Japanese Gardens PDX Style — Talking Notes

Intro: (First slide) Welcome!
Who am I? Many yrs. experience as a commercial interior designer, a gardener and plant nerd.
8 years ago stepped over the threshold and now designing on the other side.
I find I can apply all the design principals I used in architecture to the landscape and also use the skills I developed as a gardener. I am a Master Gardener, a prof. member of APLD (Asso. of Professional Landscape Designers) and there are a few other letters behind my name. But basically I am a plant-aholic and design is part of my DNA.

I have always admired the restraint and deliberateness of Japanese Gardens AND last summer I participated in a training that took me to another level of understanding of Japanese design.
(1 slide)
The Waza to Kokoro (Hands and Heart) experience —
Put on by the Portland Japanese Garden
12 days total, 6 lecture days, 5 days hands on work and a tea ceremony nearly every morning.
Participants were from all trades and all over the US. Landscape contractors, designers, curators of other Japanese gardens and even a college student.
We came from Illinois, N. Carolina, Washington state, California, Oregon
Teachers were staff from the Japanese Garden, 3 Professional gardeners came from Japan with their translators and others were scholars in the community.
The training contributed volumes to my basic knowledge of designing through the lens of Asian influence.
This is an annual program. There are still spaces available for this year’s training sessions at both the Beginner and the Intermediate levels. Contact the Portland Japanese Garden to find out more.

Before I start — if you are interested my talking notes they will be posted on my website about a week from now. Beware they are somewhat abbreviated. Look for them under the NEWS tab.

Let’s begin….When we think of Japanese landscapes we often use words like:
(1 slide)
 Minimal, rectilinear, clean, deliberate, calm & contemplative, green, retreat. Etc.

There are 9 recognized design principals in Japanese Gardens but for the sake of time we will talk about 4 of the major design principals here today:
Enclosure & Entry, The Path, using Void as an accent and Balance.

If you have been to our Japanese Garden in since June, you know there is a new entrance – a meandering path that takes you up the hill to the garden itself.
This is premeditated.
It is a devise to help the visitor transition from daily life and the rush of the city to the tranquility of the garden. It takes time and effort to climb the path and as you rise you metaphorically leave the busy world behind. In Japan gardens are designed to do the same.

1. Enclosure & Entry – In Japan the urban environment is very densely populated therefore gardens are framed for privacy and to control the view and treated as a work of art.
(2 slides – traditional and contemporary)

Garden Gates are significant because each gate represents a transition point where increasingly you leave more of the everyday world behind…. Distancing yourself from the noise and stress of the city and preparing yourself psychologically to experience garden. Usually there are 3 gates – an outer gate, a middle gate and an inner gate.

Gates are also used to control views and movement. The outer gate is typically the most imposing and densely built, often roofed.
The middle gate is lighter, lower and made of bamboo. The inner gate is the lightest and most welcoming and sometimes is just a suggestion of a gate – in some cases it is a gate which you could walk around rather than through. But of course no one would do that!
(4 slides – traditional and contemporary)

2. The Path – paths are not just for wayfinding and traffic control in a garden. They also control the cadence of motion and views of vignettes and specific garden elements.
Traditionally there are two types of paths.
Stepping stone paths which are informal are made with irregular stones and meander.
And more formal, rectangular, wider, elongated paths called Nobedans.

Small stepping stone paths force the visitor to look down, pay attention to where you place your feet and slow the rate of travel. When a large stepping stone is placed in the middle of a path of smaller stones it offers a spot to pause and view a plant or object. OR a large stepping stone placed strategically at the intersection of 2-3 stone paths will cause the visitor to look up, pause and decide which direction to take.
(3 slides – traditional and contemporary)

Nobedan paths often look like a tatami mat. The stone used in Nobedan is cut and fit and sometimes mortared together. They are straight and level which lets the walker forget about foot placement and look at the surroundings and walk more quickly.
(2 slides – traditional and contemporary)

And when a path is closed to visitors a Barrier Stone = sekimori-ishi is placed in the middle of the path. A very civilized way to signal “no entry” …
(1slide – traditional and contemporary)

3. Void As Accent – Japanese use the term “ma” to describe a defined open space or void. It is used as punctuation, as in a pause in a dance movement or moments of silence in music or the space in a painting intentionally left empty.
It is a place for the eye to rest in a garden in the midst of a jumble of plants, textures and color. That is “ma”.

Traditional gardens use dry gardens to create void– Raked sand or gravel gardens …these are open landscapes perhaps punctuated with boulders or dense plants. Or pools of water create “ma” Or “ma” can be created with a carpet of moss
In a contemporary garden this could be a stone patio with plantings at the edge OR a large pond OR the ubiquitous lawn.
(2 slides – traditional and contemporary)

4. Balance – Balance in combination with “ma” are the two most important design principals which give a garden Japanese character.
In Japanese gardens Balance is asymmetrical – no matching columns placed on either side of a gate. Garden elements are weighted differently — a tall narrow plant might be balanced by a low dense boulder nearby.
Straight paths are used sparingly and paths tend to wander.
Groups of elements are used in uneven numbers – 3 boulders, 5 pines.
(2 slides – traditional and contemporary)

So to review 4 important design principals are
1. Enclosure and Entry
2. The Path
3. The use of Void or “ma”
4. Asymmetrical Balance
Thoughtfully incorporating these 4 principals and a few other minor principals will help your Portland gardens to be truer to the Japanese style rather than “Japaneseque”.
It is more than images of a laughing Buddha and stone lanterns….

2 books which I find very valuable ….both by the same writer, Marc Peter Keane
Japanese Garden Design goes into detail about design and how it originated culturally, historically and politically. And more about design principals, techniques and design elements
Japanese Garden Notes is a more visual display of Japanese garden design – being a very visual person this book is my first “go to” as a reference.
Order them on Amazon for best pricing.