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Japanese Gardening
In Japanese culture gardening is an art form, a tradition to be passed down through the generations. Books by Zen monks have been published outlining the sacred act of garden making.

Japanese gardens often contain architecture, a central structure, usually their home from which the garden can be looked at. Elements such as water, rocks, bridges or stepping stones are often found in traditional Japanese gardens too.

The structure of Japanese gardens invites the viewer to go on a journey. Certain aspects of the garden will make you walk and look a certain way. The 'hide and reveal' principle is a fantastic way of premeditating what your viewer should be looking at. Uneven paths will make a person look down and when they look up they will see something eye catching and meaningful.

Japanese gardens can be used in many ways, for relaxation and meditation, for recreation, or as exhibits for plants and rocks. Stones used to reflect mountain ranges are placed in groups or used as paths and walkways.

Tea House, Tatton Park, Cheshire
Japanese Tea House at Tatton Park
Water is used effectively in Japanese gardens but only looking natural. Traditional gardens will not contain fountains or anything that looks man made. Pools and streams are often found, sometimes even empty which is just as striking as if they were filled with water. In dry gardens gravel is often used to create a water effect.

The planting is often green and low key but flowering shrubs are also used. These gardens are miniature reproductions of nature. They explore subtleties of moss, maples, bamboo and stone carvings. Once the flowering season is over the garden retains its tranquillity and beauty.

There are different styles of Japanese gardens all suited for different purposes, they are...

Japanese gardens viewed from homes are Kanshoh-style.

Japanese gardens viewed from homes are Kanshoh-style.

A kaiyu-shiki or strolling garden at Rikugien, Tokyo.

Strolling gardens known as kaiyu-shiki allow the garden to be seen from its path.

The famous Japanese garden in the karesansui style at Ryoanji, a famous Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan

Japanese dry gardens with no water and limited planting purposely to show off special rocks, shrubs and mosses are called karesansui.

The garden at Nijo Castle in Kyoto, Japan

Pond gardens can be viewed from boats

Hagiwara Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco, California.

Tea gardens from paths that lead to tea ceremony huts.

Plant hunters brought back a lot of plants from Japan that we now use every day such as lilies and irises which before then were unknown to us. Perhaps then most of our gardens have a little piece of Japan in them.

Handy hints for creating a Japanese garden..

  • Use water or dry ponds for the serene and simplistic look.
  • Keep flowering minimal. Pick light, subtle flowers instead of bedding.
  • Pick seasonal fragrances for added tranquility.
  • Use moss around the base of vertical trees.
  • Choose plants that will provide colour throughout the seasons. Japanese maples in autumn and azelias in spring.
  • Do not balance, mirror image or attempt symmetry in your planting. Stay natural.
  • Space will make your existing elements much more striking.
  • Use authentic Japanese accessories such as stone lanterns and water basins for authenticity.
  • Rocks are essential in these gardens probably more so than the plants so place carefully considering all angles.

The famous moss garden of Saiho-ji, Kyoto, Japan.

The famous moss garden of Saihō-ji, Kyoto, Japan.

Japanese Tea Garden, San Mateo, California, USA.

Japanese Tea Garden, San Mateo, California, USA.

Karesansui style garden - Kodai-ji, a Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan.

Karesansui style garden - Kōdai-ji, a Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan.

Japanese garden at Tofukuji, Kyoto, Japan.

Japanese garden at Tofukuji, Kyoto, Japan.

A view of Ritsurin Garden in Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture, Japan.

A view of Ritsurin Garden in Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture, Japan.

Tenjuan temple and garden, Nanzenji temple, Kyoto, Japan.

Tenjuan temple and garden, Nanzenji temple, Kyoto, Japan.

The History Of Japanese Gardens

The history of Japanese gardens doesn't actually start in Japan. The cultural home of Japanese gardens and the bedrock of the history of Japanese gardens is actually China.

Many hundreds of years ago the Chinese started designing recreational gardens and as they developed news of these structures and their ingredients spread.
Is is not difficult to imagine how impressed China's neighbours became with their aptitude to be technological innovators and their spectacular gardens were no different. The history of Japanese gardens can be traced to it's starting period in the Han Dynasty, the Japanese imported these garden ideas from China during this period. Emperor Wu Di who lived from 140-87 BC first created a garden containing 3 small islands. These were meant to represent the Isles Of The Immortals who were considered to be Toaist gods, this set a trend for all gardens to concentrate on replicating the land of legend.

Japanese gardens today mimic nature but this was not the case during the Han period. The only gardens built were only to display mythical lands and landscapes. So there was a good deal of imagination being used! The first hill and pond garden in Japan was established in the early 600s AD when the Chinese Emperor Yang Di enjoyed relations with Japan at his instigation.

The Japanese responded to these overtures and sent an envoy to China who was a man called Ono no Imoko. He became immersed in China and its culture and met with the emperor on many many occasions. Upon his return to Japan he took with him much of what he had learnt and the art of gardening was just one subject he was keen to relate to the Japanese people. Another idea imported to Japan at the same time was Buddhism. A seemingly small and very significant step in the history of Japanese gardens.

There are a number of era's in the history of Japanese gardens, the most modern one in terms of influence ending in the early 14th century. The Zen influence into the history of Japanese gardens can be traced to the period 1393 to 1558AD as a more simplistic and spiritual type of garden was designed and built by many people.

To write about all the twists and turns in the history of Japanese gardens in a short article is pretty difficult to do and would not really do the subject of the history of Japanese gardens justice. I do hope this article has given you some pointers on their rich tradition and heritage.

By R Chard

Japanese Garden in France (Parc oriental de Maulévrier) - By Aj-14 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0]
Japanese Garden in France (Parc oriental de Maulévrier)
By Aj-14 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Japanese garden at Suizenji in Kumamoto, Japan.
Japanese garden at Suizenji in Kumamoto, Japan.

Hyogo prefecture, Japan

Hyogo prefecture, Japan
By 663highland (663highland) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 

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