Other cultures and garden styles have been attracting the British garden-maker since the 17th century with versions of Turkish, Chinese, Indian, Italian and Greek being hot favourites. One style which has really lasted in our imagination is the Japanese garden. There are five basic styles to choose from but I suppose the best known are the rock/dry garden and the tea garden. Dry (or Zen) gardens are great for awkward spots like a side passage or internal well and tea gardens work in shaded plots with overgrown trees. Try not to cannibalise elements like a red-painted bridge, a few large boulders with a pond to make your Japanese fantasy. These gardens are imbued with meaning and it’s worth taking the time to understand the principles behind them and then to work in a similar spirit.
Zen garden of the Ryoanji Temple in Kyoto
Zen rock gardens, or karesansui (translated as “dry-mountain-water”), originated in medieval Japan and are renowned for their simplicity and serenity, with their abstract form designed to aid deep contemplation on the nature of the universe. The most famous of these can be found in Kyoto at the 15th-century Ryoan-ji, the Temple of the Peaceful Dragon. Measuring 98 by 32 feet, the Ryoan-ji garden is about the size of a tennis court and is composed solely of 15 large and small rocks, some encircled by moss, grouped in five clusters on a bed of carefully raked white sand. From a distance, the rocks resemble islands, the sand a tranquil sea. Getting the composition of these elements is ferociously difficult and Japanese people are often a bit puzzled by our interpretation, nevertheless, I think it is fair enough to use the genre to express our own cultural norms, as long as we have taken the trouble to think our take on it through.
Modern interpretation of a classic rock/Zen garden
A Japanese tea garden (cha-niwa or roji) is a place for quiet reflection on the beauty of nature and the art of living in harmony with one another and with all things.
Tea Garden Kotoin Temple Kyoto
They are rustic gardens set in woodland with a pathway leading us on a carefully choreographed journey to the teahouse. Lanterns punctuate the way and stepping stones are placed in such a way as to make us slow down and stop at certain points on the way to think about where we are. The gardens are designed to present a peaceful, natural space that serves as an interval—both in space and time—a place to detach oneself from the hectic everyday world before entering the teahouse and the tranquil world of chanoyu (tea ceremony). This spiritual and aesthetic practice focuses on achieving a heightened awareness of the beauty of the present moment through the simple act of sharing a bowl of tea with friends in a tranquil setting. That might sound a bit highfalutin but it’s sort of what we do when we come home from work and sit at the bottom of the garden with a glass of wine.
There is always a place for the ritualistic washing of hands in a tea garden.
The famous Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco
For a clear and concise guide to the main types of Japanese Garden see: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2099_types.html