The Japanese Garden at Bowdoin
Nathaniel Cormier ’95 designed and constructed the space behind 38 College Street into a Karesansui Japanese-style garden for his honors project for the Asian Studies Program.
Karesansui involves the creation of a landscape without the use of water. Pebbles and sand are used to represent water. The impression of water is critical to Japanese garden design. According to Samuel Newsom: “The sense of water must always be present. There must be the feeling of water whether it is there or not. This is the fundamental philosophic idea of Japanese landscaping. Water is in many ways the source of all life. Its eternal presence in garden design adds immeasurably to the whole subjective landscape concept” (Newsom, p. 120).
The karesansui style emerged in 15th-century Japan. Karesansui became associated with Zen Buddhism because they share an abstract understanding. A karesansui garden is enjoyed through contemplation. The karesansui garden is to a larger, more scenic garden what the haiku poem is to a detail-rich novel.
Nate Cormier wrote: “My inspiration for the garden was the beautiful Maine coast. This is what drew me to Bowdoin College. I tried to recreate the sense of invigorating motion that I felt at places like ‘Giant Stairs’ on Bailey’s Island. The surging of the waves, the movement of the tides, and the jagged cliffs are expressed with gravel, rocks, and moss.
“I received very valuable advice throughout the project from Masahiko Seko, a Japanese garden designer working all over New England.
“I was the winner of the 1995 National Speech Contest in Japanese for my speech ‘Nihonteien kara manabu mono (What we can learn from Japanaese gardens).
“I have named this garden ‘The Lancaster Garden’ in honor of Donovan Lancaster who passed away in 1994. He was a friend, a Kappa Sig brother, and a distinguished Bowdoin College alumnus and administrator.”
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Keepers of the Garden
To maintain ‘The Lancaster Garden’ in the manner originally envisioned by its designer, Nate Cormier ’95 as:
- a place of quiet for meditation
- a visual joy for the Asian Studies Program
- a garden dedicated to Don Lancaster
To create a self-perpetuating project that will maintain the integrity of this space;
To donate our talents as gardeners, in order to accomplish this task;
To give back to the College, which has been so open and generous to our community;
To have fun and to learn more about Asian gardens in the process.
Sharon Whitney – to work with volunteers and supervise maintenance. Sharon Whitney is a professional gardener who offers her services to the Lancaster Garden as a Master Gardener with the Cumberland County Extension Service.
the late Fran Nichols – who initiated this project and shares a love of Japanese gardens
Dian K. Petty – liaison to Friends Steering Committee
Scheduled work days:
First Thursday of each month, April through November, 9:00 – 11:00 a.m.
For a more in-depth understanding of Japanese Gardens, please visit: http://learn.bowdoin.edu/japanesegardens/
This Siberian Iris was developed for the Asian Studies Japanese garden by Sharon Whitney.
Its name, Natsu No Torai (coming of spring), reflects its connection to the Lancaster Garden.
Students who volunteered in the garden on Common Good Day, Sept. 15, 2012:
Roberto Tavel '16, Elena Schaef '16, and Anna Seeler '15