This section is from the book "How To Make A Flower Garden", by Wilhelm Miller. Also available from Amazon: The Well-Tended Perennial Garden: Planting and Pruning Techniques.
BORN and brought up in Japan, my natural playground was the Japanese garden. I was happy when I drowsed away a hot afternoon under a distorted pine, on the shady side of a child mountain, with a book about elves and dwarfs in my hand; and in my imagination I would people the little hills and dells with the wee folk Later, when the maples were red, a score of my Japanese playmates would join me in mimic war; and, armed with bamboo lances and swords, we attacked and counterattacked, now hiding in mountain fastnesses, now wading through iris ponds. The masking of hill behind hill and the artful vistas of the ancient garden-builder had prepared for us an ideal stage for strategy and battle. As I grew older, with my father I explored many ancient gardens of the Daimios; and of these I remember best an extinct garden, grown to seed, grewsome and beautiful, the pond a tarn grown over with a green scum. I learned to love those gardens all, from Hamagoten, the Emperor's summer garden by the sea, to the humblest effort of the farmer to merge a stone, a shrine, and a pine tree into a landscape.
" With rye straw I thatched the gate. My fences were made of bamboo fishing poles tied with rough hemp rope".
And so when I made my home in America I longed for a genuine Japanese garden. My first one I built behind a school building, in the woods, on a beetling cliff of limestone. Jutting over the rocks I put my summer house. It was fifteen feet square, and the veranda commanded a vista cut through the tree-tops of the valley below. A sliding window-in the back gave a glimpse of the dense woods which opened up into a long vista to the north. Instead of paper shutters I used ground glass, as better withstanding the weather. The room had its regulation tokonoma and its chigaidana - the first an alcove for the hanging scroll, the second a recess for shelves arranged in echelon. The walls were first plastered smooth, and then I overlaid them with plaster of Paris, using my bare hands to describe cloud patterns as I approached the ceiling and sea-wave patterns on nearing the floor. Among the waves I set shells and mosses. The whole was built of carefully seasoned pine of selected grain, and oiled to give the appearance of age. I cleared a space of about fifty feet square in front of the summer house, and laid out what is technically known as a "flat garden." I dug out an old brook-bed that meandered through it, and covered the bottom with white pebbles, bordering it with rocks and ferns.
A bamboo fence and a rustic bridge completed this plateau.
But I tired of this garden, because I wanted to see and hear real water, and that was impossible on the cliff; so I dragged my little house down to the campus below the school, against a fringe of trees, and remodelled it. I opened up another side for more ground-glass shutters, and added a moon window with cloud slats across its face. I abandoned the flat type of garden and composed something approaching the. conventional "hill garden." Because of the difference in the conditions of climate and environment, I found it impossible to conform to all the traditions and laws of the classical Japanese garden. Therefore I treated my subject freely, and followed the spirit rather than the letter of the conventions.
The classical garden, like a sonnet, is governed by special laws of harmony and rhythm. It must have its five hills, its ten trees, and its fourteen stones- and the greatest of these is the stones. You can get along without hills, and you can get along without trees, but you cannot get along without stones. Indeed, the perfect type of the flat garden is nothing but an archipelago of rocks in a sea of white pebbles. The stones must be the foundation; the rest are mere accessories. Speaking stones are what is wanted - stones that suggest moods and passions - for the Japanese recognise that there are sermons in stones. Each stone has its name and relative place in the composition. There is the Guardian Stone in the center, and opposite it the Belleview Stone. Across the cascade is the Moon-shade Stone, and so on in orbits around the grand key are the Throne Stone, Worshipping Stone, Snail Stone, Idle Stone, and so on.
"I built an impossible red bridge over the dry arm of the lake ".
" I laid Out an irregular square one hundred feet in each direction, and into it crowded about an acre of view".
The hills unmask each other by rule. The principal hill has its two foothills, its spur hills, its distant peak seen through a valley, and the low hill that must stand on the opposite side of the lake.
As there is a principal stone and a principal hill, so must there be a "principal tree," the shojin-bokn, around which the Tree of Perfection, the Tree of Evil, the Tree of the Setting Sun, the Tree of Silence, and the Tree of Solitude bow their lesser heads.
These are the essentials. Now add one pond, one island, two stone lanterns, three bridges, and mix thoroughly, garnish with lotus, and serve with goldfish and mandarin duck. There is a recipe for the classical Japanese garden.
To return to my American translation of the Japanese garden - I laid out an irregular square one hundred feet in each direction, and into it crowded about an acre of view, and by exaggerating the perspective produced depths of vista such as might suggest glimpses through the wrong end of a telescope. In the center I placed my "Dedication," or key-stone, a ragged slab on end with a bold, smooth face, ready for inscription. Following traditions, I placed my garden with its back to the north; and from the other three points of the compass I made sketches, each with salient features invisible in the other two. From these "elevations" I blended a "plan." The lakelet and the hills were then staked out in no haphazard way. For every inlet there was a reason. Every hill formed a screen of malice aforethought.
" I wanted to see and hear real water ".
The lake was made about fifty feet long, well grouted and gravelled, to hold a foot of water. On the west side three immense stones formed the entrance to a cave into which the waters of the lake followed, or, more properly speaking, out of which the waters poured. The plashing of a hidden waterfall came out from the cool of the grotto. A second source of supply was arranged to creep through the dry lake to the south, grown with rank weeds and iris. The third supply was in the shape of a small mountain torrent shooting under a rustic sod bridge. Then the electricians buried their wires, safely protected from moisture in lead pipes, and leading to fifteen standard lanterns. Here it was that I fell from grace in not adhering to the strict traditions of the classical garden. My desire for fairy effects turned me to the more plebeian models, and I found in the tea-garden an excuse for illumination. I therefore added a dozen wooden-post lanterns to my three monumental stone lanterns.
My "principal hill," eight feet high, was built over the grotto, and with two foothills formed a crescent chain of mountains against the lake. The foothills were sundered by a chasm bridged over with a great stone slab.
Then came the placing of the stones. With no professional landscape gardener to hamper me, and with the assistance of a stone-boat, an intelligent team, a stupid driver, and my ordnance sergeant, who had learned obedience in the army, I revelled in stones. I planted and replanted; I squinted down lanes and vistas until each stone satisfied me.
With rye straw I thatched the gate in the north, and also a second summer house on the Principal Hill over the grotto. My fences were made of bamboo fishing-poles tied with rough hemp rope. I built an impossible red bridge over the dry arm of the lake. It is a facsimile of the one in the Wistaria Garden at Kameido, Tokio. Here again I borrowed from the "pleasure garden," but I needed a bit of colour to balance the red sacred gate leading to my fox-god shrine at the northern end.
Glimpses of a Japanese garden near Philadelphia.
Another view of the same garden, showing the possibilities of Japanese gardening for small city yards.
In building this bridge I am afraid I have laid myself open to the same criticism that might be made of most Japanese gardens in America, which are generally too lavish in bronze storks and expensive dwarf trees. They remind me of the new florid style of Tokio pottery, manufactured for the American trade, and not at all like the subdued grace of the old Satsuma ware. Though I have some few Japanese plants, the tree that looks its part the best is a grotesque lilac which I found in the back yard of an adjacent farm. The garden as it stands has cost me, including everything, about one thousand dollars. When once installed, the expense of keeping such a garden is slight. As the elements beating upon the summer houses weather the unpainted wood, so does every freshet add character to the outlines of the hills and brooks. The last cloudburst did more for my garden than my whole summer's work.