Japanese Garden Design
A Japanese Garden is full of mystery, nature and serenity. Just as landscape gardens of the West followed historic points of reference such as Classical Garden Design, Traditional Garden Design, English Garden Design on up threw Modern Garden Design, the Japanese garden tradition has a history that followed the trends and lifestyles of their location and times. It would be very pretentious to copy directly a Japanese Garden for Houston, although there was actually a style of Japanese Garden Design that did just that. We will highlight how you could build and apply the Japanese or Zen Garden style to your own home in Houston Texas.
Japanese Garden History
- Asuka period (538-710)-gardens were an expression of Buddhism and Taoism. Small gardens were reflections of spiritual themes or miniaturizations of the large mountainous regions of China and Japan.
- Heian period (794-1185)-the garden shifted from representing religious beliefs to becoming a place for ceremony, entertainment and passive contemplation. These became gardens for the wealthy of the time.
- Kamakura and Muromachi periods (1185-1573) this was the period of shogun rulers who enjoyed gardens for their beauty and revitalization. Zen beliefs were also flourishing at this time and had great influences over garden techniques and purposes. The dry landscape style from Zen Buddhism became popular.
- Edo period (1603-1868) continued the style and preferences of shogun rulers and the Japanese tea ceremony became a vital part of the Japanese lifestyle reflected in the construction of tea houses built especially for this occasion.
- Meiji period followed Japanese modernization. Many famous and traditional gardens from the past were renovated or reconstructed by wealthy business owners and politicians of the time.
Japanese Garden Features
Deep philosophical and spiritual interpretations and nuances were intertwined with Japanese Garden design but we can view overall meanings and structures to understand, interpret and bring Japanese Garden design into the modern day context for our own beauty, enjoyment and renewal. Japanese gardens create themes and are extensions of the architecture of the home. They are designed with very specific view points so that subconsciously universal, spiritual, or passive themes could be experienced. Common themes from the garden include:
- Water-either as fountains, streams, ponds, lakes or interpretations in stone
- Rocks-used as representations placed upright to suggest mountains, character or spiritual themes and add a grounding element
- A lantern-typically of stone.
- A teahouse-or pavilion for renewal
- An enclosure such as a hedge, fence, or wall reflecting elements of the homes architecture or simply wood, bamboo, or other matting.
- A bridge to an island either with stepping stones or a wood bridge
Japanese Garden Design and Materials
The first decision to be made in designing a Japanese Garden is to decide what “themes” will run throughout the garden. There may be combinations of paths that create a journey through a winding path were there are seating areas for quite contemplation, meditation or entertainment. Artistic focal points of rock may be used to enlighten and excite the spirit of the observer. Paths, bridges, and walkways create diverse experiences. As an overall design intention, remember you are miniaturizing the cosmos in a naturalistic way.
Stone-use to represent water such as a dry creek beds, ponds or a beach entry. Here various round river rocks could be used from plain brown rock special to Mexican beach pebble black or white specialty rocks. Boulders can be used in upright positions to represent mountains or be submerged to create more natural stone ledges or flat plateaus. Be careful with being to literal-stones and boulders still need to be positioned in a natural way so when viewed the composition looks natural.
Structures-such as an entertainment pavilion for private or public use. This could be a deck or platform made of wood, metal or stone. Ordinary outdoor furniture for entertainment or a meditative experience could be achieved using low benches or stone benches and simple outdoor sculptures or stones for viewing. Although borrowing from the tea ceremony experience this could be a place to enjoy wine and foods while creating a contemplative or renewing experience for the eye.
Fences-Rather than a typical fence of cedar pickets, wood, or brick and wood which simply serve to provide security a fence could vary in materials, detailing and heights. For example, pickets could be installed as panels between posts with a detail strip and cap pieces could be pyramidal or circular reflecting garden scenes. A solid brick fence could create interest and repetition by adding equally spaced metal lattice panels.
Plants-In the Japanese garden, plants are used not only for recreating nature, echoing larger themes or nature but can also serve as focal points. Focal point plants that work well in the Houston climate include:
- Japanese Maple (and their various varieties)-do best in shade to protect their leaves
- Bamboo-provide focal points and beautiful screens
- Groundcovers-Monkey grass, Dwarf Monkey grass, Creeping Jennyire landscape since it will increase the ease of the required regular watering.