To see a Japanese garden is to remember it forever. There uniqueness and precision are unforgettable and leave a lasting impression on the memory.
In Japan there are many types of garden construction and their origins stretch back over hundreds and thousands of years and they have gradually developed styles of their own over time. I am going to concentrate in this article on the most common types of Japanese gardens. The design and construction are based on strict rules and principles and perhaps one of the more important requirements is for the garden to face southwards.
There are in principle two types of garden which we can split into divisions called ‘flat’ (Hiraniwa) and ‘hill’ (Tsukiyama-niwa) gardens and these can then be split into 3 categories “Finished”, “Intermediary” and “Rough”. Hill gardens of the finished variety will use the biggest available space often located in front of a building known as the principal building. Their ingredients are hills, stones, trees, bridges and islands that are all carefully arranged.
Hills are used to represent mountains and often have substantial sweeping sides, one hill will always be bigger than any others which will be lower in the garden than the principle hill. If constructed carefully and correctly the hills will give the impression of being distant peaks within the garden itself.
Flat gardens are exactly what their name suggests and can take various forms, there are easier to view as they are essentially on one level. These types of Japanese gardens will carefully use stones in the construction, some flat and some vertical. They often feature pottery and lanterns.
An intermediary garden is a semi-elaborate one with definite spaces between principal stones and trees and any ‘mountains’ will catch the eye as either distant to view or sometimes closer ones are called ‘near mountains’.
A hill garden in a ‘rough’ style will only concentrate on the principal points of interest to the viewer although mountains or small mounds will always be used to give the appearance of distant and near hills. Once again stones are positioned in a very precise manner, water is also a common feature and even bridges that are sometimes made of logs to cross a stream for example. Everything in a Japanese garden is about the perfect imitation of nature and this explains the creation of mountains, water sources and the placement of stones.
Both flat and hill gardens have three styles of finished, intermediary and rough and both main styles are equally important.
A flat garden finished style uses stones, trees, stone lanterns, screening fences, a well and water basins. The stones that can be used include ‘Worshipping stone’, ‘Island stone’, ‘Moon shadow stone’ and ‘Perfect view stone’ and the essential trees have names like ‘Principal tree’, ‘tree of solitude’ etc.
An Intermediary style flat garden is quite similar to the finished style and is very ordered because all the ingredients have a meaning using stones for style and religious meaning. A flat garden rough style is nowhere near as precise as the previous two examples and would typically have a garden floor of fine earth, a well, a lantern, trees and stones and maybe a few stepping stones on any spacious bit of ground. The central stone would be called the ‘Guardian stone’ and opposite of the previous two styles. Rocks and stones used in this form of Japanese garden would be rougher and not hewn and only low plants and vegetation are used.
Water plants can also be used and even a circling bamboo fence surround would be common. Every Japanese garden must have a stone lantern but when they are introduced strict principles of harmony, size and form must be observed otherwise it is detrimental to the effect of the garden itself. They are generally placed on islands, at the foot of hills, on lake banks or by wells and water basins.
This article is a pretty simplistic explanation of Japanese gardens as it is a complex and fascinating subject that once grasped all falls into place whether you are a viewer or a potential designer.