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BUILDING A JAPANESE GARDEN

Anne K Moore
Photographs: Anne K Moore

 

The Japanese say that evil spirits can only travel in a straight line so when you put in a bridge in your Japanese garden, build a zigzag bridge to keep out evil spirits. Japanese gardens are perfect for a minimalist. Less is more when creating these gardens.

A severe storm arrived ahead of the 1989 Hurricane Hugo and removed three big trees at the rear of the Chason acreage, trees Henry Chason said he would not have taken out. This allowed sunlight to come streaming in to this once dark hillside. It turned out to be the perfect spot for a Hill and Pond Japanese Garden. Henry says, "A Hill and Pond Garden is designed to be viewed from one vantage point, from one place."

Japanese Gardens are about serene landscapes made up of well-placed stones, artful pruning of shrubs and trees, expanses of moss, stone lanterns to light pathways, water, either real or implied, and bamboo used in structures such as fences and tea houses. Henry has also left stumps from fallen trees. They supply natural vertical elements in the woodland setting.

According to Henry, "Stones are the single most important element of the Japanese garden. You could have a Japanese garden without plants, or you could have it without grass, or without most other things, but not without stones. It's almost required that you have a stone in a Japanese garden." Stone lanterns populate many areas of the garden. They, too, are almost a requirement.

Stones are placed and partially buried to mimic tree stumps, level and smaller on top, flaring out into the ground at the bottom. Sometimes three-fourths of the stone is buried in the ground so that it looks permanent. The Japanese use vertical stones as accent. The stones with the flat tops look more peaceful or restful. Henry says that the vertical stones are sometimes placed at an angle and are used to give energy to the composition. 

When stones are used in the landscape, the plants are put behind the stone. Henry says, "You always have the stone in front so that you subordinate the shrub to the stone, so that the stone is not hidden. You can soften the edges a little bit but you don't want to hide the main part of it."

Since his retirement, Henry has been fine-tuning the garden and making plans for some drastic changes. After earning his living as the owner of a landscaping business for 35 years, you would think that Henry would be ready to hang up his shovel, pruners and gloves. Not so. "Gardening is my hobby," he says. He has studied pruning and building techniques with Douglas Roth, Publisher of the magazine Journal of Japanese Gardening, who is a well-known master of the art of Japanese gardening in America.

Henry says that unlike his past landscaping endeavors, "I get more excited about taking something out than putting something in." 

"I've always thought I was a pretty good pruner," Henry says, "but the level of the Japanese pruning is a level above what an expert pruner in this country would probably have. I spent 2 days with this fella and all we talked about pruning was Japanese pines." The essence of the Japanese Black Pine is the bark. It should not be hidden. "You don't want branches coming out from in front because it obscures the front, because the trunk is the most important part of the tree," Henry says. 

The pruning technique called tamamono signifies a single plant that is rounded, "not round but rounded," Henry says. Use the tamamono shape to accentuate the natural roundness of azaleas. 

An O-Karikomi Wave takes several years to create. Accomplish it by shearing a line of shrubs into a ball and then, in the following years, shear only the rounded tops, allowing some of the side and bottom growth to continue to grow. When the shrubs grow together at the base, shear these connections, to form an undulating wave that looks like one continuous shrub. 

Prunus mume 'Ume' or bitter plum is one of the most revered Japanese trees. It blooms in January in Henry’s South Carolina garden. The focal point of his Hill Garden in April is a weeping Higan cherry tree, Prunus x subhirtella. His garden also contains 'Forest Pansy' and 'Oklahoma' redbuds, Red Buckeye trees, Japanese Black Pines, 'Black Haw' viburnum, several Japanese maples, Podocarpus which is an evergreen Japanese yew, Andromeda 'Mountain Fire', dwarf yaupon hollies and Japanese boxwood for pruning, a red azalea called 'Christmas Cheer' and a later blooming pink azalea, 'Apple Blossom'. He feeds the plants using a 16-4-8 slow release fertilizer and waters with an irrigation system sometimes supplementing with hand watering.

Henry likes to tell this story about his wife helping to uncrate pieces of a large stone Japanese lantern. His wife asked him if directions came with the lantern. He says he thought, "I'm a man, I'm the Samurai of Ballentine, I don't need directions to assemble a Japanese lantern." Later, he found out that he had indeed put it together incorrectly. The shelf under the firebox was upside down. The lotus leaf design should be facing the lotus leaf design on the base, looking like a reflection from water. "So," he says, "I decided to leave it that way to remind me who I am."

If you would like to learn more about Japanese Gardening, there is a specialized magazine dedicated to this art form. Henry Chason recommends it. You can subscribe to the "Journal of Japanese Gardening" by writing to ROTH Tei-en, PO Box 159, Dept. J, Orefield PA 18069 or visit them at their website: www.rothteien.com

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