Japanese gardens are deeply rooted in the complex spiritual, literary, and philosophical traditions of Japan. They have been a feature of Canadian estates and public places for more than a century and have proven highly adaptable regarding Canada's climate, materials and sites. Beautiful to experience on any level, whether sensory or symbolic, Japanese gardens in Canada provide a place of refuge, often amid busy urban settings.
Of two main types of Japanese gardens—dry-landscape or Zen gardens, and stroll gardens—Canadians have commissioned predominantly the latter. Dry-landscape gardens feature raked gravel and rocks symbolizing water and islands. They provide a stimulus for meditation and reflection and are intended to be viewed, not walked through. Stroll gardens invite movement through them to appreciate different perspectives. Stroll gardens typically include flowing water (but usually not fountains), carefully selected rocks, bridges, lanterns, plants and trees, and fish (often multi-coloured carp, known as "living flowers"). Each element has a symbolic significance, reinforcing values associated with harmony, renewal, calm, continuity and veneration of nature.
The earliest and still among the best Japanese gardens in Canada are found in Victoria, BC. While on a sojourn in Canada between 1907 and 1912, Isaburo Kishida, a noted professional gardener and park designer from Yokohama, designed four gardens in or near Victoria. Two still exist. The earliest (and now lost) was designed for a site in Esquimalt, BC, at BC Electric Gorge Park; the garden opened on 11 July 1907 and survived until 1942. The popularity of the Gorge tea house and garden design prompted Victorians to commission Kishida to design three other Japanese gardens: a rock garden in the Butchart Gardens, in 1908; the Japanese Garden at Hatley Park National Historic Site, 1909 and 1913 (the latter date being the garden as expanded by Boston landscape architects Brett & Hall); and a private garden realized during these years for Sir Frank S. Barnard, for a now-lost estate known as Clovelly.