It's been a week of exploring exactly what is meant by the Japanese garden. Frankly speaking, a week isn't enough. It seems the conceptual basis of the Japanese garden and its design is firmly rooted in the philosophical; with that in mind, I feel like I have barely scraped the surface. However, a few concepts have struck me, one way or the other but at least they have had an impact.
Positive and negative space:
Interesting Concept. What is the balance between sections of a garden where things are, and sections where, quite simply, things aren't. I was initially struck by the utter simplicity of some of the gardens- very little going on. A mass of raked gravel and the odd neatly clipped shrub and stone. Too much dead space. There is an energy and flow about the garden but it feels negative. Very few felt comfortable. I guess that takes design to the point where it isn't necessarily about the aesthetic for the sake of beauty alone. Naturally, Japanese gardens are conceptually a reflection of nature in the microcosm; perhaps such gardens are an accurate reflection of what 'is' but I can't help feeling that slightly empty about such use of negative space; it's not something I would like to see out of my back window.
However, it got me thinking; allowing gardens and design to breath can be critical for creating a sense of peace and calm. The negative space is critical. The cottage garden and the riot of foliage, colour and scent can be overwhelming- not to mention the feeling of dread that there is a good weekend's-worth of weeding ahead. Structure and formality can bring a sense of contentment, as can rhythmic planting schemes (a homage to the familiar) but the idea of negative space producing a sense of calm is quite intriguing. Emerging from the complexity of one section of garden to be greeted by an area of carefully set open space with more minimal use of materials can create a real sense of drama but ultimately a place to breathe. Even in the humble back garden, the proportion of lawn to border could be viewed as positive and negative space. Too often the obsession with the lawn creates too little positive space in the garden; borders pushed back to the fence lines and a dull, flat and lifeless garden, where the plants that are present struggle to be heard- akin to Spinal Tap's disastrous scale issues with Stone henge. Balance is important. The Yin and Yang, so to speak. Worth a thought when you next look out of the back window and consider your next move.
Finally, the lack of colour from perennials has been apparent. As someone who is a perennial aficionado, I can't help but feel that slipping the odd Rudbeckia into the neatly clipped shrubs would take the overall design to the next level but then I have to concede that I may have missed the point.
Anyhow... back to the design...