The garden’s designer, Japanese landscape architect, Takeo Shiota, arrived in the United States in 1907. While growing up in Japan, he had explored the country by foot, in search of natural beauty. The resulting discoveries and knowledge of gardens that he gleaned during that time would inspire the Brooklyn oasis.
The garden is something of a Japanese-American hybrid, Funk explains. Constructed between 1914 and 1915, the Hill-and-Pond Garden was the first Japanese garden to be built inside a public garden in the United States.
In contrast to most formal European gardens, which typically employ perpendicular lines and symmetry, Japanese gardens mirror nature. “It’s a dynamic landscape, so your eye is always moving, so there’s usually not one main focal point,” Funk explains, “it changes all the time.” With the Brooklyn garden, Shiota aimed to mimic Japan’s mountainous landscape and rocky coastline.
In addition to a viewing pavilion resembling a tea house and a waiting bench, both of which are used in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies, the garden is home to an authentic (priest-blessed) Shinto shrine, along with various stone lanterns that peek out from excavated grass hills and an undulating shoreline. The architect employed a technique called “hide and reveal,” Funk explains, “where things are purposefully hidden so you have to turn corners and walk around hills and trees, to see the rest of the garden.”