In an English Country Garden (in Japan)

How many kinds of sweet flowers grow
In an English country garden?
I’ll tell you now of some that I know
And those I miss you’ll surely pardon
Daffodils, heart’s ease and phlox
Meadowsweet and lady smocks
Gentian, lupine and tall hollyhocks
Roses, foxgloves, snowdrops, forget-me-nots
In an English country garden 

During a recent stay in Chino, Nagano Prefecture, I couldn’t get that song out of my head after somebody suggested I visit her friend who owns Barakura English Garden. “It stands as a serene testament to the country’s dedication to natural beauty, meticulous design, and love of British gardens,” she said proudly in a well-rehearsed script. 

Located in the heart of the Japanese Alps, the Nagano area is renowned for its stunning landscapes, towering mountains and rich cultural heritage, making it an ideal day trip or overnighter two hours by car or train from Tokyo. 

Spanning more than 10,000 square meters, Barakura English Garden is meticulously landscaped with a harmonious blend of traditional British elements and natural beauty. Visitors are greeted by the first authentic English garden in Japan and the only one in Asia currently recognized by The Partner Gardens scheme of The Royal Horticultural Society. Under the unified design of the founding co-owner, Kay Yamada, everything from the detailed planning and authentic stonemasonry to the manicured lawns, carefully pruned trees and seasonal flowers is created by British specialists.

The Garden was constructed in 1990 in collaboration with professional landscape designer John Brookes and award-winning stone mason E Clark. Many thousands of plant and flower species were imported from England and domestic plants were later added to complement the progress of the landscape designs.

Kay, a horticulturalist and garden designer, proudly showed me around her sprawling and delightful property. “When traveling in Europe with my family in search of inspiration, we were fascinated by the beauty of English gardens, leading us to decide to create an English-style garden in Japan.” 

Kay is also well known for her writing and editing of several books and lecturing in English and Japanese to gardening enthusiasts. She has had regular TV appearances, written articles in several magazine series such as “Katei-Ga-Hou” and “Bises”, and designed eight other public English gardens in Japan.

Kay Yamada with her husband Eugene and Simon Farrell

In 2001, the Yamada family were invited to the exclusive Buckingham Palace Garden Party, alongside two representatives from each country. They were chosen for introducing English gardens and culture to Japan and participating in bi-cultural events such as UK98. The next year, Kay exhibited her show garden entitled “Reflection on a Tateshina Meadow” which won silver at the Chelsea Flower Show and again in 2009 for “Echoes of Japan in an English Garden”. 

The garden’s design, inspired by classic English examples, features different facets of the country’s gardening traditions, from formal rose gardens to wildflower meadows, creating a tapestry of colors and textures that change with the seasons. 

How many insects come here and go
Through our English country garden?
I’ll tell you now of some that I know
And those I miss you’ll surely pardon
Fireflies, moths and bees
Spiders climbing in the trees
Butterflies that sway on the cool gentle breeze
There are snakes, ants that sting
And creeping things
In an English country garden

I was there in spring, which brings a riot of colors with tulips, daffodils, and cherry blossoms painting the garden in hues of pink, yellow and white. In summer, roses take center stage, filling the air with their sweet fragrance and adorning trellises and arbors with their vibrant blooms. Autumn transforms the landscape with fiery hues as Japanese maples and autumn crocuses create a stunning contrast against the greenery. Even in winter, the garden retains its charm, with carefully chosen evergreens and delicate frost-kissed flowers adding a touch of magic to the serene surroundings.

The Garden also serves as a hub for cultural and educational activities, said Kay. “Visitors can participate in workshops on gardening techniques, floral arrangement, and tea ceremonies, gaining insights into both English and Japanese gardening traditions. Seasonal events and festivals celebrate nature’s bounty, offering a chance to experience the garden in new and delightful ways throughout the year.”

Barakura English Garden is a journey into a different time and place. It captures the essence of English gardening philosophy while embracing the natural beauty of Japan’s landscape. Whether you are a gardening enthusiast, a nature lover, or simply seeking a moment of tranquility away from the bustle of everyday life, Barakura English Garden promises an unforgettable experience where beauty, culture, and serenity converge in perfect harmony.

How many songbirds fly to and fro
Through our English country garden?
I’ll tell you now of some that I know
And those I miss you’ll surely pardon
Bobolink, cuckoo and quail
Tanager and cardinal
Bluebird, lark, thrush and nightingale
There is joy in the spring
When the birds begin to sing
In an English country garden 

Awards and pictures with Queen Elizabeth II
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