A Story About Japanese Gardens

Each garden tells a story – It is necessary to think simply and very directly and naturally in order to arrive at such a truly naive result as is sought and intended in Japanese gardening. It is necessary to think in terms of meaning as well as in terms of appearance or looks.

What is the garden going to mean; what definite Nature story is it going to tell? That of a mighty river, or of a great mountain, or of a wide-reaching plain? The story of love and lovers, or of war and warriors, or of mothers and children? The story of joy or sadness, of spiritual glories and triumphs, of temple bells and peace? Or the story of energy and ceaseless activity and conflict?

Some theme, which the gardener must decide upon, is to be expressed with all the art imaginable, in a Japanese garden. And, once the decision is made, there must be no discordant or warring elements. Everything that finds a place in the garden, each plant and shrine, and all that goes to make up the whole, must be selected and placed for the part it is to play in carrying out this supreme idea.

Nothing may be left to chance, nor is there space or place for a solitary knick-knack picked up in auction room, oriental shop, or in Japan itself – unless this object fits in with the meaning of the whole, unless it makes a definite contribution to the telling of the story that is being unfolded.

An austere and rigorous formula this, viewed in contrast with the casual gardening of western people. But there is no other concept in Japan. Such gardens as have been developed here and there in imitation of Japanese creations present merely a surface likeness to the true thing (and a very imperfect one at that). Being wholly objective and imitative in concept, they lack entirely the qualities which distinguish the humblest true Japanese garden and set it apart from all others. Most of them have japanese stewartia tree.

It is hardly possible to sum up these qualities in a single phrase, but remembering that the Japanese people are largely of the Buddhist philosophy, there is clearly discernible the underlying principle of a mystical consciousness of Life embodied in an Idea – in this instance the Idea of the Garden – coupled with a mystical confidence in all lesser life to express the greater. If men think in these terms, men must set them forth in what they do – especially in making gardens. For every man’s faith – or lack of faith – is inevitably set forth in the garden that he makes.

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