The Japanese garden on Margaret Island may be the most famous of its kind in the city, but it always felt a bit mainstream to me, too overrun by visitors to allow for the kind of quiet introspection I assume Japanese gardens were originally meant for. I was therefore happy to discover that a much less known garden lies tucked away in a leafy corner of Zugló, on the premises of the Varga Márton gardening school.
The garden was set up by the school’s founder, Márton Varga, in 1928 and the stones which make up its walkways were excavated during the construction of the cogwheel railway line to Normafa. Varga tried to respect Japanese principles as much as he could and centred the garden around a small system of lakes. In 1931, the garden was visited by Prince Takamatsu of the Japanese imperial household, who brought several plants as gifts, of which a cherry tree still stands in the garden today. Other noteworthy trees include a Norway maple, estimated to be around 140 years old, a dawn redwood, thought to have been extinct until the 1950s when it was rediscovered in China, a Himalayan white pine and a Japanese pagoda tree.
Guided tours are available for those interested in even more botanical curiosities, but the little garden is just as charming even if you just wander around aimlessly, or come for a picnic- eating food brought from outside is allowed as long as you clean up any resulting litter – obviously.