Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Upright Misfortune

"A domestic garden can equally be a 'Zen garden' in so much as it has a spiritual or religious significance for its owner, although he or she may be the only one who views it in that light"
Yoko Kawaguchi, Japanese Zen Gardens, p 11.

I started creating islands and setting stones along the new East Gate area. 

First I began by digging a new trench to hold the edge of 4x4 timbers I recycled from the old garage bed. My plan is to lay them parallel to the existing 6x6 timbers along the fence line. I left a 5.5 inch gap between the timbers and will lay a layer of round black Mexican stones in between. In doing so, I am trying to create an appearance similar to what I have seen along the edge of the Ryōan-ji temple Zen garden. Keep in mind, my budget doesn't allow for granite and tile edging - timbers will have to do, plus I already have them (wood is also one of the Five Elements, so it works)


According to the Sakuteiki, the first manual of Japanese gardening, one must follow the rules of setting stones of suffer misfortune. In my case, I am sure I am not adhering to the strict rules. Nevertheless, I did try to set my three stones in a way to accentuate their shape and appearance. Apparently, the most common arrangement is groups of three, one for Buddha and two for his attendants. I had three, but decided to create two separate islands for each, one smaller island for the larger stone, and another large island for the two smaller stones. What then is the symbolism from my perspective? Well, the two smaller stones are representative of my wife and I, while the large stone represents our daughter, the greatest thing in our lives.

I also deviated from the practice of setting the stones in Moss covered islands. I have no Moss and have to explore ways to grow the type of Moss that will be appropriate. Experiments with Scotch or Irish Moss in the past have not gone well. Perhaps next year I will know more about how to achieve this effect. In the meantime, I have lots of left over mulch from all the re-mulching I have done this season. So, mulch it is.

I also decided to place a plant in the smaller island with the large stone. I also intend to do something similar with the large island, but as of yet have not decided on what small plant to add.

I'm sure experts on Japanese gardens will find lots of fault with my design and decisions. However, I really don't care, as long as the design and layout works for me. So far, so good - lets hope I don't suffer any misfortune.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Chinese Scholar's Garden

Took a trip out to Staten Island to visit the Staten Island, Snug Harbor Botanical Garden's Chinese Scholar's Garden.

Jìxīng Yuán

This garden is one of only two Chinese scholar gardens in the U.S. It was built back in 1999 from prefabricated parts made in China and assembled on site by Chinese workers from Suzhou.

I had the opportunity to visit it in 2000 when it was still new. At that time, there were few planting visible in the garden. Today, 14 years later, it looked very different. Plantings now cover much of the structure, but also make the environment within seem more authentic. The structure needs some repair work, but overall it is in very good shape.

In addition to the images I posted below, I came across the following video-tour. It is worth a look because it gives an authentic feeling of what it is like to walk through the garden and it was filmed in the fall when the colors are spectacular.

view from the entry way

view from just past the entry way

one of several banana-leaf gates

corridor leading to the central courtyard

Viewing Pavilion across  the pond from the central courtyard

central courtyard

crane motif in stone on the central courtyard

Viewing Pavilion, across from the central courtyard

bridge over waterfall (drops outside of the garden)

moon gate entrance to adjoining garden area

click to view interior panoramic image of the Scholar's pavilion

elaborate stone work leading to a banana-leaf gate

banana-leaf gate entrance behind Scholar's Pavilion

entry way to small enclosure

view from side room towards small enclosure

view from side room towards Dragon Wall garden area

framed window view

Dragon Wall garden area 

ornamental stone bridge

moon gate from within Dragon Wall garden area

Dragon Wall garden area, opposite view

zig-zag bridge

click to view panoramic image of zig-zag bridge area

moon gate, looking towards central courtyard

sitting area on the Xie structure

view from the Xie structure

one of several Leaky windows

click to view panoramic image of Dragon Wall garden area

Scholar's Pavilion from Viewing Pavilion

Dragon Wall garden area seen through the moon gate

Scholar's Pavilion from within the Viewing Pavilion

screened view from within Viewing Pavilion looking out

view of the Xie structure from outside the garden

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Japanese Hill and Pond Garden

I visited the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden. This three acre garden was built between 1914-1915, and was one of the first Japanese gardens to be included in an American botanic garden. The garden was designed by Takeo Shiota. It is the only surviving pre-World War I civic garden of its kind. The garden was restored in 1999, and today it is often found in lists of the best Japanese gardens in America.

There are a variety of features amongst its stroll paths, including bridges, pavilions a Shinto shrine, Torii Gate, and man made hills and waterfalls. 

The entire garden is surrounded by a fence, one which uses bamboo poles as part of the upper screen.

A gate allows entrance into the garden and the viewing pavilion from which visitors can see much of the garden and lake.

The lake takes the shape of character shin ((), or heart. Across the lake stands a Shinto torii similar in style to the one at Itsukushima. 

Torii at Itsukushima, 2007

The view from the pavilion also takes in a yukimi-style lantern near an high, rounded wooden drum bridge (taiko-bashi) that stands between a waterfall and tortoise island.

There is also a very impressive Kasuga style lantern lantern.

As one makes their way around the lake, additional views are experienced of the pavilion and tortoise island. Check out the panorama below:

Click to View Panoramic Image

This dwarf Japanese maple has clearly been growing here for some time to have become so large and shapely. 

Tortoise island with small arching bridge.

Yukimi-style lantern as seen from behind the tortoise island with stepping stones leading the way to this sacred space.

Higher up the hill is a man-add set of waterfalls and echo caverns (note the small tortoise on the rocks left of the water fall).

There is also a Shinto shrine located within the garden.

We then exited through a back gate into the rest of the botanic garden. near this gate was a plaque with an image of the garden when it was first built. It most defineatly looked very different:

For more historic images, check out the BBG Historic Image Collections.

After spending much of the morning in the garden, I went on to explore the rest of the Botanic garden, including the Cherry Tree Esplanade, Lilly Pool Terrace, and the Bonzai Museum. 

Cherry Tree Esplanade

Lilly Pool Terrace

Assorted Bonsai from the Bonsai Museum