Japanese Stone Water Basins

Japanese Stone BasinJAPANESE STONE WATER BASINS: A Great Focal Point for Your Garden

The Stone Water Basin is an element found in many small gardens in Japan, including traditional tea gardens, residential entrance gardens, courtyard gardens, etc. It is a very versatile feature and can work as a focal point in a very small garden space, or an impactful feature in a medium-sized space, like an entrance garden.

The Basin itself can be a number of different designs, but the two basic categories would be a natural boulder basin, or a basin carved out of stone, usually some type of granite.

The Water Basin may or may not have a recirculating pump pushing a stream of water through a spout and into the Basin, over the front edge and down into a reservoir, which then pushes the water into the spout again. The photo here shows an aged Basin, hand-carved, without a recirculating system. If possible though, adding the sight and sound of gently splashing water is a big bonus.

To make the most of this feature, displaying it in its typical Japanese Water Basin Arrangement is the best bet. In this setting, the Basin sits in the center, surrounded by an arrangement of smaller stones. These stones will have a purpose, especially if the Basin is to be used in the Tea Ceremony. Even if the Basin is not in a Tea Garden, a loose interpretation of this arrangement offers aesthetic value. Besides the stones, the Basin Arrangement will have a number of smaller plants surrounding it, especially around the sides and back. The planting scheme can vary wildly, but a good rule of thumb is to make sure the plantings allow the Basin to shine as the focal point, and not overtake it.

Whatever the style, surrounding stone arrangement or planting scheme is, a Japanese Stone Water Basin can be one of the most doable garden features to adapt from the Japanese Garden Tradition. And if the space is small, it can be the main focal point.

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How to Prune Weeping Japanese Maples

Red Dissectum Maple

Weeping Japanese maples, Acer palmatum var. dissectum, can make wonderful specimen trees for certain landscape spaces, particularly where their delicate leaf and branch pattern can be appreciated from up close. Urban Japanese gardens, courtyard gardens, along an entrance path to a home, or near a patio are some examples.

Pruning dissectum maples is similar to other specimen trees in the basic sense, where overall shape, creating branch “layers” and skillfully revealing the tree’s trunk and main branches through foliage thinning are the main objectives.

The major challenge faced when pruning weeping Japanese maples is making sure their delicate weeping nature is not lost. A specimen tree’s character is revealed when the trunk and major branches are discernible through the foliage, but great care must be taken that this is done so that a refined appearance is achieved. For example, if large spaces are created by removing too many major branches, not only might the tree’s health be impacted, but the result will look clumsy. This is especially true with dissectum maples. The entire tree is thinned out, and horizontal branch layers that end in soft weeping foliage are given added definition by leaving a thin band of space between these layers. The point is that, with weeping Japanese maples, these spaces should be much smaller then other specimen trees with larger foliage or less refined branch patterns.

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Small Japanese Gardens for Urban Environments

Small Japanese GardenThe challenge of creating an intimate garden in the urban environment is often daunting. Luckily, the Japanese garden tradition offers many solutions.

The practice of turning any type of small urban space into an enchanting visual treat has been a common occurrence in the cities of Japan for centuries.

Big keys to success are maximizing the view of the garden from inside, creating an enclosure and/or enhancing the enclosure, then coming up with a layout of quality materials that is not too busy. The space, whether a terrace garden, balcony garden, narrow passageway, or breakfast nook, should be simple and refined. Trying to cram too many different elements into one space will just create a muddled effect.

Japanese gardens built in urban areas often have other considerations that suburban neighborhoods do not have to worry as much about. For example, weight restrictions will be a consideration if the Japanese garden is to be constructed on a terrace or balcony, penthouse atrium, etc. Drainage may also be more of an issue. Figuring out how water will enter and leave the space is a major factor to think about and resolve in the planning stages.

Other concerns may be full shade, wind, or the lack of below-ground planting space. Choosing shade-tolerant plants will solve the first issue. Erecting wind barriers or choosing wind-tolerant plants should solve the second issue, and using planters or building up soil levels may be the solution for the last issue.

Usually in small Japanese gardens, the details are emphasized. For example, using high-quality materials for the enclosure and any walking paths or stones can make up for the lack of space and variation in plant materials. Keeping it simple and having a clear concept that shows off the quality material and layout is often the best approach for small urban gardens.

 

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Japanese Tea Garden Plants: Aucuba

CONSIDER AUCUBA WHEN BUILDING YOUR JAPANESE-STYLE TEA GARDEN

It is not possible or necessary to use all of the plants found in the gardens of Japan. Using Japanese plants does not make your garden a “Japanese Garden.” Rather, it is best to find locally available plants, match them to the site, and strategically place them in the garden to fulfill the proper role.

Tea gardens in Japan are used to evoke the feeling of a “mountain path” for practitioners of the tea ceremony. Typically, stepping stones meander through the tea garden from the outer gate to the tea house or tea room. But the beauty of tea-style gardens can also be imported into your garden, even without a tea house. One key to tea gardens is to create a lush, green atmosphere with an abundance of evergreens and/or broad-leaved evergreens. Aucuba is one such shrub that can fulfill this role.

The first thing to note about Aucuba japonica is that technically speaking it is a borderline plant for this area, the hardiness zone usually listed as zone 7-10, possibly 6. But in and around New York City, and northern New Jersey, especially in the confines of a tea-style garden, it may be worth the risk of winter damage. Many nurseries now carry varieties of this plant, and it is slowly becoming more widespread in landscapes.

Tea gardens tend to be enclosed, and to be shaded by some larger trees like Japanese maple. Aucuba is a shade-loving plant, and provides that deep green color and texture that make tea gardens what they are. Aucuba should receive the protection from cold winter winds within the tea garden, and if properly enclosed will also shelter this plant from deer.

There are a number of different varieties, including cultivars with yellow spots on the leaves, which are not as preferable as solid green cultivars for tea gardens. As always, consult with a local landscape expert about proper site placement and short-term and long-term care before deciding to use this plant.

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Japanese Garden Trees: Star Magnolia

STAR MAGNOLIA IS A GOOD ORNAMENTAL TREE FOR YOUR NEW YORK OR NEW JERSEY JAPANESE GARDEN

It is not possible or necessary to use all of the plants found in the gardens of Japan. Using Japanese plants does not make your garden a “Japanese Garden.” Rather, it is best to find locally available plants, match them to the site, and strategically place them in the garden to fulfill the proper role.

One important principle of Japanese gardening is scale. When it comes to plants, that means choosing trees that are more in scale with people and the homes they live in. Trees do not have to be “dwarf,” but planting trees that will eventually tower over your Japanese-style garden will throw off the scale that you’ve worked so hard to create. Therefore, smaller trees, anywhere from six to eighteen feet are probably best, but it does depend on each garden. It may be best to keep that range from six to twelve feet for smaller gardens.

Star magnolia, or Magnolia stellata, is one good choice for an ornamental tree to use in your Japanese-style garden. Although most plants should be evergreen or broad-leaved evergreen, some deciduous trees and shrubs should also be planted, and the Star magnolia fits into that category.

During the season this tree will provide a soft green foliage, with not overly large flowers in early spring. But one of the most attractive aspects is the potential branching structure that can be created with annual pruning. Japanese garden trees tend to have “layers” of horizontal branches evenly spaced up and down the tree. The natural branching pattern of the Star magnolia makes this fairly easy to create over time.

Another advantage to this plant is the range of sunlight it can adapt to. Ideally partial sun may be best, but it can still achieve a full branching structure in mostly shade. For best flowering it does need sun, although it may be best for the tree to avoid strong, direct afternoon sun. As always, consult a local landscape expert about proper site placement and short-term and long-term care before deciding to use this plant.

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Japanese Garden Planting Techniques: O-Karikomi

O-KARIKOMI: A VALUABLE JAPANESE GARDEN TECHNIQUE

A Japanese term, O-karikomi refers to a massed grouping of plants that form one shape, usually in a gently flowing way. Keep in mind this is a general term and may refer to groupings of the same or a variety of different tall shrubs, or a grouping of smaller shrubs tightly sheared. The key is that one uniform mass is created.

The gardens of Japan are successful for a number of reasons, but one common theme is that they feel uncluttered. A tea garden may be more natural and include a variety of different plants, but perhaps they all tend to be different shades and textures of green, evoking a “deep mountain path.”

Other more stylized gardens may not seem as natural, but their success may come in part to the clean, crisp look they exhibit, and may in fact have a limited variety of plants. This is a helpful thought especially in our area where the tendency is to include too many plants, resulting in a jumbled look.

O-karikomi therefore is something that can help our gardens take on a crisp look. And it can help to add continuity as well. Having multiple locations throughout the garden with similar masses of shrubs, sheared as a gentle flowing mass is one way of making the landscape look more like a composition and less like a botanical garden.

Some broad-leaved evergreens that are suitable for this include varieties of azalea, boxwood, Japanese holly, inkberry, etc. For other reference see Azaleas in Japanese Gardens, and Japanese Garden Plants: Korean Boxwood.

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Japanese Garden Plants: Pieris japonica

USING PIERIS IN YOUR JAPANESE GARDEN

It is not possible or necessary to use all of the plants found in the gardens of Japan. Using Japanese plants does not make your garden a “Japanese Garden.” Rather, it is best to find locally available plants, match them to the site, and strategically place them in the garden to fulfill the proper role.

One important Japanese garden principle is using a high proportion of evergreen and broad-leaved evergreen plants to deciduous plants. A challenge when building Japanese-style gardens in the New York and New Jersey areas is the lack of suitable broad-leaved plants compared to more southern climates. Pieris japonica is one widely available plant that does work for many sites, and should be considered for your Japanese garden.

Other common challenges for Japanese garden enthusiasts in this part of the country is the presence of large deciduous trees that block out sunlight to the gardens below, and also the presence of deer in many areas. Evergreens that might work with more sunlight cannot be planted because of the shade, and some broad-leaved plants that might work would be feasted on by deer. But Pieris is a plant that does well in shade and partial shade, and is also deer resistant.

Pieris is not a plant that will typically fulfill the role of a specimen plant. It also does not work as a sheared plant. The most ideal use is in a supporting role for tea-style gardens or shade gardens and as a natural-shape plant. The color of the new foliage and small flowers provide some ornamental effect.

There are many cultivars of pieris that can be considered, as well as Pieris floribunda that should be considered for use instead of, or in combination with, Pieris japonica. As always, consult a local landscape expert about proper site placement and short-term and long-term care before deciding to use this plant.

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Japanese Garden Planting Techniques: Tamamono

TAMAMONO: A VALUABLE JAPANESE GARDEN TECHNIQUE

The literal meaning of Tamamono in Japanese is “round thing,” but as a garden term it refers to shrubs that are shaped in a semi-spherical way, like the azaleas shown in the photograph here. Tamamono are typically shaped with a set of shears and/or with hand-snips. Best results are produced this way and not with electric shears.

Tamamono is a term that should not be confused with O-Karikomi. Both refer to garden shrubs that are sheared , but O-karikomi are shrubs planted to form a mass, sometimes quite large, and are most notable for the long, gentle line they create. Tamamono on the other hand, form individual semi-spherical shapes, although one shape may be composed of three, four, five, or even seven shrubs. The key is that the shape is semi-spherical.

When done well, tamamono are symmetrical, with the sides sloping down to the ground. When done poorly, the shrub will look like a ball, with the bottom branches curving back in under the top. This is an effect that should be avoided.

The idea is to add a mass, like a boulder does, but of course softer, and to add a voluptuousness to the garden. If the composition is laid out well, tamamono will be located throughout the garden to offer continuity, and as a result the effect will be much more “crisp” then if there were only naturally-shaped shrubs and specimen trees. Of course the overall effect of the composition is taken into account. A tea garden, for example, may not be right, perhaps instead seeking to offer the more natural effect of a mountain path.

Tamamono is one useful planting technique that seems to work well in the West where architecture varies. This element can bring something even without a Japanese-style garden composition. Appropriate shrubs are azaleas, boxwoods, Japanese hollies, etc.

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Bamboo Fences in Japanese Gardens

JAPANESE GARDEN FENCES: YOTSUME-GAKI BAMBOO FENCE

Whether used as the garden enclosure, a very important role and one of many choices, or a partition within the garden, bamboo fences offer a decorative enhancement to the garden. In Japan where bamboo and skilled craftsman are readily available, bamboo fences may make more sense. Bamboo also matches the traditional architecture of Japan better than most homes outside of Japan. But when a homeowner does want a decorative element, there are times when a bamboo fence may be appropriate.

One such bamboo fence is called a Yotsume-gaki fence, as shown in the photo here. This fence is useful only as a decorative way of dividing space within the garden. It is common in tea gardens, many times located on the border of the “inner” and “outer” garden.

The practical advantages to this particular fence are that the material is available at bamboo specialty stores, and the fence construction is fairly straightforward. The disadvantage to any bamboo fence is that after three to five years in the elements the fence usually needs to be replaced. The sun seems to age the bamboo the fastest of all elements.

The Yostume-gaki fence is constructed first by setting round wooden posts, approximately four feet high and spaced six to eight feet apart, into the ground. Then horizontal bamboo pieces are drilled to the posts. Next vertical bamboo pieces are fastened on alternating sides to the horizontal pieces. Twine, called some-nawa if dyed black, is then tied around the intersecting points, more decoration then function.

As mentioned above, this fence is useful within the garden. Since architecture outside of Japan often clashes with such bamboo fences, it would be wise to choose a location for this fence where plantings, not the house, serves as a backdrop. It may be most useful in a strolling part of the garden, or at the corner of the house where the main garden is divided from a secondary garden.

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Japanese Garden Plants: Korean Boxwood

Korean BoxwoodUSING KOREAN BOXWOOD IN YOUR JAPANESE GARDEN

It is not possible or necessary to use all of the plants found in the gardens of Japan. Using Japanese plants does not make your garden a “Japanese Garden.” Rather, it is best to find locally available plants, match them to the site, and strategically place them in the garden to fulfill the proper role.

Korean boxwood is one such plant that is locally available, seems to be very hardy, is green throughout the year, and fulfills the important role of tamamono or O-karikomi. That is, low plantings grouped in large, wavy masses, or individual semi-spherical shapes. See Azaleas in Japanese Gardens for similar discussion on these roles.

Korean boxwood works well in this role because they naturally tend to form low, round masses. They also seem to be fairly versatile when it comes to site requirements like sunlight/shade. Another attractive aspect of this plant is that it is deer-resistant.

There are many cultivars available in nurseries in the New York/New Jersey area. No plants are guaranteed to be pest or disease resistant. And the health of the plant also depends on proper installation and annual care. It is best to consult the nursery and/or local landscape professionals when choosing plants. Some cultivars I have used successfully include Boxwood ‘Winter Gem’, ¬†and ‘Wintergreen.’ They offer a deep, rich green throughout the year.

Over many years even korean boxwood will attain some height, but the ideal use is in masses or semi-spherical shapes, about two to three feet high. This will, like all planting, require some annual maintenance like one “true” shearing, and then a couple of touch-up trimmings. The best way to do this is with a pair of high quality shears for the “true” shearing, and hand-snips for touch-up later in the season, although to some extent it is a matter of preference.

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