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John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden
347 Oyster Bay Rd., Locust Valley, NY 11560
(516) 676-4486

Hours: Open late April to Oct.on Sat.and Sundays 11:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m
Call to confirm for hours and special events.
Admission: $5; no reservations are required. $10 for tour with tea ceremony (reservations required)
Curator: Stephen Morrell
Gardener: Julie Seghrouchni
Built on the North Shore of Long Island in the late 1960's by Ambassador Humes and his wife.

Directions: Long Island Expwy. exit 39 N to Rt. 25A (Northern Blvd.); turn right and go 3 miles to Wolver Hollow Rd., turn left to end, turn right on Chicken Valley Rd.; proceed 1.8 miles to Dogwood La., turn right. Entrance is 200 ft. on right.

Last Updated: 3/28/2001


Newsday Article

Humes Japanese Stroll Garden
The Humes Japanese Stroll Garden in Mill Neck, N.Y. is designed on a very sloping 4-acre site of deeply wooded land adjacent to a wild life sanctuary. The garden was begun in 1960 upon the return of Ambassador and Mrs. Humes from Japan. They became interested in Japanese gardens, and over the following four years, engaged the services of a Japanese garden designer and his wife. The garden was given to the Wild Life Sanctuary in 1980 by Ambassador Humes, and his Foundation was started for the purposes of maintenance and preservation. Upon his death, Ambassador Humes left the garden to the Foundation and the garden opened to the public in 1987. The Garden Conservancy assumed care, management and preservation in 1993. The local Long Island Community has been providing volunteers to assist in maintenance, visitor services and special events. The garden is one of few northeast examples of traditional Japanese garden design.

The garden is a combination of several design concepts and immediately evokes (quite successfully) the sensation of yamazato, the transcendent feeling of a deep, remote mountain hamlet. These design concepts are conditions that were common of, and quite mandatory for Japanese garden and landscape design. There is a scenic representation of a lake garden (without an 'island') which contains a water condition dating far back into Heian imperial design (circa 790) in the 'bottle gourd' traditional configuration. The lake garden is authentically replicated on a plateau of land midway through the garden, at a point approximately midway up the elevation. The lake is also pleasantly viewed from the windows of the cha-shitsu (tea house), so participants in wabi-cha (tea ceremony) will have meditative surroundings. The house was brought to America by Ambassador Humes and is characteristic of the shoin-dzukuri form set forth in the Ashikaga period (1300's). This house is the largest and dominant architectural form within the garden, recessed behind specimen plantings of evergreens, bamboos, and the famed 'tortoise' planting of shrub and rocks (symbolizing longevity)- a very essential element of imperial garden design, as well as an essential element of the calligraphic art of the old masters. The water of the lake garden religiously evoked a principle tenet of Zen Buddhism: paradise or eternity was a water garden and was the heavenly abode of Amida (a very benevolent deity). Along the roji are several yatsuhashi, which are plank bridges and although these were originally functional, they serve as more transitional spaces within the garden. Entering from the guests entrance, one passes over the yari-mizu (drawn stream) which winds its way into the garden and the pond. Aesthetics characteristic of Japanese garden and landscape design relate directly to the Buddhist and Shinto elements of beauty: appreciation of age; impermanence; imperfection; perishability; simplicity; irregularity; incompleteness: understatement: and mystery.

The Japanese stroll gardens have been found in history dating back centuries, and the design elements are extremely different when compared to Western gardens. There are very specific principles governing all gardens in Japan, be they small tsuboniwa (courtyards), monastic retreats or residential properties, and some of the grander imperial gardens still exist in towns such as Kyoto and Nara. The primary element of Japanese garden design is symbology, for the garden is a compilation of metaphors based in the religions of Shintoism and Buddhism, where the gods inhabit nature. The garden was designed to compress the sensory qualities of the natural world into a small space of land, in most cases, no more than a few hectares. The design elements conformed to the principles of architecture at the time, and reflect the shoin concept of clearly defined public and private space (dating back beyond the 11th century). Every garden was designed with a roofed gate entrance and the garden's boundaries were clearly contained by a walled-in perimeter. The relatively small size of these gardens, when compared to the grander gardens of Europe encouraged design for the purpose of contemplation rather than for physical entry and passage. The garden was very much a spiritual journey based on horai (good fortune and long life) and gardens were created in accordance with Zen precepts and aesthetics. In Japanese, the characteristics would be those of yugen (subtle, yet profound), yohaku-no-bi (paucity, a 'less is more' notion where the omitted elements are as important as those included), mitate (seeing anew or given new life or meaning), wabi (subdued), sabi (taste), suki (connoisseur ship). The garden is a spiritual place, and the design is not symmetric or open, rather it is a series of enclosures and revelation. There are many plateaus along the roji which contain representations of 'hill gardens' and 'flat gardens' and many representations of rock-settings. There are 27 main rock shapes to be studied when one sets rocks in garden design, and many thousands of possible combinations and interpretations therein. The situation of and conditions for these are extremely critical and take many years of study.

The elements of design are the characteristic dark green plants and trees, pond, white sand and gravel, and dark stones, producing the characteristic monochromatic design scheme. Flowers are kept to a minimum, however the flowering trees in the garden are typical of specimen plantings to be found in Japan. Flowers in the form of perennials and annuals are symbolic of transitory existence. The roji is paved with stepping stones and their placement is both artistic and functional. The yatsuhashi (plank bridges) are laid so as to provide another form of transcendence, just as the gate entrance symbolizes transcendence into another world. The Humes garden also has inner or 'middle gates' as one enters the cha-shitsu and further along as one ascends into the hillside elevation. There is also the essential pond (now under renovation) and what is called an ara-iso at the north end of the pond. This is a symbolic representation of a coastline and is comprised of small, smooth stones placed in a very specific pattern (at this time, they are partially removed and they assume either the 'blue-sea wave' or the 'vortex' configuration). The pond is symbolic of the peace of paradise in afterlife or a source of life and truth in the here and now. The gift of longevity is symbolized in the tortoise-shaped planting (kamejima) near the teahouse, and is also characteristic of all garden schemes. The rock settings are found throughout and house the god of creation. One characteristic grouping is that of the crane, and symbolizes immortality. The specimen pine trees (see listing) are clipped to triangular or umbrella shapes and are symbolic of stability and eternal life. Along the roji one finds many fine mikoshi (evergreens and shrubs) and zoki, which are deciduous trees included to fill-in the landscape and remain unobtrusive.

One finds more than the usual quantity of sculptural elements in this garden and originally only the monastic shrines and temples of Japan included lanterns or towers in their gardens. Larger lanterns were used at the shores primarily for illumination and not for decorative enhancement, as the Japanese were historically superstitious of the shoreline and 'demonic life' beyond it. The stepping stones can be considered decorative, although in Japan, these may be purely functional and serve as a bridge for a pond or stream and guide one's passage to land.

One does not move in a linear direction through the garden, rather along a series of diagonals with new and different scenes to each side along the way. There is no axial relationship to the pathway (roji) traversing the garden, and paths are never to be straight. At no point in time would four paths ever intersect. The purpose of the roji is to facilitate mental and spiritual repose, and function as a corridor for transcendence. The most renowned tea master, Sen No Rikyu defined the roji as 'four parts passage, six parts landscape' when advising designers hundreds of years ago. Whereas Western gardens are the product of creative genius on the part of the landscaper, the Japanese gardens are comprised of elements which are grouped and arranged in triads, according to spiritual doctrine and the three forces of nature: heaven, mankind and earth. This is apparent in the positioning of the rocks and plantings - in triangular or groupings of triangular relationships, along the three axes: vertical, horizontal and the diagonal, the clipping of pine trees to a pyramidal form, and the most characteristic triad of bamboo, pine and plum tree which is often also observed in calligraphic artwork of the old masters. Balance is derived from natural forms and spaces, and when arranging the elements in the garden design, no single form is dominant, yet the arrangement must be pleasing to the observer. There is usually a hierarchy of forms, however, the objective is for the eye to wander and explore and not fixate on any one condition. Centrality is to be avoided because it is not dynamic, and there is no single dominant focal point in the garden. Every garden, including the Humes garden, has the essential triad of rock cluster, water spout/laver (tsukubai) with a third background element (sometimes a lantern) and the purpose of this is that by cleansing the mouth at the laver, one is cleansing the mind and spirit.

The property is richly wooded and secluded from the immediate environment of the affluent Nassau county area. The property elevation is a metaphor of a spiritual journey into the mountainside, with origins in Edo period imperial garden design. There is an elevation change in the topography of approximately 50-60 feet or so from entrance to summit. Much of the space is defined by a horizontal plane against a background ('base plane' according to Ching), and the vertical elements are the evergreen trees and the zoki which are all balanced so as not to obscure or distract the concept of passage and transcendence. Characteristic of Japanese garden design is the constant utilization of planes and volumes so as to balance the 2-dimensional view and the 3-dimensional garden. Planar elements of ground, fence, wall, or rock mounds are used to frame the garden and add depth when layered with the volumetric elements of stones, clipped shrubbery and foliage plantings. One is much more aware of the horizontal elements and conditions in the serial views of the landscape than of the vertical elements of the trees. Each view is created to be scanned along a horizontal axis, so the eye wanders and does not fixate.

The garden is the classic representation of Japanese garden design with constant repetition of threshold and passage, and the garden is a series of enclosures and entries with the 'hill gardens' and the 'flat gardens'. The outer enclosure of the garden along the periphery (previously described) is used in the typical tradition of a 'frame', thus removing it from urban or public sight. This controls how the garden is viewed and how the surroundings are included into it. This principle was derived originally from shoin architecture, and was a design condition mandated by the paucity of land in Japan. The grand gardens of imperial Japan were markedly smaller than those found in Europe or even in China, and passage through the garden was carefully controlled by roji design, with tall plantings or walls creating 'corridors' similar to passage through a maze. This passage or 'circulation' was carefully planned so as to be a series of many movements along a diagonal, with the primary objective being to maximize space, and provide changing, scenic views revealed in succession. Transitions are marked by the placement of gates, bridges, groves of plantings, or a bend, rise or decline (via steps) in the roji. The steps are very shallow and wide, forcing one to pass slowly, taking time absorb and observe the upcoming new scene. Scenes are surrounded by vertical elements, usually on three sides, thus creating a sense of enclosure throughout, and quite ingeniously disguising the small size of the entire property. The roji is laid in a manner that controls the time/space condition of transition through the garden from end to end: there is deliberately slow movement in the garden, the creation of near and distant scenes that create visual space that is entered with the mind, constant pauses in the garden ('landings', plateaus, stairways, bridges) that enhance one's appreciation, and movement along a horizontal, such that at no time is one able to observe what is ahead, creating a constant element of surprise and anticipation.

The most striking feature of programmatic organization is the clear and intentional delineation of public and private space in the garden. This is again a conformity to the old shoin concept of design and composition. The property is bordered on one side by heavily planted evergreen and deciduous trees, and on a second side by a high slate gray wooden fence. The third side is a decorative wooden and bamboo barrier wall, now under reconstruction with an outermost layer of masonry (functioning as a sound barrier to the traffic on Oyster Bay Road). The fourth side of the property is at the summit, and is a small flat plot of land which lies beyond an outer roofed gate (soto-mon) and winding exit stairway, with another path leading to the greenhouse and the small gift shop. The gray wooden fence encloses the guest parking lot, and the lot is surrounded by thickly planted evergreens to the left side of the entrance, and a lush, thick grove of vert tall bamboos to the right of the entrance. The entrance to the garden is through a soto-mon similar to that at the other end of the property, again a characteristic of shoin architecture/landscapes and of the clear transition from public to private space. The passage through this gate results in a transcendence from man's world and conditions into a 'true' reality that is hidden behind worldly illusions. Once through this gate, one descends a series of steps and passage over a stream into the ascending hills beyond.

There is further distinction between public and private space when approaching the cha-shitsu, where the soan (a simple thatched hut providing covered seating) is now used for crafts displays behind the house and provides a distant, if less than an optimal, view of the lake garden. The tea house has a lovely terrace garden including the tortoise planting (previously mentioned) and a multi-triad planting scheme about the water laver. A bamboo fence and covered 'middle gate': with steps beyond characterize another transition deeper into the garden. Walking along the terrace, one takes in the very broad, horizontal landscape beyond the lake, a very private space at the other side of the lake, not intended for passage through. Passing beyond the steps and along the roji, one has another view of the lake, this time in the distance and behind the ara-iso. This is another distant and horizontal viewing, and it is observed through richly planted zoki and meticulously clipped specimen pines and shrubbery, again set back so as to remain a private space. The journey continues and one can wind up and along the maple grove, or alternately through a series of rock gardens planted on ascending plateaus up to the summit. Off to the extreme right side, is a wisteria arbor with yet another view of the lake and another path for strolling. One is ever mindful to remain on the path, and there is precious little space to wander from it, creating a continual definition of public space.

To completely comprehend and appreciate Japanese gardening, one should gain substantial knowledge of Japanese aesthetics from the arts and literature. Most of the great master painters and calligraphers were also gardeners, dating as far back as the ninth century. These early imperial garden conditions were founded in Chinese origin and the first royal gardener in Kyoto was a court painter. In literature, one must read The Tale of Genji (Genji monogatari) written by a Japanese woman of the imperial court in the 11th century, and should also be familiar with the Essays on Idleness (Tsurezuregusa) written by the Buddhist priest Kenko.