A few thoughts from reflecting upon
inquiries that were received last year …
My meishi – (business card) …
When thinking of a Japanese Garden,
the image that (evidently) comes to the minds
of “Western” people generally, is of a red footbridge
surmounting a stream, next to a stone statue
of some description. That is a tragedy …
an ishidorou may supplement a garden –
but if that is the predominant feature
in a visitor’s memory,
then something is woefully wrong.
つぼにわ (tsuboniwa) … The Small Garden
The key principle to appreciating the intricacy
of Japanese gardens, is to recognise
that the Japanese Garden represents a section
of the natural world, depicted on a smaller scale.
Much of this is accomplished by using perspective
within a relatively small space:
placing several larger rocks in the front of a planting bed
with smaller rocks being positioned to the rear conveys
– to the artistically minded, the impression of distance
as it would be seen in a grand landscape.
Another illusion, is to create a sense of depth
by ‘hiding’ an object, path, plant, or sculpture
behind, perhaps, a shrub or hedge …
which piques the curiosity of the viewer,
and makes them want to venture forward
and around the immediate shrub or hedge,
to see what lies behind and beyond.
Items in the Japanese garden are arranged
asymmetrically. Rather than one dominant item
flanked by two others, an off-centre arrangement
creates a sense of movement (rather than static display)
which draws the attention of the garden visitor
to the entire group as a whole.
Attention to detail in the Japanese Garden
is such that it is planted and arranged
so as to be of visual interest in winter,
as well as summer.
Care is taken to ensure that rocks placed
in the garden are not just set down on the soil,
but are placed into carefully pre-dug ‘hollows’
whose bases are then filled and the soil pressed down
to give the feeling that the rock has lain in the ground
on that particular spot, for a very long time.
Again: attention to detail –
taking great care to make the artificial garden
look entirely ‘natural’.
Trees and shrubs are carefully trimmed ( niwaki )
to display the shape of the tree form itself:
it is not merely the foliage that is of interest,
but the shape of the trunk and branches
that actually form the tree.
Planting young trees, for instance, at a slight angle
will – due to geotropism – form an asymmetrical trunk
as the canted tree again begins to grow vertically,
towards the sky.
While placing odd-numbered groups of perennials
creates a pleasing appearance if done properly,
the Japanese garden offers more –
intriguing the thoughtful mind, as well as
pleasing the appreciative eye.
The Garden is a haven from a world that has discarded
every last trace of courtesy, consideration,
conscience, or moral discernment,
and whilst multitudes may have little interest
in a quiet, serene, and peaceful setting,
it is precisely this characteristic of the garden
that makes it appealing to an ever-dwindling remnant.
While the traditional Japanese garden
may not be awash with flowers,
that does not mean that yours must be likewise:
the use of perspective and meticulous attention to detail
may be equally employed into the Rose garden,
Perennial garden, or indeed, any bespoke garden.
The man who taught and inspired me:
friend, mentor, and grandpa, John Hall
at work in the Botanic Gardens, Belfast c.1960.
A kind and extremely gentle man,
I never once saw him leave the house
without his gold watch in his waistcoat pocket,
or New Testament in the inner pocket of his jacket.
He never ceased stressing the importance of
caring for soil, or showing kindness to any animal
that found its way into the garden.
Whilst I have no memories of his beginning
to teach me from the age of three,
I do remember my first “professional” garden work
at the age of 7, clearing any stones from the beds
outside the Tropical House …
for which the foreman paid me sixpence.
He taught me to compose the garden
with an artist’s eye: Foliage and Flowers –
deep shades of green from which the reds, oranges,
blues, and purples of carefully-placed flowers
stand out as though lit by a spotlight …
I think of him every time I smell the aroma
of rich, friable soil.
One aspect of inquiries that did recur last year,
is worth clarifying here:
I am a gardener: a man who makes homes for plants,
for people who genuinely admire plants,
and appreciate the various animals who are attracted to a garden.
If you consider the area around your house as a “yard”,
or want an outdoor “entertainment area”,
I am probably not the man for whom you seek.
I do Not use machines when working in gardens.
I neither own ‘technology’ in our home,
nor use it in my work. Wheelbarrow, spade, rake, and
a selection of Japanese hand-tools are the only equipment
to supplement eye, mind, hands, and feet.
I am simply a Traditional Man,
doing Traditional Work,
using Traditional Skills.
Whether forming a large garden, tea garden,
or a ‘pocket garden’ on a high-rise balcony,
This is the work that I love.