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.
A friend with whom we drank tea in the San Francisco garden has written this: "I have a Japanese garden growing in my mind. Some day the painted wooden steps leading up past the side of the house into the yard in the rear will be replaced by rough stones. Farther back the planks must come up and be burned, and there shall be irregular stones to step upon. Ferns and small pines shall grow in porcelain bowls, and there will be some mossy stones in the corner where it is always shady. Bits of bamboo trellis with wistaria shall serve as screens where the outlook is unsightly. Pines shall grow on the north terrace and make silhouettes against the sky. The useless shed shall somehow be converted into a Japanese summer house.
I have already located some shrubbery that will be transplanted. At "the top of the steps a torii will invite entrance, and I will have a stone lantern - a real ishi doro, even if it has to be made to order. I know just what trees to plant for blossoms, and a little pond in a sunken tub will hold some water-lilies.
"I'm sure to find a unique little boulder to set up somewhere, and it will be the easiest thing in the world to get earth for a little mound hill-There will be double windows, and in the days to come I shall sit in Buddha-like contemplation of pleasant things, and great serenity shall settle upon my soul.*'
As one enters the garden there is first an open, level, sanded area, its irregular limits surrounded by small grass-plats, ponds, and the more stunted vegetation, with the bridges, tea-houses, and larger trees farther back, and many paths with earth-cut steps up the grades that rise from the sanded area to several parts of the higher grounds. A wistaria projects beyond the eaves of the tea-house, and trellises for vine are of bamboo, supported by posts six feet high. Against the rear wooden wall of the garden rises a receding tier of heavy wooden shelves, from which grow many varieties of dwarfed pines in porcelain pots.
The original pines in the garden, still erect in their natural symmetry, are stripped, one by one, of their Californian simplicity and taught to wear the art of Japan. Each tree is studied by the quiet gardener. Its possibilities as a part of its surroundings are carefully worked out and it is put to torture. Its young limbs are racked and its back bent until it is transformed into a creature of weird fantasy. A well-rounded young pine tree must be cultivated and cropped; its limbs must be bent and altered, lopped off on one side near the top and on the other near the base, until it looks as aged as a veteran of the hilltop after the buffeting storms of years.
Fancy grooming the foliage of a pine tree! Yet this very thing is done by boys in the branches, who pull out the old leaves till only fresh green one's remain. Here they saw a branch to let in light and a shapely patch of blue sky, and there thin out the twigs to leave a fret of pine needles against an azure ground. Likewise effective vistas are opened up through the scraggy pines. The limbs of the trees, on close inspection, are seen to be twisted and braced to produce the picturesque. Each gracefully reaching branch in the training is often splintered with bamboo and tied fast with numberless hempen strings. As the twig is bent, so grows the tree, and its large branches by gentle but persisted suasion. The individualised graces thus imparted to each branch excite esthetic emotions, even in those who have no knowledge of the symbolic suggestions thereby conveyed. The Japanese hold a worshipful attitude toward "the honourable pine," and their never-ending care produces results which are a revelation.
The temple gate at the entrance of the garden.
Blossoming plants are selected with care to bloom in rotation. At one visit you find the garden with azaleas not great bush shrubs, but dainty, well-bred plants, each blossom perfect and of exquisite colour. Another time the Japonicas alone are in evidence, but in such harmony that one forgets other flowers have bloomed there. Still again, some time in February, pink flowers burst forth from the twisted branches of the dwarfed almonds, and after these bloom the plums and cherries. In the autumn there are chrysanthemums. It must not be understood that flowers are numerous at any time. One of the charms of Japanese gardening, as of art, is the simplicity and freedom from overcrowded variety; they subordinate lesser things to a single point of interest. They insist upon restful spaces, and the beauty of a single spray must be revealed and emphasised.
The Japanese garden is more than a flower garden, and its attractions are not confined to the brief season of flowers. In winter it is not a waste of broken-down stalks. The pines in their quaint and weird forms are there in winter as in summer; the pathways among the evergreens and boulders, across the bridges, and under the arches, still bear the alluring aspect of a garden.
Even the fences are always important in the decoration. The minor enclosures are of bamboo, while the fence enclosing the garden is made of weathered wood, showing the natural grain. The buildings also show the knots and grain of the wood. Paint is not used on any of the garden's structures.
Single flat stepping-stones are much used by the Japanese, and they are placed so artfully that one naturally follows their meanderings. The paths must suggest the most natural courses from point to point. But neither the fences nor the paths are straight, if the gardener thinks the topography will permit of their being made otherwise. Japanese stone lanterns are effectively placed in favourite locations, such as on small islands or overlooking the water.
It is the gardener's art to place the seats, arbours and summer houses for the best views of the garden's attractions. Openings are made through the shrubbery to offer inviting glimpses beyond, where some one thing is given prominence, although it may be only a fine boulder or an artistic roof over a drinking basin. The boulders, in the beauty of this natural roughness, are emphasised after they have been located by the Japanese gardener. No art of the stonecutter could make them more attractive, while the use to which some are put compels approval from its very genuineness.
Stone lanterns, porcelain bowls and wooden structures vary the scheme of decoration with their shapes outlined upon the somber foliage. The ishi doro - the stone lantern, the torii - the archway with double timbers across the top, said to be an invitation to the birds, are, like other structures in the garden, full of meaning to the Japanese, but these decorative accessories do not convey to the foreign mind so much that they could not be dispensed with and the simple garden adopted at its real value as a natural scheme.
The Japanese create even smaller models of landscapes - gardens so tiny that they may occupy no more space than the top of a good-sized table. In these the merest pebbles do duty as rocks, a capful of stones will construct a cliff, and a bunch of small plants serve for a forest, while the paths and streams may be spanned by a finger's breadth.
Landscape gardening is said to have been introduced into Japan from China, where Buddhist priests had created miniature landscapes in the temple gardens. It was to this end that the dwarfing of trees and shrubs became a necessity. The artistic purpose was to copy the attractions of a true landscape and to give the impression that a real one conveys. It stands for a picture, not merely to look upon, but one to stroll about in and to be enjoyed from within the picture itself. The Japanese garden is as much an art creation as is a painting.
There are several styles of gardens in Japan, having in common many names and much folklore, but they are also individualised as the gardener - a poet or priest, as he may be - endeavours to express some mood of nature. There are "hill gardens,' or "flat gardens," in their various "rough" or "finished" fashions, and there are trees for a framework of foliage, or stones for the laying-out of a ground-plan. Perhaps by the reading of this sketch of a transplanted Japanese garden in America some one having a patch of rugged ground covered with trees and bushes may be tempted to convert it into a garden somewhat of the Japanese pattern..
A pair of cranes that look as though they might havs lust alighted from a flight across a Japanese fan.