Japanese gardens, with their strolling paths offering different views of the landscape at every turn, seems to hold a special fascination with people all over the world. Indeed there are many Japanese gardens outside of Japan, replicas to allow fans of the genre to enjoy the placid serenity of a Japanese garden even when they cannot be in Japan.
One such garden can be found in the French city of Toulouse.
The garden was built in 1981 by then-mayor Pierre Baudis, who had experienced Japanese gardens in Kyoto and on a visit to Dublin, Ireland, and wanted his city to have a similar green space. It sits inside the larger Jardin de Compans-Cafferelli, just south of the Canal du Midi and a short walk from the Compans-Cafferelli subway station.
Like any good Japanese garden, the paths take visitors through a variety of landscapes, beginning at the southern gate (proudly noting that the award-winning garden was designated a “remarkable garden of France” in 1993) with a winding, shaded path enticing visitors in by revealing very little of the delights to come.
Bear right immediately to reach the garden’s highest point and view the lawns, a pond crossed by an arched red bridge, and teahouse below.
Alternatively, continue along the path into the garden, emerging into the sun at the karesansui rock garden. This section of the garden, with its rows of carefully raked white pebbles, is evocative of the Zen gardens of some of Kyoto’s most famous temples.
Nearby is a tea house where visitors can relax in the shade and enjoy various views of the garden, including the karesansui section and, on the other side of the tea house, the pond and view uphill across the lawns to a miniature Mt. Fuji or, to the left, a dry waterfall at the top of the pond.
There are also signboards inside the tea house explaining the various features of this Japanese garden and Japanese gardens more generally as well as of the history of Mayor Baudis’ vision for the garden.
Although the water of the pond is a bit more opaque than that of most gardens in Japan, carp and turtles can still be seen, lending more authenticity to the garden. (Bring your own fish food–perhaps a left-over piece of baguette?)
The only thing missing when one crosses the arched red bridge onto a little island is a Benten shrine. Someday, perhaps?
A little perambulation in this garden is a relaxing respite, the only sounds being birds and the breeze in the trees. Visitors can be briefly transported to the Orient without ever taking their feet off French soil.
In keeping with the “Asiatic” theme of the garden, one of the ponds on the garden’s perimeter, technically outside the Japanese garden, is home to an amazing sculpture of a dragon cum submarine, its metallic body containing all kinds of mechanical dials and pipes that would have made Jules Verne proud. A 1993 work of sculptor Tom Petrusson also known as the Tholus steampunk, it is a perfect blend of West meets East.
The Jardin Japonais is open 8:00 to 21:00; admission free.
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