The “more is more” rockeries of the Chinese garden tradition evolved into the “less is more” expressions of Japanese gardens. Americans generally find the Japanese garden aesthetic to be more resonant with their own ideas of nature and natural gardens. The highly codified methods and compositions of Japanese stone setting, set down in the 11th century, are more formalized than our relaxed, internalized approach to stone composition. Stone ornaments and furnishings are used sparingly and very symbolically in the Japanese garden, having been introduced as part of tea garden development. Stone lanterns and water basins are the two most common furnishings. The stones, however, are the most important elements. An Asian garden values topography more highly than plants, and plants are used for their symbolism and literary allusions. Even though modern garden makers may be ignorant of the ancient literary tradition that has nurtured Japanese gardens, the flow and serenity of the Japanese aesthetic still exert a powerful appeal.


The gardens I design are a product of the American melting-pot culture, with all its richness and confusion, and the way I use stone in gardens runs the gamut of structural fabrication to emulation of nature. Whatever the approach, I strive to emphasize the regional context from which our communities and homes have sprung. Perhaps it’s the frontier tradition—knowing that this country was wilderness a comparatively short time ago—that drives this need for connection to the local landscape.

One way to accomplish this in a subliminal way is to stress the literal connections of the site to bedrock. Leaving a ledge exposed is a much better option than trying to grow plants over it in thin soil. Creating more ledge—or a “faux ledge,” as I call it—where none existed, or supplementing an existing ledge, can be accomplished by using massive stones with natural faces to create new outcrops. These can also function as retaining walls in areas that might be visually overpowered by a masonry wall. I guess this approach to stonework is Chinese, with Japanese sensibilities, in a European framework. How’s that for cross-cultural design? In the northern latitudes, where evidence of former glacial activity abounds, I love the idea that boulders might have been transported by the ice from distant parent mountains. I often use these stones as freestanding or partly revealed objects or furnishings in the landscape, setting them to original grade lines so they feel like original residents of the site. These are the prehistoric keystones in my landscapes, linking them to nature and the many cultures that underpin our garden sensibilities. H

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts

Leave a Reply