> Following the Japanese path

The principle of conscious reduction in a garden

First published in Riviera Insider Magazine, January 2016

A new year begins and we develop laudable plans, good intentions and perhaps even new perspectives. That’s a good thing to do because several unpleasant events in 2015 made us feel quite uneasy and our confidence in a general safety was totally shaken.

At such times we tend to retreat from the world and seek happiness and well-being in private life. A smart and beautiful opportunity for a private retreat is the creation of a Japanese garden. Well, what makes this garden different? Japanese gardens avoid overcrowding, are well structured, offer interesting vistas, work with a reduced number of plant species and are defined by two main requirements: simplicity and balance. The principle of conscious reduction – avoiding all superfluous and emphasize the important – can be applied to a garden as well. Flowers of all colors, untrimmed bushes and trees, weeds and excessive decoration make a garden look cheap and unkempt, while clearly defined areas produce an aesthetic image.

The culture of Japanese gardens is over 1500 years old and had to undergo several stylistic changes during this long time and it hasn’t always been the silent Zen garden that we associate with “Japanese” today. Excessive floral diversity, artificial villages and versifying in the garden are only some examples.

Today, combining different styles is completely normal. A Japanese promenade garden usually offers some beautiful ponds, these include small islands, which are accessible by bridges, which, incidentally, do not have to be red, but also look good in sage green, creamy white or dark blue. On one of these ponds a beautiful maple could grow (eg Acer palmatum ‘Beni Komachi’), planted on a small hill (first for aesthetic, second for drainage reasons). In the autumn it’s scarlet leaves fall in the water, examined by cheeky kois. Like this peaceful image? Enough space given, a garden house should be built, which can also be a tea house, studio or writing hut. Garden houses are downright predestined to generate creativity and to give privacy while bringing ideas to paper or canvas. Famous garden house fans are i.a. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, George Bernard Shaw, Paul Klee, Prince Charles and Snoop Dogg. So you see, you would find yourself in interesting company, opting for more than a “shed” in your garden.

We now leave the garden house that can be protected from prying eyes with a bamboo plantation (please do not forget profound rhizome barriers) and regard the garden from a different angle: Gently sculpted hills, bright curving sandy trails, knobby, perfectly in scene set garden bonsais like Japanese white pine (‘Pinus parviflora’) and golden larch (‘Pseudolarix amabili’) dominate the picture, beautiful bushes as ilex crenata, rhodendron and azaleas round it off. Camellia should not be missed, some varieties are frost hardy up to -12 °. Avoid too many colours, a combination of orange rhododendron and pink camellias fails to please the eye. What else?

Well-placed, very large stones, a water feature from bamboo and a stone lantern belong to a Japanese garden. Such a garden is inviting, comforting and inspiring at the same time. Maybe that’s a prospect for the new year?

Sabine Sophy, Green Parrot Gardens