Appreciating Nature through Gardening

Archive for January, 2011

Garden Types Part I: Pleasure

Kyoto Imperial Palace Garden

Japanese gardens can be broadly categorized into three types, each serving a different cultural function – pleasure, contemplation, and tea.  Although the actual physical design may vary widely, each follows a traditional set of requirements that creates a similar ambiance among the gardens. Designed as a backdrop for refined entertainments during the Heian period (794-1185), the courtly pleasure gardens emerged from temple Paradise gardens that represented Buddhist cosmology.

Tenryu-ji Temple, Kyoto

Waka poetry garden of 1702, Rikugien, Tokyo.

Typically featuring  a central pond in a rolling landscape with strolling paths and scenic viewpoints, the pond and hill garden, as it came to be known, continued into modern times as an expression of wealth and taste.  As family fortunes changed, a number of princely gardens became public parks in the 19th and 20th c., including Kenrokuen in Kanazawa.

Overlooking Kasumigaike Pond, Kenrokuen, Kanazawa.

Founded in 1676 outside Kanazawa Castle, the Edo era garden is called one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan.  Kenrokuen is named the “garden of six attributes” because it fulfills the requirements for a perfect landscape based on the standards of a venerated Chinese poet.

Spaciousness…Nijibashi and Kotoitoro (Rainbow bridge and two-leg lantern).

Seclusion…source of winding stream.

Artifice…dramatically supported cloud pine.

Antiquity…Neagarinomatsu, raised roots pine.

Watercourses…stone-edged stream.

And Panoramas…elevated view over Kasumigaike Pond.



Edo (17th-19th c.) Era scroll painting.

“If you would be happy for a lifetime, grow chrysanthemums.”   –Chinese saying

Introduced from China in the late 8th c, the chrysanthemum holds special cultural significance.    First grown as a medicinal herb to promote health and longevity, numerous cultivars in a range of colors and  forms were developed with blossoms symbolizing  “unfolding perfection.”  The Imperial Family claimed the single, sixteen petaled blossom as its crest (Kikumon), leading to its epithet, the Chrysanthemum Throne.

Decorative boss on a Samurai helmet features chrysanthemums.

Sixteen petal blossom gable decoration at Nijo Castle, Kyoto.

Bold carvings on Niomon Gate, Tosho-gu Shrine, Nikko.

Annual display at Nijo Castle, Kyoto.

During the late 19th c., public chrysanthemum exhibitions displayed highly stylized arrangements of plants in honor of the Imperial Family.    The tradition continues today with the Festival of Happiness celebrated at the peak of bloom.  Strict rules govern the forms, colors, and method of display to show blossoms to their best advantage.  The following images are all from Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, Tokyo.

In the Ogiku bed, 39 cultivars are represented by 311 plants of arranged in diagonal stripes.

The Kengai style features cascading cultivars that mimic wild cliff-growing plants.

A detail of the bamboo, branch, and metal structure supporting the cascade.

Grown from a single root division in one year, the Ozukuri style resembles a perfect flowering tree.

The elaborate training structure for the “thousand blooms” chrysanthemum rises above the single stem emerging from the container.

This young lady at Kiyomizu Temple, Kyoto, wears kimono boldly decorated with chrysanthemums, showing the continued importance of the motif even in contemporary textile design.