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.
There is probably no scheme of gardening which offers greater possibilities for diversified arrangement within a limited space than that followed by the Japanese. It is essentially landscape gardening requiring an uneven surface - there must be hills and valleys, groves and open spaces, rivulets, pools, rocks, and whatever is suggestive of the natural landscape. Much that is formal is introduced in the way of bridges, buildings, stone lanterns, bamboo trellises, and potted trees. Taken as a whole, the features which compose it are all more or less in miniature, excepting the original trees of the locality and the buildings. Being a representation of the scenery of a country within narrow limits, it is in reality a condensed landscape. Notwithstanding the high degree of art upon which it depends, it is much more natural in conception than the gardens of other countries, with their clipped box hedges, walks, and growths of all kinds in straight rows or in exact mathematical curves.
The Japanese garden has been little more than an experiment in this country. There is a large and notable one in Golden Gate Park, at San Francisco, created as a Japanese exhibit at the Midwinter Fair, in 1893. This garden comprises a half-acre of hillside, on which are groups of scrubby pines from twenty to thirty feet high, and is enclosed by a unique fence in natural wood with a coping. A grade, leading up from the park roadway to the temple-gate entrance of the garden, is dug into low, broad steps, each earthy terrace supported by a row of cobbles. Although said to be not entirely correct as a Japanese garden gateway, the entrance structure is a thing of beauty, its quaint contours and the weathered gray of its timbers appealing at once to the eye.
Within the garden there are two thatch-roofed tea-houses overhanging fish-ponds, where tea is served by Japanese women in native costume. As you drink tea in the garden, you naturally share the crisp Japanese cakes with the expectant goldfishes clustered below. On higher ground in the rear is a Japanese house.
The ponds are supplied by a stream that comes trickling most naturally down the hill over its artificial stony bed. The stream is the overflow from a rock-built well-curb into which water splashes from a couple of well-buckets, the rope suspending them being in reality the pipe which conveys the water from a distant reservoir. A mass of bamboo and pine conceals three sides of the water source and gives an air of sylvan retreat. Visitors are inclined to follow the course of the artfully natural stream as it tumbles in cascades over the rocks, or widens into pools crossed by arched rustic bridges, or narrows where just a stepping-stone suffices for a crossing. In the pools water-plants flourish, and along the rocky banks are ferns, mosses, lilies, and other suitable plants, with here and there an overhanging pine branch.
The miniature lakes have the irregular shore outlines of natural lakes, and lie in well-diversified country, if the term country can be applied to so limited an area. Their shores are low in places, with grassy margins, and high in others and covered with shrubbery. Here and there are little groups of stunted Japanese pine trees only a couple of feet in height. The ponds are really quite shallow, probably not more than a foot in depth. After being dug, they are paved with stones, the paving extending up to the shore margin, and the entire bottom covered with cement to prevent the accumulation of mud. Their bottom levels are so arranged that they can be readily drained and cleaned, and, being of small size, the flow of water is sufficient to prevent their becoming stagnant. The rustic bridges are of proportions suitable to their surroundings, but all wide enough and strong enough to carry passengers in single file.
Along the walks, sections of low bamboo fencing are created, doubtless more for the purpose of ornament than to protect the tiny lawns. A high bamboo fence covered with wistaria encloses a yard containing a pair of cranes - white, with black markings - that look as though they might have just alighted from a flight across a Japanese fan. Paths, rather wider than those of gardens in Japan, are introduced of necessity, as this garden is quite a public place. Where the walks lead over uneven ground, low, broad steps are cut into the earth, each being banked with a log cut the width of the path.
There are robust clumps of calls lily in the miniature pond beneath the semicircular archway of the high rustic bridge.
One would never know it was a square garden until after complete exploration, as only a part of it can be seen from any single position, owing to the distribution of its knolls, larger trees, and buildings. Much of its charm would doubtless be lost with any cutting away of shrubbery that would reveal more to the eye and leave less to the imagination.
A garden of this kind is one of constant study and development, and becomes to the Japanese a little land of poetry, full of quaint symbolism and refined ornament, appealing to the higher senses. To know this garden is to love it, and its subtle charm does not fail. Of all restful places, it is most so, and, though of small compass, there are many points of view, with seats artfully placed, where pleasing vistas reward the eye. There are a score of garden-lovers in San Francisco who feel that they must visit it at least once a week and watch Mr. Hagiwara, the gardener, at his work.
In a certain city a library window that once looked out on a thirty-by-forty back yard of the plainest description - a typically dreary back yard - now offers a view of a tiny Japanese landscape where moderate-sized stones represent boulders and bushes stand for trees. The stepping-stones are small, it is true, but they lead around knolls and bits of shruobery and across a tiny bridge. A bamboo trellis above the board fence supports vines that shut from view everything undesirable.