Spring has arrived one week early this year. Kyoto is already blooming with snow willows and plums. I saw the first cherry blossoms today, along the Kamo River. I have spent the past two weeks guiding an artist and a professor of landscape architecture to all of my favorite gardens in Kyoto. A few days ago we visited Shugaku-in Imperial Villa. Built in the 1600's as a retired emperor's country villa, Shugaku-in consists of three sections and is completely surrounded by working vegetable and rice farms on about 140 acres of land. Located on the slopes of the eastern hills, just 20-minutes bike ride from my house , this immaculately maintained estate is an excellent example of tea inspired sukiya-style architecture. Admission is free-of-charge and is limited to 60 visitors at a time. An appointment to visit can be obtained through the Imperial Family Household offices.
My clients remarked that whereas many great cities in the world may have a few truly outstanding garden sites to visit, Kyoto easily has enough spectacular sites to keep avid garden enthusiasts completely engaged for a long, long time.