The Japanese garden originates from the past, with two main traditional elements: the prehistoric Japanese garden that imitated pebble beaches and forest walking paths, comprised of gravel, ferns, mosses, etc., elements linked with the “spirits”, and also Chinese and Korean tradition, that affected Japanese garden design, using ponds, running water, and waterfalls, compositions with stones and rocks, and a variety of vegetation. Stones and rocks play a major role in Japanese culture. They are worshipped as the goddess Kami, along with Buddhism…!!
In the past, a house in Japan would not be considered complete had it not been surrounded by a garden. The love of the Japanese people for gardens is so strong that even a narrow path, used as a crossing, or a small piece of soil in front of an entrance, would be embellished with plants, sculptures, small rock gardens, pebbles and chippings. This love is also expressed with miniature gardens inside their houses or workplaces, and in large flowerpots. This also led to the cultivation of bonsai trees, which are capable of surviving for generations.
From the 17th century and afterwards, when the capital was transferred from Kyoto to Tokyo, Japanese garden design started designing on larger areas and more luxury gardens, always aiming to imitate natural landscapes, using water and additional materials, such as stones, rocks, pebbles, chippings, and even more plants, not just as a “collection” of plants, but as an effort to compose natural ecosystems. In general, Japanese gardens can be placed into two large categories: composite “natural” gardens with artificial hills, ponds, bridges, and dense vegetation… and level “lean” gardens, where the soil reminds of a “valley” or a “clearing” with rocky outbreaks as points of reference (solitary rocks or sole rock gardens), as well as with open formations comprised of gravel or chippings, usually imitating river banks or sea wave ripples…..
The things we need to design and construct a Japanese garden are not something very difficult, while not being easy also, considering that almost all composite materials are available in our location; however, it is necessary for those selling the materials and those designing the Japanese garden to have the required knowledge. The architectural design of the site is of paramount importance, to lead to the implementation, by making use of the suitable materials suggested.
It is also very important to be aware of the fact that the Japanese garden may be either dry or wet, with relatively acid soils and generally in a hydrothermal environment, with ambient humidity of approx. 70-80%. The orientation of the garden and the degree of shading from accompanying plants are also associated with the natural light that must shine on the garden. Hidden lighting may highlight the entire garden or some of its major points of reference (e.g. highlighting the rock compositions), during night hours.
The entire scope of the natural hard materials (various stones, pebbles, rocks, chippings, etc.) are available by HERMES S.A., while the soft materials (plant material) are available in select Greek nurseries. A visit in the premises of the company where the materials are presented is necessary for the architects and garden designers, before proceeding to design proposals. It should be noted that ordinary garden designs in our country has found it difficult to break the mould and adopt more natural hard materials in gardens and public spaces, in combination with the plants and the relief of the soil. Stones, rocks, and pebbles placed on sloped soil have an aesthetic and anti-erosive effect.
Box gardens in the Japanese culture
Japan has presented us also with innovations of different garden design, to which the Europeans are not accustomed (save from the Dutch, due to their own garden design school), which has to do with the culture of the Japanese people, who are raised with respect towards nature and seek its presence in the garden, in their windows, open areas, cars, and restaurants, in every possible manner, even in small miniatures or models of the nature and of the great outdoors. Miniature gardens on car trunks, on dining tables, or in cafeterias are very well known, under the name of Hakoniwa (or box gardens). The technique and the materials are always the same, as mentioned thoroughly below. Psychiatrists in Japan create box gardens in their therapy areas, because they consider them as elements that assist therapy.
Key components of a Japanese Garden (hard materials)
Creation of paths with steps by freeform or orthogonal placed slabs, irregular, carved or combed (e.g. stripped basalt), mainly in grey hues.
White or grey-white chipping, sized between 10-20 mm (15mm on average), made of marble stone or in light grey, created from the breaking of another natural stone. In Japan, there is also use of chippings from pieces of granite! The ripples, patterns, and folds on the surfaces that are paved with chippings (using special raking techniques) are more visible and attractive when the chipping is of light colour, with variations of white and light grey (the lines and their shadows are more visible depending on the position of the sun). Usually, the continuous pattern is disrupted with the creation of equally high strips comprised of darker chippings, which becomes even darker when it rains, or with black pebbles, used to cover specific surfaces or placed near small ponds.
Solitary rocks, rock pillars, irregular stones or stones covered with mosses, natural and sand-blasted and slates, are used to create points of interest and lean rock gardens at specific sites. Usually, Japanese dry rock gardens are not accompanied by plants, having one or up to two distinctive plants of intense colour and contract with the stone or having some elaborate sculptures. Rocks and large stones symbolise “mountain landscapes”, which are represented in garden scale.
Soft materials (plant material)
The dominant ornamental species combined with hard materials in a Japanese garden are Bamboos (the common variety, as well as numerous dwarf green and paniceum varieties), charming Acers with intense red foliage at the start of spring and dark red in the summer (Acer Palmatum), bonsai, ornamental grass (Stipa, Carex, Ophiopogon japonicus, etc.), broad-leave Hostas, ferns, Japanese pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis), and mosses (or Sphagnum) to cover surfaces, resistant to tree and bush shadow, azaleas, hydrangeas, camellias, lilies, water lilies and aquatic vegetation where there are ponds, etc. The ground cover plants create a sharp but charming contrast to the formations of chippings, pebbles and rock gardens. On the perimeter of the Japanese garden or alone near the rocks, cherry and wild cherry trees are planted, low conifers (juniper, mugo, dwarf fir, nantines, etc.). Many Mediterranean plants with colours, shapes and textures that resemble, originate or relate to Japanese flora can be perfectly combined with ornamental rocks of our country and create great Japanese gardens.
The selection of the above necessary materials, the conditions and combinations of colours, textures, volumes and shapes, are essential principles for the successful construction of a Japanese garden.
The use of the materials requires in-depth market research, in which the HERMES S.A. company offers the largest range of decorative materials in our country in terms of “hard materials” in all their forms, colours, durability and usability and at affordable prices.
Architecture and Landscape Architecture are the arts that can copy, create and make the best and most aesthetic use of all the materials offered in the Greek market, either in the surroundings of buildings and public spaces, or on a smaller scale at entrances and patios of buildings, verandas and as miniatures of every scale and taste.
Written by: (Stamatis Sekliziotis, Landscape Architect)