What makes a Garden a "Japanese Garden"

Discussion in 'Japanese Gardens' started by winterhaven, Nov 8, 2008.

  1. winterhaven

    winterhaven Active Member Maple Society 10 Years

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    This thread was stimulated by a thread in the Japanese Maple section of the forum. I'd like to hear from as many enthusiasts as possible what they feel makes a garden a "Japanese Garden."

    For me, I'm attracted to some principles of Japanese Garden design, but not so much the traditional ornaments. So when is a garden a "Japanese Garden"?

    I wrote in the other thread:
    I recently read Ortho's All About Creating Japanese Gardens and it really got me thinking about how to apply some underlying principles in my own gardens. I'm particularly excited about "borrowed scenery", "forced diminishing perspective", and "asymmetrical balance". And most of all, I really resonate to the idea that a true Japanese Garden is a sacred place. According to Ortho, "A primary purpose of Japanese gardens it to create a place apart, a sanctuary, a setting removed from the everyday world." IMHO, the best gardens or natural spots have a beauty that catches your attention and touches your spirit. For me, they are places where I feel stillness and appreciation enter my heart.

    So do those of you who love Japanese Gardens think of underlying principles when creating them, or do you just know what you like and instinctively know how to get there? If you use design principles, which are your favorites and why? What past mistakes do you hope to avoid in the future?
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 12, 2011
  2. Yorkieterrier

    Yorkieterrier Member

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    I don't have a garden of my own yet as living with family.

    When I do my aim will be to have a garden that is based on a Japanese way of gardening without trying to create a "Japanese" garden.

    I hope to have sections the garden that clearly show a distinct Japanese influcence. I would suspect that going too overboard and trying to recreate somthing from Kyoto in a European suburban garden just wouldn't look or feel right.

    If feel that gardens with a Japanese feel, can look very different to "european" style gardens They stand out from the crowd a lot more.

    I suspect a lot of time and effort must be put into the design of a the Japanese influenced garden in an attempt to avoid it becoming cliched.

    This autumn I have been growing moss around the bases of my maples in a homage to a temple garden. But I also find this asthetically pleasing.

    At the end of the day it is down the indervidual gardener to settle for a medium that they are happy with.
     
  3. whis4ey

    whis4ey Well-Known Member 10 Years

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    I am lucky in that my own 'Japanese Garden' is a quiet secluded place where one can be at home with nature and one's own thoughts
    The little Ortho book you refer to is a great starting point
    Read as much as you can before embarking on your project. Maggie Oster 'Japanese Garden Style' was the book that really got me into the way of thinking that guided me later on
    I would not be inclined to try too hard to make an 'authentic' Japanese Garden ... at the end of the day your garden will be in the States and it will be YOUR garden, so YOU are the first person who must be pleased
     
  4. kaspian

    kaspian Active Member 10 Years

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    This is a two-part question, I think -- as you seem to recognize yourself, when you use the phrase "Japanese Garden" both with and without quotation marks.

    Part 1. Like it or not, what sends the "Japanese" signal to many of us in the West is often a set of specific visual cues -- the stone lantern, the little arching footbridge, the bamboo, the weeping cherry and tiny Japanese maple and clipped azaleas and contorted evergreens, the prominent use of rocks. Extra points if there is raked gravel, lots of moss, and/or a water feature. You can assemble many of these features from a big-box retailer, and arrange them nicely in your yard, and visitors to the garden -- including yourself -- will feel it to be "Japanese." But not Japanese.

    I say this not to make fun of this Western mindset. The fact is that most of the Japanese gardens we've seen (mostly in books or movies, or the occasional visit to a Japanese-style garden in our own part of the world) do indeed have some or most of these features. And these things are indeed very cool, if you can find a way to use them. Which can be quite difficult if you live, for example, in Arizona, where most of them -- except the rocks, perhaps -- will look terribly out of place.

    Part 2. But of course the real spirit and essence of a Japanese garden does not depend on a particular checklist of plants or inanimate objects. To me, in the gardens I've made in the eastern USA, it arises from these things:

    a. The sense of a self-contained world or an entire miniaturized landscape within the bounds of the garden. Which imples

    b. Definite boundaries, unless you happen to live in a place that looks like Japan. (Many places in the NE and NW of North America actually do look rather like Japan.)

    c. Asymmetry. There is a definite sense of balance in Japanese design that is very distinctive and important. You have to develop a feeling for this.

    d. No lawn. An expanse of grass signals "postwar suburban America." (It's probably okay to have a tiny area of grass, but it shouldn't look like someplace you could play baseball. Or croquet. Or anything bigger than Go.)

    e. Rocks. I know this is an item from Part 1, but it's like magic -- whenever I incorporate rocks prominently into a garden design -- or better, when they happen to be a feature of the yard from the outset -- it's already a big step in the "Japanese" direction.

    f. A sense of "wildness" in the plantings. I know, a real Japanese garden is one of the most intensively "gardened" places on Earth. But the goal is to create the illusion of a larger, natural world. This means, in practice, lots of things growing tightly together, without clear or clean boundaries. Intensive plantings at all levels, from ground covers to trees. But then you have to balance this with

    g. At least one area of visual calm. (But not a lawn.)

    h. A strong object of focus in the foreground or middle distance, to hold the eye within the boundaries of this made-up landscape. This doesn't have to come from a traditional "Japanese" feature like a stone lantern. Any good-sized and visually interesting item, or prominent boulder, or strong planting, or sculpture, or old upturned boat, might do the trick. You have to experiment with this. The object, whatever it is, should weather gracefully. Shiny mechanical devices do not work. But it is surprising what kind of stuff can be effective.

    i. Time. Everything should look very settled, and about 500 years old. Or at least 50. So let the plantings wander, and the colors fade, and above all do not discourage things like moss and lichen. Use whatever tricks you can learn to simulate age in shrubs and trees.

    m. Stay real. I think in the end, you have to admit that you are who you are, not a Zen monk, and your yard is where it is, not Kyoto. The place isn't going to feel comfortable or tranquil or natural if the whole thing looks fake, or if it's filled with plants for which you have no personal affinity, or (in my opinion) if it looks like it cost a fortune to achieve.
     
  5. Karalyn

    Karalyn Active Member

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    I like this response, as I get confused or frustrated on where to go with my desire for certain parts of a Japanese looking garden, but realize unlike, Washington, Oregon, California I
    m jut not going to get everything that looks like a Japanese feel, which as stated, the Japanese garden books are actually pictures of the Portland Japanese Garden, it is so big, that everything can be like a big adventure and peaceful and cool. You go from one stone pathway to another hidden pathway with wonderful views of separate objects different from the other spaces but all tied in.

    I live in Boise, Idaho, it gets hot here in the summer, hardly any humidity. I think more of my gardens as having bits and pieces of a Japanese feel to it, but I guess what I'm in love with is the koi pond, Japanese Maples, stone pathways, moss, stone, lush plants. I really love the feel of a mountain stream with the mossy rocks, and ripples and runs the stream takes as it is tumbling down the mountain. Also, with my acre of a yard, we have an irrigation pond that is 125ft long and 25ft wide at the widest point, So it is the main focal point looking out into the backyard. My husband likes to see the grass roll into the pond. Where now we have worries of grandchildren and really need to see the whole backyard. So as I would love to have hidden places, or rooms, I can't keep an eye on the little grandchildren. So fencing should be placed around the pond and water features, but that would mess up the view of the expansive lawn rolling down into the pond.
    So the next best thing is to get plexie glass, but it is spendy. An iron wrought fence with tall posts and fencing would be good for little boys trying to climb over. There wouldn't be a foot hold for him to take.

    Anyway, I have a koi pond, two of them and other ponds that are six ft around and two ft deep where I keep waterlilies, smaller koi, shubunkins and sarassas comets, and regular goldfish.

    There are different feelings that I like such as the victorian garden, country garden, etc. So I kinda have to blend these likes into one design, as I do have a lot of collected rock, granite are big stones, and then there are various colored rock that I gather from rivers with all sorts of colors, but I favor the greens, turquoise, burgundies, quartz, specaled, two types of greens mixed together. Just whatever catches my eye, but stay close to the stones that match hostas, japanese maples, coral bells, Astilbes, ferns, groundcover that resembles Baby Tears that isn't very hardy in my zone except miniclimates. Irish and Scotch Moss, Thyme, Veronica, etc. I actually get moss naturally on my Shake roof, also grasses and sedges are another love. So I guess I'm rambling...because it is an ongoing task to change it from the way it was when we bought the house and finish it up the way I like it as a gardener. Okay, toodles.

    PS Whiskey has a great Japanese garden in Ireland where he does get rain, mist, fog and conducive to Japanese plants.
     
    Last edited: May 14, 2009
  6. janetdoyle

    janetdoyle Active Member

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    What a wonderful exchange of ideas... I couldn't add a thing more, except for maybe the idea of a "theme from nature, abbreviated, containable within the space available...." The gardener from the American South West could do the dry-garden thing with cacti, rocks, red earth, a trickling water feature housed in a simple even pueblo-style or perhaps canyon-like miniature structure and a few shrubs native to the area -- with maybe an irrigated hanging flower arrangement, not hard on the water supply but simple and dramatic... the Northern California theme with arborized Ceonothus and rock... I walked there once with a bit of a trickling stream, some wind-blown pines and a pile of mountain-lion droppings... that's going a bit too realistic...
     
  7. Karalyn

    Karalyn Active Member

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    Yes, that would be great due to where you live. We have pond tours here, and there are very different ideas involved, which is amazing. This also goes with the budget you have.
    Right now I have an irrigation pond that is 100ft long and 25 ft across. It collects water from the Boise River and then feeds into canals and then ditches to those that have water rights and usually on larger properties. Newer subdivisions have community irrigation water just from their outside faucetts.

    Anyway, this earth bottom pond has in inlet from a ditch and two outlets. One to the neighbor next door and another one we made another ditch that goes downhill into the creek below. After it has traveled down a creek like setting that I'm working on. So I think that is another 100ft. The neighbor behind us built a 3 story house in a new subdivision that use to be 80 acres of prarie land where cows and horses would graze. And it also had foxes, skunks,geese, mallard ducks, birds, mice of course. So we lost this beautiful view when they built this new subdivision. Anyway, I need to finish this tomorrow...
     
  8. lorax

    lorax Rising Contributor

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    For me, what is most important is the aesthetic of the garden design and the visual composition of it. There are certain elements, as mentioned above, that are "typical" or even somewhat clicheed, because (again, as pointed out above) the "Japanese Garden" that everybody thinks of will look terribly out of place in desert areas.

    My criteria would be:
    1. a balanced assymetrical layout
    2. a lack of grass
    3. carefully selected stones
    4. a balance between upright and weeping plants
     
  9. tiniestGarden

    tiniestGarden Member

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    My parents loved Japanese culture. My mother was a potter as well as a Chinese brush painter. They designed a small Japanese garden on a tiny bit of their 1/8th acre lot....
    The main portion was a patio, surrounded by mugu pine, tiny azealeas, a dwarf red maple, plus several Japanese lanterns and original pottery made by both my mom and others she traded with. It took a great deal of trouble, because they lived in Massachusetts. I've only gardened in the southeast US, so I don't know all the issues they had, but Japanese beetles were a large portion of the fight!
     
  10. Karalyn

    Karalyn Active Member

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    That's nice about your parents garden. Massachusetts would be hard, but as you say it was small. How do you like N.C. ?
     
  11. tiniestGarden

    tiniestGarden Member

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    NC is a tough place to garden; all the allergens in the world, plus the heat and humidity to make them miserable! This summer has been weird; usually we have no rain for weeks and months. This summer we were parched for a month, then had about 6 weeks of wicked thunderstorms and floods of water, so the plants have either burnt up if not watched carefully, or they've simply rotted away. We just moved into a place with a teeny amount of land, so the "garden" is in containers. I've spent a huge amount of time trying to rescue my plants(I've lost about 8 plants so far, due to root rot and 3 which were burnt when we took off for a week), changing out the potting soil, etc.
    Normally, we expect dry conditions and I've tried to xeriscape as much as possible.
    I would LOVE to create a Japanese garden on my tiny plot, but the fungus, aphids and whiteflies are tough to work with. I planted a bird gourd vine and it's covered in whiteflies. I've been drenching every plant with BT and micronutrients/microbiologicals once a week. I'm worried that in the fall, the less hardy plants, which have to come in will all be infected with whiteflies. Last winter, I had three mint plants inside and overnight, two healthy plants were decimated.

    Just as a lovely note; my neighborhood has many tiny yards. One of them is on a slope, and as I walked my dog down by that yard, I noticed that they had mounted a rainbarrel at the top of the slope, with flatrock construction, that creates a lovely pocket waterfall (with a recyling pump) in an area about 8 x 4 foot backyard, with a spillway that's about 4 x 6 feet. The landscaping around it is gorgeous and lush, making both the rest of the back yard and the side yard very quiet, shady, and COOL in the NC heat.

    My neighbors are also very enthusiastic gardeners; the fronts, sides, back yards and alley ways are planted imaginatively. Granted, there are some folks who haven't been able to keep up, but this neighborhood is the most cultivated area I've ever seen. Since the base "dirt" is either clay or clay and rock fill, you have to imagine how much mulch, compost and raised beds that have been carted in! I love to walk and look at everyone's landscape variations.

    Sorry we left Japanese gardens! We have to cut down several trees before we can configure any part of our tiny lot. The patio bricks are all higgle-depiggly and have to be redone, so we have lots of basic work to do before we can plan...wish us luck!
     
  12. flower99

    flower99 New Member

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    the garden design ;)
     
  13. JT1

    JT1 Rising Contributor

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    Hello,

    When you have a free moment (hour) check out this video on youtube "Dream Window: Reflections on the Japanese Garden". This video covers all the Japanese garden styles and it is very well done in my opinion. It came out in 1992, so it's possible that you may have seen it, but I thought it was worth sharing. Although a bit long, I am a documentary nerd, so I think it's time well spent.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xWcmuk2tN7M
     
  14. JT1

    JT1 Rising Contributor

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    Hello,

    In addition to the video above, I encourage you to take the time to check out this video on the Japanese Garden at Adachi Museum of Art, Yasugi; created in 1970. Voted Japan's best garden 7 years in a row, yet this original garden is only 4 decades old.

    The video provides creative insight on all of Japan's great gardens, history, and principals. Then the focus changes to the Adachi Museum of Art garden and the great Artist, Zenko Adachi (not known as garden designer) who designed this highly sought after garden, and his ability to overcome challenges and adversity to see his dream become a reality. It also offers insight into what inspired his creativity in making the garden design. While this video offers great information on Japanese Gardens, its presented with beautiful cinematography that speaks volumes and inspires inner peace and creativity.

    For those of us that don't have centuries, waiting for our gardens to mature; this video can show us how a recently constructed garden can cast the same look and maturity of the great gardens created centuries ago. But the video also offers insight into the reality and commitment, when it comes to maintenance

    I hope you can find the time to enjoy this wonderful video:

    http://www.adachi-museum.or.jp/e/interview.html




    For more information on the garden, visit http://www.adachi-museum.or.jp/e/garden.html
     
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2014
  15. bub72ck

    bub72ck Active Member

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    I am looking to Japanese Gardens for ideas and inspirations but not necessarily to create a "Japanese Garden". I have made the decision to incorporate plants, trees, shrubs, flowers in my landscape that are only native to Asia and specifically Japan. They all seem to "work" better since they come from the same part of the world. Also, my yard is quite rocky underneath which has given me two great advantages. The soil drains very well which is a necessity for many Japanese plants and trees and I have some natural rock showing through the ground in a few places which is fantastic. The only problem I have encountered so far is my yard is very shady which I like, but creates a problem in growing many of the conifers that I wish I could have. JT1 has provided some great resources and I have been able to find a few conifers that will live in my yard in mostly shady conditions.

    i have ordered a couple of books on Japanese gardens to hopefully gain some additional knowledge on the "why" as much as the "how". My yard and homescape has a very peaceful feel to it already and it is great to sit outside and look at the landscape. I do have a great back yard area that could make for a great true Japanese Garden if I ever wanted to undertake such a project but that is many years and dollars down the road. :)
     
  16. janetdoyle

    janetdoyle Active Member

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    Exactly, it was my motivation too.

    I live in a townhouse condominium complex in the Greater Victoria area of British Columbia in Canada [I see you are from Virginia] and actually, here, there is a strong Japanese or Chinese theme to many home gardens, especially those in rocky high situations depending on conifers that can be groomed and pruned to the classic shapes. but not able to grow much else.

    We aren't in this situation, not being on a height, but nevertheless the intensity of tree cover, especially conifers, in this municipality leads many to the "Japanese" style -- plus a plague of deer in the municipality which discourages "English"-style gardening with flower beds, which get quickly eaten. It is also a way to live with the potentially out-of-control mature native conifers which our Saanich municipality puts under strict control regarding pruning or removal, largely, making it difficult to thin the tree-cover via protective bylaws -- so we can't grow sun-loving plants in some districts anyway owing to the shade of the protected conifers... My townhouse garden is a bit of a mish-mash of pruned "Japanese-style" evergreen shrubs under background tree cover of very tall cedars and fir, and some more rampant effects, such as from a Kanzan cherry in the enter of it, which I can't personally prune but would have to hire a tree pruner or depend on the infrequent efforts of the condominium landscaping schedule.

    I feel too that the "Japanese" style, with its controlling features for artistic outlines, plus its respect for shady glades, moss, and interest in creating a vista with some perspective, combining different levels of shrubbery and contrasts in color, but with a degree of care and trimming, to be a peaceful scene. More naturalistic than the standard open lawn surrounded by flower beds, yet not wild and untended.
     

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