Japanese Gardens: A Closer Look at Eighth Century Gardening
Photo by Melody

Japanese Gardens: A Closer Look at Eighth Century Gardening

By Toni Leland (tonileland)April 21, 2008
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Japanese gardens (nihon teien) are perhaps the most recognized of the stylistic garden types, and certainly one of the oldest. Some references to this horticultural art are found in eighth century text, and more detailed discussions in modern Japanese manuscripts dating back to 1466.

Gardening picture

ImageWith minimal emphasis on flowering plants, these garden designs rely heavily on the aesthetic principles of Japanese gardening, using stone, woody materials, and water (or symbolic references to it). Whether a large, formal design at a botanical garden, or a small personal design in one's own space, this style of gardening imparts a feeling of serenity and peace with every visit.

 

Traditional gardens come in five main styles.


Karesansui, or Dry Gardens, are the most common, especially in the West; these originated from Zen temples. Using stones, fine gravel, white sand, or stone chips, the gardener designs highly stylized patterns to resemble nature. Raked sand or pebbles mimics flowing water, usually edged with "banks" of boulders. Sparse use of low-growing shrubs or moss completes the simple serene design.
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Another popular style - both here and in the Far East - is Kaiyu-shiki - Strolling Gardens which use water, stone, and plantings. Unlike the karesansui, one must walk through a strolling garden to appreciate it. In traditional Japanese culture, stones are spirits to be treated with reverence. The stones can represent mountains, are often used to construct garden bridges and walkways, and are always placed in groupings of odd numbers. In the ancient "Sakuteiki" text, stones and the placing of stones were the major concern in garden design, particularly since the poor placement of stones would lead to misfortune and illness.1 Water features will include man-made Imagestreams or ponds, but never fountains; water will appear to be part of the natural surroundings. Flowers are used sparingly within a Japanese garden; instead, evergreen trees, varieties of maple, and bamboo add the living element to the design.

Other Japanese garden styles include the Tea-Garden style - viewed from the path leading to a tea ceremony hut; Hill and Pond Garden style - composed of vertical rocks, waterfalls, bridges, ponds, and trees covering a large area; and Courtyard or Sitting Garden style - to be enjoyed from inside a porch, building, or pavillion.

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Common elements

A typical Japanese garden can include several or all of the following:

Rocks
Water, real or symbolic

Surrounding walls
Stone lant
erns or cleansing basins
Teahouse or pavillion
Bridge or stepping stones

Paths
Islands in the center of manmade or symbolic ponds
"Borrowed Scenery" (Shakkei)

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Plant materials commonly used in Japanese gardens include mostly evergreen or deciduous specimens, but some flowering plants are occasionally included. Plantings are carefully thought out for the elements they contribute to the garden design. The following is a partial list of commonly known specimens.


Flowers
Aster/Michaelmas daisy (Aster tartaricus)
Balloon Flower (Platycodon grandiflorum)
Chickweed (Stellaria media)
Chrysanthemum, white (Chrysanthemum morifolium)
Japanese Horseradish (Wasabia japonica)
Japanese Iris (Iris spp.)
Lilyturf/Mondo Grass/Monkey Grass (Ophiopogon japonicus Ker-Gawl)
Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera nymphaceae) - symbolizes Buddha and purity
Morning Glory (Pharbitis sp.)
Peony, herbaceous (Paeonia lactiflora)
Spider Lily (Lycoris radiata)

Trees
Black Pine (Pinus thungergii) - a symbol of longevity, hardiness, silence, and constancy
Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens)
Crabapple Tree (Malus sp.)
Crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica)
Flowering Cherry (Prunus spp.)
Ginkgo/Maidenhair Tree (Ginkgo biloba)
Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum) - often the main focus of the garden
Loquat Tree (Eriobotrya japonica)
Lusterleaf holly (Ilex latifolia)
Magnolia (Magnolia kobus)
Peach, Pear, Plum Trees
Sago palm (Cycas revoluta)
Tea Tree (Camellia sinensis)
Willow (Salix spp.)

Shrubs, Grasses, and Vines
Abelia (Abelia grandiflora)
Azalea (Rhododendron indicum)
Bamboo
Bougainvillea (Bougainvillea)
Clematis (Clematis armandii)
Daphne (Daphne odora)
Euonymus (Euonymus sieboldianus)
Honeysuckle (Lonicera)
Hydrangea (Hydrangea spp.)
Ivy (Hedera)
Japanese aralia (Fatsia japonica)
Japanese privet (Ligustrum japonicum)
Jasmine (Jasminum)
Pampas Grass (Miscanthus sinensis)
Passionflower (Passiflora)
Photinia (Photinia glabra)
Rhododendron (Rhododenron spp.)
Rose of Sharon/Althea (Hibiscus syriacus)
Spirea (Spiraea thunbergii)
Tree peony (Paeonia suffruticosa)
Trumpet vine (Distictis)
Wild Sumac (Rhus trichocarpa)
Wisteria (Wisteria floribunda)

Japanese Gardens of the World

No matter where you live, chances are there's a beautiful Japanese garden close enough to visit. The following are some notable gardens in North America:
Seiwa-en at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis is the largest Japanese garden in North America (14 acres)2
Portland Japanese Garden, Portland, Oregon
Kubota Garden at the Washington Park Arboretum, Seattle, Washington
Morikami Japanese Gardens, Delray Beach, Florida
Anderson Japanese Gardens, Rockford, Illinois
Japanese Garden at Fort Worth Botanic Garden, Fort Worth, Texas
San Antonio Japanese Tea Gardens, San Antonio, Texas
Chicago Botanic Garden, Glencoe, Illinois
Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden, Long Beach State
The Huntington, San Marino, California
Japanese Friendship Garden, Phoenix, Arizona

Other Countries:
Nitobe Memorial Garden, Vancouver, British Columbia
Lauriston Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland
Japanese Garden, Wroclaw, Poland
Japanese Gardens at the Irish National Stud, Kildare, Ireland
Dartington Hall, Devon, England
Harewood House, Leeds, England
Holland Park, London, England
Tatton Park, Cheshire, England
School of Oriental and African Studies, London
Bosque Municipal Fabio Barreto, Ribeirao Preto, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Parque Santos Dummont, Sae Jose dos Campos, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Cowra Japanese Garden, Cowra, New South Wales, Australia
Frankston High School, Australia
Himeji Gardens, Adelaide, Australia
Melbourne Zoo, Melbourne, Australia
Tsuki-yama-chisen Japanese Garden, Brisbane, Australia
Buenos Aires Japanese Garden, Buenos Aires, Argentina

The oldest and most famous gardens are, of course, in Japan. This list of "World Heritage sites"3 only touches the surface.
Kyoto
Ryoan-ji Garden, created in 1513
The garden of Daisen-in in Daitoku-ji, created in 1513
Jisho-ji Garden
Nijo Castle Ninomaru Garden
Rokuon-ji Garden
Tenryu-ji Garden
Sanboin in Daigo-ji
Moss Garden of Saiho-ji
(Moss Temple)
Shikina-en in Naha, Okinawa


1 "The Japanese Garden," Clifton Olds, Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine. http://learn.bowdoin.edu/japanesegardens/index.html
2 "Japanese Garden" at Wikipedia http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/japanese_garden



  About Toni Leland  
Toni LelandToni Leland has been writing for over 20 years. As a spokesman for the Ohio State University Master Gardener program, she has written a biweekly newspaper column and is the editor of the Muskingum County MG newsletter, Connections; she currently writes for GRIT, Over the Back Fence, and Country Living magazines. She has been a gardener all her life, working soil all over the world. In her day job, she scripts and produces educational DVDs about caring for Miniature Horses, writes and edits books about them, and has published five novels.

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Discussion about this article:
SubjectTopic StarterRepliesViewsLast Post
Japanese Tea Garden 1915 Exposition gloria125 0 27 Apr 22, 2008 12:09 AM
Toni's article on Japanese gardens stemmer 0 14 Apr 21, 2008 8:23 PM
Excellent! Soulja 4 37 Apr 21, 2008 7:00 PM
Saving article kwanjin 2 9 Apr 21, 2008 5:19 PM
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