A Japanese Garden in Norwich Cathedral

62 The Close, Norwich


The new Hostry building alongside the cathedral

In the autumn of 2009 the Japanese Garden Society (JGS) received a very unusual request - to help with the design and construction of a Japanese garden in Norwich cathedral. The JGS has some experience of both design and construction so offered to take on the project.

The initial request came from the Precentor (one of the Cannons) at the cathedral, via SISJAC (the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures), whose offices are inside the Cathedral Close in Norwich. The garden was to be very simple, just boulders and gravel, with a few stepping stones at one end and was to be situated in the new 'Hostry' or welcoming hall for visitors to the cathedral.

Access to the site was very limited as we had to carry all materials including boulders and 2.5 tonnes of gravel through the cathedral Locutory and via a very narrow doorway into the space itself. This limited the size of boulders that could be used.

The stones are all glacial boulders from the north of Scotland and were specifically selected for the garden. The gravel is 6mm silver-grey granite and the edging materials are sawn grey sandstone and polished black pebbles.

A traditional Japanese tripod and hoist was used to lift and position the boulders, which were wheeled in on a bespoke steel trolley designed for the purpose.

The resulting garden features three boulders as the focal point, which can be interpreted as a Buddhist triad or perhaps the Christian Trinity, given the situation of the garden. The remaining stones are arranged as if they are all pointing to or leading to, or perhaps being drawn towards the triad. Perhaps viewers of the garden may feel that they too are joining these in being drawn towards the triad.

Robert lowering the first and largest boulder with help from Steve Wright (foreground) and Ken Turner-Jones (centre)

At an aesthetic level, we feel the garden provides an interesting and appealing landscape vista at the end of the exhibition space. We hope that visitors will pause for a moment on their way into the cathedral to engage with the garden. Like any art work that one engages with, one leaves it feeling more alive, alert, in the moment. If some visitors benefit in this way when entering the cathedral we have hopefully contributed to the whole experience of their visit.

Graham Hardman

Japanese Garden Society

Among ancient walls,
The heart may find calm,
As mountains rise and water flows.

Robert Ketchell