The Basics of Japanese Gardening

Things to keep in mind for a beautiful garden

Main principles on the garden’s design

Bring the Japanese feeling into your garden with these basic steps. First of all, embrace the ideal of nature. That means, keep things in your garden as natural as possible, avoiding to include things that could disrupt this natural appearance.

For example, don’t include square ponds in your design as square ponds are nowhere to be found in nature. Also, a waterfall would be something closer to what exists in nature if we compare it to a fountain. So you also have to consider the Japanese concept of sumi or balance. Because one of Japanese gardening design main purposes is to recreate large landscapes even in the smallest place. Be careful when choosing the elements for your garden, because you don’t want to end up filling your ten by ten courtyard with huge rocks.

As a miniaturized landscape, the rocks in the garden would represent mountains and the ponds would represent lakes. A space filled with sand would represent an ocean. By that we assume that garden masters were looking to achieve a minimalistic approach, best represented by the phrase “less is more”.

The elements of time and space

One of the things westerners notice at first are the many portions of empty space in the garden. In fact, these spaces are an important feature in Japanese gardening. This space called ma, relates to the elements around it and that also surround it. The concepts of in and yo are of vital importance here, they are best known to the Western civilization by the Chinese names yin and yang. If you want to have something you have to start with having nothing. This is an idea quite difficult to understand, but it is a rule of thumb in Japanese gardening.

An important clue in the development of a garden is the concept of wabi and sabi. There’s no literal English translation for those words. Wabi is about uniqueness, or the essence of something; a close literal translation is solitary. Sabi deals with the definition of time or the ideal image of something; the closest definition might be time strengthened character. Given the case, a cement lantern that might appear unique, would lack of that ideal image. Or an old rock covered in lichens would have no wabi if it’s just a round boulder. That’s why it is important to find that balance.

Ma and wabi/sabi are connected to the concepts of space and time. When it comes to seasons, the garden must show the special character of each one. Japanese garden lovers dedicate time to their gardens every season, unlike the western gardener who deserts in fall just to be seen again in spring.

A very relaxing view in spring is given by the bright green of new buds and the blossoms of the azaleas. In summer, the lush foliage in combination with the pond offer a powerful and fresh image. The vivid spectacle of the brilliant colors of dying leaves in fall are a prelude for the arrival of winter and its white shroud of snow.

The two most important gardening seasons in Japan are spring and winter. Japanese refer to the snow accumulated on braches as Sekku or snow blossoms. Yukimi, or the snow viewing lantern, is another typical element of the Japanese garden in winter. The sleep of the garden in winter is an important episode for our Japanese gardener, while for the western gardener spring is the beginning of the work at the garden. Maybe because of the eastern point of view as death like part of the life cycle, or perhaps the western fear to death.

About garden enclosures
Let’s see the garden as a microcosm of nature. If we’re looking for the garden to be a true retreat, we have to ‘set it apart’ from the outside world. Because of that, fences and gates are important components of the Japanese garden.

The fence and the gates have both symbolism and functionality. The worries and concerns of our daily life have to stay out of this separate world that becomes the garden. The fence protects us from the outside world and the gate is the threshold where we leave our daily worries and then prepare ourselves to confront the real world again.

The use of fences is based in the concept of hide/reveal or Miegakure. Fence styles are very simple and are put in combination with screen planting, thus not giving many clues of what hides inside. You can give a sample look of your garden by cutting a small window in the solid wall that encloses your garden if that’s the case. Sode-gaki, or sleeve fences, are fences attached to an architectural structure, that will only show a specific view of the garden from inside the house. Thus, we’re invited to get into the garden and enjoy it in its entirety. That’s what makes the true understanding of the garden, to lose in it our sense of time and self.

Basic Arrangements
Despite the fact that certain rules are applied to each individual garden, don’t think that there’s just one type of garden. There are three basic styles that differ by setting and purpose.

Hill and Pond Garden (Chisen-Kaiyu-skiki)
A China imported classic style. A pond or a space filled with raked gravel fronts a hill (or hills). This style always represents mountainous places and commonly makes use of vegetation indigenous to the mountains. Stroll gardens commonly use this style.

Flat Garden (Hiraniwa)
It derives from the use of open, flat spaces in front of temples and palaces for ceremonies. This is an appropriate style for contemplation and that represents a seashore area (with the use of the right plants). This is a style frequently used in courtyards.

Tea Gardens (Rojiniwa)
Function has a greater importance than form in this type of garden. The Roji or dewy path, is the main point of the garden, along with the pond and the gates. This would be the exception to the rule. The simple and sparse plantings give a rustic feeling to the garden.

Formality has to be taken in consideration
Hill and pond and flat styles may be shin (formal), gyo (intermediate) or so (informal). Formal styles were to be found usually at temples or palaces, intermediate styles were suitable for most residences, and the informal style was used in peasant huts and mountain retreats. The tea garden is the one that always fits in the informal style.

The garden components

Rocks (ishi in Japanese) are the main concern of the Japanese garden. If the stones are placed correctly, then the garden shows in a perfect balance. So here are shown the basic stone types and the rules for their positions.

The basic stones are the tall upright stone, the low upright stone, the curved stone, the reclining stone, and the horizontal stone. These must be usually set in triads although this doesn’t happen always. Two almost identical stones (by way of example, two tall verticals or two reclining stones), one a little quite smaller than the other, can be set together as male and female, but the use of them in threes, fives, and sevens is more frequent.

We have to keep away from the Three Bad Stones. These are the Diseased stone (having a withered or misshapen top), the Dead stone (an obviously vertical one used as a horizontal, or vice versa, like the placement of a dead body), and the Pauper Stone (a stone having no connection to the several other ones in the garden). Use only one stone of each of the basic types in any cluster (the rest have to be smaller, modest stones also known as throwaway stones). Stones can be placed as sculptures, set against a background in a two-dimensional way, or given a purpose, such as a stepping stone or a bridge.

When used as stepping stones they should be between one and three inches above the soil, yet solid underfoot, as if rooted into the ground. They can be put in straight lines, offset for left foot, right foot (referred as chidori or plover, after the tracks the shore bird leaves), or set in sets of twos, threes, fours, or fives (and any combination thereof).

The pathway stands for the passage through life, and even particular stones by the path may have meaning. A much wider stone placed across the path tells us to put two feet here, stopping to enjoy the view. There are numerous stones for specific places. When observing the basic design principles, we can notice the exact character of the Japanese garden.

Water (mizu in Japanese) plays an important part in the composition of the Japanese garden because of Japan’s abundant rainfall. Water can be represented even with a raked gravel area instead of water. A rushing stream can be represented by placing flat river stones closely together. In the tea garden, where there isn’t any stream or pond, water plays the most important role in the ritual cleansing at the chozubachi, or water basin. As the water fills and empties from the shishi-odoki, or deer scare, the clack of bamboo on rock helps mark the passage of time.

The flow of water, the way it sounds and looks, brings to mind the continual passage of time. A bridge crossing the water stream is often used as a landscaping complement. Bridges denote a journey, just as pathways do. Hashi, in japanese, can mean bridge or edge. Bridges are the symbolic pass from one world into another, a constant theme in Japanese art.

Plants or Shokobutsu may play a secondary role to the stones in the garden, but they are a primary concern in the design too. Stones represent what remains unchanged, so trees, shrubs, and perennials have to represent the passing of seasons. Earlier garden styles used plants to make up poetic connotations or to correct geomantic issues, but these have little meaning today.

As the the Heian style diminished under the Zen influence, perennials and grasses fell out of use. So, for a long time, there were only a few plants that tradition allowed for the garden. However, in modern Japan, designers are again widening the spectrum of materials used. It is highly recommended that native plants are chosen for the garden, because showy exotic plants are not in good taste. Be aware that native plants are used in the garden, because it is in bad taste to use showy exotic plants. Although pines, cherries and bamboo immediately remind us of Japanese gardens, we encourage you to use native plants of your locality that you can find pleasing. If we choose evergreens as the main plant theme and combine it with deciduous material that may provide seasonal blooms or foliage color we can recreate the look of the Japanese garden.

Now the next thing taken in consideration in a Japanese garden are the ornaments or Tenkebutsu. Stone lanterns are, for westerners, a typical impression of Japanese gardens.Stone lanterns are not important components of the Japanese garden. The reason is that ornaments are subjected to the garden’s design. Lanterns, stupas, and basins are just architectural complements added when a point of visual interest is necessary to the design.

A good way to finish yor garden design could be a well-placed lantern. The three main styles (although with many variations) are: The Kasuga style lantern, is a very formal one featuring a stone base. In the Oribe style lantern, unlike the Kasuga style, the pedestal is underneath the ground. The Yukimi or Snow-Viewing lantern is set on short legs instead of a pedestal. Consider the formality of your garden setting to choose the appropriate lantern.

When possible, elements from outside the garden can be included in it. For instance, you can work a far away mountain including the scenery in your design, framing it with the stones and plants existing in the garden.
The borrowed scenery (shakkei in Japanese) can be: Far (as in a far away mountain); near (a tree just outside the fence); High (an element seen above the fence) or low (like a component seen below a fence or through a window in the fence).

As much as it is perceived to contradict our sense of enclosure, it reminds us of how all things are interconnected.

The feel of your garden
The Japanese garden is a subtle place full of contradictions and imperatives. Where firmly established rules are broken with other rules. If you meet the Buddha on the road, you must kill him is a Zen paradox that recommends not to stick so tightly to rules, and the same goes for Japanese gardens.

When building a Japanese garden, don’t get too attached to traditions that hold little meaning for you. It would have no function to recreate a Buddhist saints garden. This also applies to trying to remember the meaning of stone placements, as this method is no longer used in Japan, or even in the United States, due to the lack of meaning for us in the modern world.

That’s why we have selected a few gardening suggestions that do hold relevance and integrate them into a garden. These three ideas on gardening will give direction to achieve perfect results.

First
The overall setting of the garden should always be right for the location, not the other way around.

Second
The stones should be placed first, next the trees, and then the shrubs.

Third
Get used to the concepts of shin, gyo, and so. This is of great help to s

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Comments Off

Cornwall’s Gardens

The ‘Garden Capital of the World’ is often how Cornwall is thought of throughout the world. Cornwall enjoys the power of the Gulf Stream with its temperate climate of warm summers, mild and wet winters which in turn allows exotic and rare plants to thrive.

Where else can you find so many gardens with history dating back to the Iron Age? As long ago as the early 19th century Cornish gardeners were part of the Victorian plant hunters who collected exotic plants and seeds from all around the world.

That gives us what we have today: over 60 fabulous gardens to explore with lush vegetation and sub-tropical theatres of colour brimming with exciting, rare and beautiful plants. Cornwall’s gardens are found in our magnificent Castles, Manor Houses, grand Farm Estates, Mill Houses, sheltered valleys, high up on blustery moorland and nestled in woodland and seaside gardens which meet the turquoise hues of the water’s edge.

Cornwall’s gardens are so diverse as they vary in size from small and intimate to acres of rolling countryside. Some with enchanting lakes and a Victorian boathouse to water gardens with tree ferns, rhododendrons, camellias and magnolias. Others have walled gardens and manicured lawns to the newest of all two magnificent Biomes filled with magic from around the world.

All around Britain you will be hard-pressed not to find a ‘Veitch’ plant or one derived from their nurseries. The Veitch family sent many collectors all over the world to bring back seeds and plants. These included two Cornish brothers, William and Thomas Lobb. William Lobb died in San Francisco in 1864 but his brother Thomas lived in Devoran until his death in 1894.

In the East of Cornwall Mount Edgcumbe have The Earl’s Garden with ancient and rare trees including a 400-year-old lime. The Formal Gardens are found in the lower park and were created over 200 years ago in English, French and Italian styles. Cothele tells the story of the Tamar Valley and Antony was recently used as a backdrop for the film Alice in Wonderland. Also in the East is Ince Castle which overlooks the River Lynher. The garden enjoys woodlands filled with rhododendrons, camellias and magnolias, vibrant shrubs and formal gardens. Pentillie Castle’s gardens are only open on specific days and their orchard was replanted with old Tamar Valley varieties of apple and cherry.

The South is awash with fabulous gardens which proves how sheltered this coast is in Cornwall and many are overflowing with collections of Cornish rhododendrons, camellias and magnolias. We can start with Hidden Valley Gardens, Near Par. These gardens won the Cornwall Tourism Silver award 2010 for small visitor attraction. Tregrehan is a large woodland garden and is home to the Carlyon family since 1565. The Pinetum Park and Pine Lodge Gardens, Near St. Austell is a 30-acre paradise with over 6000 labelled plants. Ray and Shirley Clemo travelled the world collecting seeds and plants for this garden and a pair of black swans have made it their home.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan at Pentewan have been voted Britain’s finest garden and has scooped the title in the Countryfile Magazine Awards 2011. Celebrating 21years since Heligan’s Lost Gardens were discovered, this beauty provides 200 acres to explore. Discover the Northern Garden, the Jungle, the Wider Estate and the Horsemoor Hide and Wildlife Project.

Next on our list would be Caerhays Castle Gardens which is situated in a valley above Porthluney Cove. A horticultural treasure covering 100 acres of woodland gardens and holder of the National Magnolia Collection. Lamorran at St. Mawes is a Mediterranean-style garden with sea views over Falmouth Bay. History says that it is the most Northerly Palm Garden in the world. From Lamorran you can see the lighthouse at St. Anthony’s Head. St. Just in Roseland has a 13th century church and is set in a sheltered sub-tropical riverside garden filled with magnolias, azaleas, bamboos and giant gunnera. Trelissick Garden at Feock was planted 200 years ago and has views down the Falmouth estuary. It has year-round plant colour, an orchard, woodland walks and an art and crafts gallery. In the autumn 300 varieties of apples will be on display in the Georgian stables. Enys Gardens at Penryn is one of Cornwall’s oldest gardens dating back to 1709. Penjerrick at Budock Water is unspoilt with historic and botanic interest; relax among tree ferns and hidden paths.

Moving on down the coast to Mawnan Smith is Trebah and Carwinion, these are gardens with great historic interest. Trebah is on the North bank of the Helford River and in this garden you can wander among giant tree ferns and palms. Carwinion has a renowned collection of bamboo and has 14 acres of tranquil gardens. Glendurgan lies in a sub-tropical valley running down to the Helford River. Have fun in the 180 year-old cherry laurel maze and wander through the garden and down to the hamlet of Durgan. Potager is a new organic garden and is close to Constantine, five miles from Falmouth.

Down the coast further to Cornwall’s Lizard Peninsula, Bonython Estate Gardens has an 18th century Walled Garden, a potager garden, an orchard of Cornish variety apple trees and woodlands. Bosahan at Manaccan is again close to the Helford River enjoying the Cornish microclimate and described as “the most Cornish of all Cornish gardens” in The Gardener magazine in 1909! Trevarno Gardens are the ‘Jewel in the Crown’ of their estate with a magnificent 70 acres. Several interesting features include a Serptentine Yew Tunnel and the production of organic skincare products and soaps. Carleen Subtropical Gardens are open by appointment only and are home to collections from South America, Mexico, Central and South Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Southern USA and the Mediterranean. The Hardy Exotics Garden Nursery at Whitecross, Near Penzance can create “Barbados in Birmingham” – “Mauritius in Manchester” and “Hawaii in Hertford”.

Now we come to the beautiful St. Michaels Mount, walk across the causeway at low tide or travel by boat at other times. These gardens are steep but thrive in the shelter of the granite cliffs and you will find exotics from Mexico, Canary Islands and South Africa. Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens is a wonderful valley setting with St. Michaels Mount in the background. The National Trust owns Trengwainton and this historic garden is home to banana plants and enormous echiums. Finally in this part of Cornwall is Penberth which has 5 acres and is a natural valley garden incorporating sea views.

Now we move on to North Cornwall which is a more rugged coast fronting the Atlantic. Our first port of call is the Japanese Garden and Bonsai Nursery in the beautiful Lanherne Valley at St. Mawgan. Just 1.5 acres but includes Water Gardens, Stroll Garden and a Zen Garden inspired by the East. Moving on up the Coast to Padstow we find Prideaux Place that has 40 acres of landscaped grounds and a deer park overlooking the Padstow estuary and the River Camel. Last but not least on this coast is Longcross Victorian Garden at Trelights, Port Isaac. This is 4 acres and gives a fine example of coastal gardening and hedging with views towards Port Isaac and Port Quin.

Cornwall has some more fine gardens that are a bit more inland than the others we have mentioned before but when you are in Cornwall you are never more than sixteen miles away from the coast at any time.

The 4 acres at Ken-Caro, Nr. Liskeard is another garden with a woodland walk, magnolias and rhododendrons, small but beautiful and set high above Bicton Manor Woods. Another one in the same area is Moyclare established in 1927 in 1 acre and arranged around the house. The broom “Moyclare Pink” and the astrantia “Moira Reid” originated in this garden. Pencarrow is a garden of 50 acres and this is where the Monkey Puzzle tree got its name. In this garden you can even walk on the grass! If you like one of the plants you will probably be able to buy a cutting from it. At Pinsla Garden, Cardinham there is something for everyone, an idyllic haven, and a hideaway full of secret paths with hazel arch and fantasy garden created by garden artists.

Moving on once again to the National Trust owned Lanhydrock, a garden for walkers and a historical garden that has a woodland of 1000 acres. Boconnoc at Lostwithiel bas a beautiful spring garden and has camellias and azaleas from the 1850 original planting. These gardens are only open for the Spring Flower Show and Sunday afternoons during May. Trewithin close to Grampound means ‘house of the trees’ and has 30 acres of woodland gardens and more than 200 acres of surrounding parkland. The horticulturalist George Johnstone, who inherited the house in 1904, cultivated many of the seeds that came from abroad thus ensuring the reputation that Trewithin has today. Trewithin is an unforgettable garden gem.

Next is the Eden Project close to St. Austell which is the newest of all our Cornish gardens. Created from a disused china clay pit in the year 2000 and the site opened on 17th March 2001. Two Biomes, one Tropical and the other Mediterranean are both constructed from a tubular steel space-frame clad in thermoplastic ETFE. At Eden you can travel around the world in a day!

At Bosvigo on the outskirts of Truro an awkward wing of the house was demolished and using stone from the house the walled garden was created. This left a 100-year-old Victorian Conservatory standing. All the plants that are for sale in this nursery are growing in the Gardens. Burncoose at Gwennap is a 30 acre woodland garden and has achieved gold medal displays at Chelsea and Hampton Court flower shows. The Nursery stocks a wide range of shrubs and herbaceous plants. Back up the coast we find Trerice, three miles from Newquay, which is a 6 acre garden but there is still space to find seclusion at any time of the year. The National Trust has owned this garden since 1953.

Finally, we cross the water and arrive on the beautiful Isles of Scilly and then head for the Abbey Gardens on Tresco. This amazing sub-tropical garden is home to species of plants and trees from 80 countries ranging from Brazil to New Zealand and Burma to South Africa. The building of tall windbreaks ensures any inclement weather is forced up and over the walled enclosure. The terraces at the top are hotter and drier than the ones below which give more humidity. In 1990 hurricane force winds created dreadful damage to the shelter belts and the loss of many plants but the shelter belts and garden are now restored and looking ‘better than ever’. This is one that you should not miss.

Many Cornish gardens belong to the National Gardens Scheme who publishes The Yellow Book each year which is a guide or ‘bible’ to garden visiting. Most of these gardens are privately owned and only open on specific days.

Lots of our gardens have tremendous interest in the Autumn such as Ellis Gardens at Polyphant, Wave Cottage at Lerryn, Half Acre at Boscastle, Primrose Farm at Skinners Bottom and Kennall House at Ponsanooth. The Homestead close to Helston is 7.5 acres and has a Wildflower Wood with over 1000 trees and a further 800 trees for a shelter and wildlife habitat.

There are of course many more gardens in Cornwall, many of them small but beautiful and a lot of our gardens are Dog Friendly. So don’t leave part of the family at home, bring them along as well. It would be wise to check first with the garden you are intending to visit just to make sure that it is ‘dog friendly’. Some of our Cornish gardens are more accessible than others so again if part of your group is less agile check with the garden to make sure you will enjoy your visit.

For more information on our Cornish Gardens most of them have their own website which will give you opening days and times, how to get there, what facilities are available and ticket costs.

I was born into the Cornish farming world, my Dad was a farmer and his Dad before him. My early childhood was spent following my Mum around the farm doing all the chores that went with being a farmers wife. From milking our cows and collecting eggs, to making Cornish cream from the fresh milk, this was all part of my life. As was picking fruit, digging potatoes and cutting broccoli. At harvest time I would accompany Mum up to the thrashing machine to give the men their lunch and crib, which is what a mid morning snack is called in Cornwall!
At the age of 18 I married Chris a local Garage owner whom I am still married to today. During our married life I have been involved in a Sea Rescue Club and showing our German Shepherd Dogs at dog shows all over the country. As well as running our own Petrol Filling Station and Village Shop we also opened the Asalt & Battery, a fast food fish and chip takeaway where I spent many a “Happy” time preparing and frying fish and chips.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Comments Off