Noel Kingsbury on the Japanese garden

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the narrow space

Noel Kingsbury the famous English author is doing a multi-part posting on his blog about Japanese Gardens.

I’ve decided to link to this because Mr. Kingsbury doesn’t do the usual and fawn all over every little aspect and detail of the Japanese Garden and, and YEAH!!! he acknowledges the real difference between Japanese and Chinese gardens.

*Below looks to be a group of tourist studying the garden at Ryoanji Temple, in Kyoto-the link is to the Kyoto Travel guide with info on Ryoanji, Kyoto, maps, and info on the garden and how to get there. Here’s a little info from the page —

Along with its origins, the meaning of the garden is unclear. Some believe that the garden represents the common theme of a tiger carrying cubs across a pond or of islands in a sea, while others claim that the garden represents an abstract concept like infinity. Because the garden’s meaning has not been made explicit, it is up to each viewer to find the meaning for him/herself. To make this easier, a visit in the early morning is recommended when crowds are usually smaller than later during the day.

Ryoanji’s garden is viewed from the Hojo, the head priest’s former residence. Besides the stone garden, the Hojo features some paintings on the sliding doors (fusuma) of its tatami rooms, and a couple of smaller gardens on the rear side of the building. In one of the gardens there is a round stone trough that cleverly incorporates its square water basin into a Zen inscription, which students of kanji may be able to appreciate. The Hojo is connected to the Kuri, the former temple kitchen, which now serves as the temple’s main entrance.


The other reason was his discussion on “context” and how important it is to the Japanese Garden. Along with the discussion of design in small and very small spaces, great stuff.

Context is all important. Japan often feels a claustrophobic country, its population squeezed into a narrow coastal plain between the mountains (thickly forested) and the sea. Rice paddies jostle factories and apartment blocks. Most people can only garden in tiny backyards, on balconies or at the front of their houses. One of the joys of walking around residential districts is seeing how gardeners create incredible assemblages of pots and other containers in front of their houses: bonsai, shrubs, perennials, annuals, barrels of water with waterlilies. When you have as strip only half a metre wide, the only way to go is up, so plants get stacked onto shelves and climbers reach up to the second storey. Landscape designers do similar tricks – with three-layered shrub plantings against walls which can stretch for long distances along walkways, but fit into the narrowest of strips. Courtyard gardens are created in the tiniest of spaces, wherever a shaft of sunlight reaches the ground. This use of minimal space is the real miracle of Japanese gardens.

Daitokuji temple complex

He specifically called out the above garden, with the following description.

The only other garden that made a similar impact on me was one of the sand gardens in the Daitokuji temple complex. A not dissimilar size to Ryoanji it was simple and stark, with a healthy aura of moss around a group of two stones and neat little tuft of , ferns and sedges around some others. Interesting that it dates to the 1980s when a venerable tree finally fell down, and something had to replace it. Elsewhere at Daitokuji there is an extensive tea garden which had good ground cover planting, and a balance between the clipped elements and naturally-free growing plants. It felt lush, quite naturalistic, calm and cool, the most relaxed planting we had seen.

the Japanese Garden

The post ends quite abruptly with a series of nice images, including the one above. There is no mention when part two is coming or how many parts to the series there are, so stay tuned to Noel’s blog.

While you’re there look around at some other postings and info. After all this is one of the best garden writers going. I know I am looking forward to his further discussion on Japanese Gardens.

via Noel’s Garden Blog: A hard look at the Japanese garden – Part One.

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