The Japanese Garden Course at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons — near Oxford

We were invited to try the NEW Japanese Garden Course at the Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons. The course was a full day in Raymond Blanc's garden and we were also treated to a 7 course tasting menu and overnight stay to follow. A total and utter treat. 

The day was lead by Robert Ketchell, a garden designer who has spent his life studying and creating Japanese gardens all over the world - including in the grounds of Le Manoir. He was supported by the head gardener Ann-Marie Owens, who was on-hand to answer any questions we had about the rest of the gardens and kept us all fed and watered throughout. 

We began the day in this beauty, the Hartley Botanic Glasshouse which was purpose-built for the gardening school and thankfully for us, came with air-con too. 

Belmond Le Manoir Japanese Garden Course by Haarkon

After a brief intro Robert took us on a guided tour of the Japanese garden that he created many years ago and talked us through certain aspects that come into play when designing Japanese gardens, including philosophy, symbolism and other considerations.  

Belmond Le Manoir Japanese Garden Course by Haarkon
Belmond Le Manoir Japanese Garden Course by Haarkon
Belmond Le Manoir Japanese Garden Course by Haarkon
Belmond Le Manoir Japanese Garden Course by Haarkon
Belmond Le Manoir Japanese Garden Course by Haarkon
Belmond Le Manoir Japanese Garden Course by Haarkon
Belmond Le Manoir Japanese Garden Course by Haarkon

We learned about shape and texture, about formulating an experience and about re-creating the outside world in miniature to connect with nature. 

Belmond Le Manoir Japanese Garden Course by Haarkon
Belmond Le Manoir Japanese Garden Course by Haarkon
Belmond Le Manoir Japanese Garden Course by Haarkon
Belmond Le Manoir Japanese Garden Course by Haarkon
Belmond Le Manoir Japanese Garden Course by Haarkon
Belmond Le Manoir Japanese Garden Course by Haarkon
Belmond Le Manoir Japanese Garden Course by Haarkon
Belmond Le Manoir Japanese Garden Course by Haarkon
Belmond Le Manoir Japanese Garden Course by Haarkon
Belmond Le Manoir Japanese Garden Course by Haarkon
Belmond Le Manoir Japanese Garden Course by Haarkon
Belmond Le Manoir Japanese Garden Course by Haarkon

At lunchtime we enjoyed a feast of light salads, a vegetable soup and fresh breads - all prepared for us by the Raymond Blanc cookery school. This was followed by a concoction called 'fruit soup' that was nothing short of sublime. It really was magical. 

Belmond Le Manoir Japanese Garden Course by Haarkon
Belmond Le Manoir Japanese Garden Course by Haarkon
Belmond Le Manoir Japanese Garden Course by Haarkon
Belmond Le Manoir Japanese Garden Course by Haarkon

The afternoon brought practical activities, starting with the building of trayscapes. This was an exercise that Robert guided us through and he helped us make tiny sculptural gardens with sand and stones. The aim was to consider the stones and their faces and formulate a mood or atmosphere for our gardens and we LOVED it. It was really interesting to put together small compositions in 3D and we found that all the shapes had different relationships with one another depending on where they were placed. 

Belmond Le Manoir Japanese Garden Course by Haarkon
Belmond Le Manoir Japanese Garden Course by Haarkon
Belmond Le Manoir Japanese Garden Course by Haarkon
Belmond Le Manoir Japanese Garden Course by Haarkon
Belmond Le Manoir Japanese Garden Course by Haarkon
Belmond Le Manoir Japanese Garden Course by Haarkon

After that we were let loose on the garden with real tools! We were shown how to cloud prune certain plants and had SO MUCH FUN putting it into practice - and now we look at everything and wonder if we can do the same... So satisfying. 

Belmond Le Manoir Japanese Garden Course by Haarkon
Belmond Le Manoir Japanese Garden Course by Haarkon
Belmond Le Manoir Japanese Garden Course by Haarkon
Belmond Le Manoir Japanese Garden Course by Haarkon
Belmond Le Manoir Japanese Garden Course by Haarkon
Belmond Le Manoir Japanese Garden Course by Haarkon

The course was totally brilliant and we both came away feeling inspired and with a much deeper understanding of the principles behind different types of Japanese garden and a thirst to visit many more. Robert was such a peaceful person and an absolute pleasure to be around which made for such a great day - and a very calming one too. 

We shared a separate post on the rest of our stay at Le Manoir - including our thoughts on the food and our experience in general. You can read (and see allllll the pictures) HERE.

We also posted a video to our YouTube channel HERE

*We'd like to thank Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons for inviting us to try the new course, for hosting us and for making us feel so incredibly welcome and at ease - our stay at the hotel was INCREDIBLE and we really really mean it. Hopefully it won't be our last!*