Japanese Culture articles, rants, and conversations.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Japanese Garden

by: Janeth Duque
Japanese gardens are becoming more and more popular as landscaping features. This is because Japanese gardens seem to have an inherent feeling of peace and calm attached to them. Additionally, if properly planned and maintained, they do not need to be expensive, nor do they need to be time consuming to take care of. One of the biggest misconceptions that many people have is that a Japanese garden is supposed to have exotic flowers. This is not true, as most Japanese gardens actually make more use of structures and plants to give them their distinctive look. It is a good idea to understand the principles behind Japanese gardens in order to have one that is truly authentic and one that is not hard to take care of because of high maintenance exotic flowers.

One of the first principles in planning a Japanese garden is to take into account nature. Square ponds are not natural, but round ones are. Also, using shapes that occur in nature, such as rounded edges, complements the feeling of nature and peace. Also inherent in the principles of Japanese gardens is the elements of space. Many people feel that there are “empty” portions of such gardens and the impulse is to fill them in. Leaving some attractive empty space accents the other portions of the landscape. Also understanding the concept of size is important. Do not put something large in a small space. It looks out of place and is not in balance with its surroundings. Try to create a garden space that complements the rest of the landscape, and use elements that complement each other.

Enclosures are also part of the basic design of a Japanese garden. Fences and gates create a feeling of seclusion, and also of retreat. Entrance and exit are important, not only to seal the garden away (often symbolically) from the outside, but also because it indicates moving in and moving out. Additionally, fences offer a barrier from the world, where the garden can be enjoyed fully without reference to the cares that exist outside the garden.

There is no singular design in a Japanese garden, and many people prefer to take elements and aspects of the garden and incorporate them in unique ways. Some elements of Japanese gardens include rock, water, plantings, ornaments, and borrowed scenery. Each of these has a specific purpose.

Rock is the main foundation of the garden. After properly laying out the stones, the rest of the garden practically builds itself. Stone elements include tall vertical stones, short vertical stones, horizontal stones, arched stones, and reclining stones. Stepping stones and rock pathways are also used. Placement of the rock is important, as the rocks have meanings. However, if you are more about aesthetics, you can simply place the rocks where you feel they best complement the look and feel of the garden.

Water can be literal, as in a built water feature, or simulated, as with raked gravel or sand. You can even make symbolic water by fitting river stones tightly together. The sound of actual water is calming and soothing, and it adds to the serenity of the garden. The Japanese also view water as the symbol of the passage of time.

Plantings are secondary to the role of stones in a Japanese garden. However, they are important and a main concern of the design. Placement of the plantings, as with the stones, is important to the harmony of the landscape design. You need not use bamboo trees or maples for your garden if you do not find them pleasing. Ornamental grasses, evergreens, and a variety of deciduous trees can be very attractive in your garden, and still fulfill the basic principles of the Japanese garden.

Ornaments are things that serve to enhance the garden. They should not be main focuses. They are simply accents and not to be treated as main architectural elements in the garden. Some ornaments include lanterns, basins, stupas, and even some sculpture. Borrowed scenery consists of element that can be seen from within the garden, but that are not actually located inside the confines of the garden. Different elements can be placed to accent a distant mountain or to reveal a beautiful tree on someone else’s property.

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