushness.

Consider the four elements of nature - earth, water, fire and air. Rocks, white sand, pebbles, water, stepping stones and lanterns reflect this.

A Japanese garden can be created in the tiniest of spaces.