For centuries in Japan the garden has represented an important part of the house, on the one hand it assumes a strong meaning of status symbol: the great temples and the houses of the nobles once could not fail to look out on a balanced garden; on the other hand the Japanese garden, in addition to decorative functions, also has evocative and symbolic functions: man tries to get closer to nature and its harmony through the preparation and contemplation of the garden.
The garden is designed trying to get some particular results; first of all, the space is designed to expand the observer's horizon, so that even a small garden gives the impression of being a forest or a large clearing.
So each element must recreate the harmony and balance of nature, water, trees and rocks are placed in a harmonious way, avoiding to give the impression of an artifact place.
To design the garden, follow some simple principles:
- Asymmetry: all that is symmetrical is artificial, created by man; so the shapes of a Japanese garden are sinuous and pleasant.
- Disparity: to avoid symmetry, the elements inserted in the garden are placed in odd numbers; generally the figure to which we tend is the triangle.
- Contrast: the encounter between contrasting elements is fundamental in the Japanese garden; tall trees near low shrubs, rocks near water, a small reed near the path.
- Nature: nature must be the principle and the source of fundamental inspiration for anyone preparing to design a Japanese garden; in a small space we try to bring back the sensations evoked by the wide natural horizons.
The first goal to aim for is to obtain a space that seems wide and unlimited, where the eye can run towards the horizon, and which reminds one of the immense natural spaces; for this reason, medium-sized trees are usually planted in small groups to imitate thickets; walkways and paths are also prepared, so as to direct the viewer's gaze towards the highlights of the garden.
To remember nature it is also important to place in the water garden, whether it is a bubbling stream or a small pond, but avoiding fountains or pools with rigid forms, which are excessively artificial.
The space can also be enriched by the presence of a small bridge, and by the classic stone lanterns. The stone is also present as an important decorative element, in the form of large rocks, which symbolize the mountains, and gravel, often placed instead of water.
The Zen garden
It is not yet clear whether the term Zen garden is original Japanese, or introduced by Westerners; in fact, with a Zen garden we mean a particular symbolic space.
This garden consists mainly of rocks and gravel; the rocks symbolize trees and mountains, while gravel represents water, whose flow is represented by long grooves, to be made on the gravel with a rake in long parallel lines. Often within the Zen garden there is also a small cavity to be filled with water, or patches of grass or moss.
This type of garden can also be very small in size, and it also pleasantly approaches a Japanese garden or a western garden, where it can occupy a small corner in dim light. Also in this case the garden must transmit a sense of peace and harmony, the materials used in it then also symbolize immobility and immortality; the preparation and observation of this type of garden therefore predisposes to meditation. Every day, if desired, it is possible to modify the layout and the path of the signs on the sand, this occupation predisposes to introspection and meditation on man and nature.
Zen Gardens: In Europe
The style of Japanese gardens has always fascinated us Westerners; the harmony they emanate penetrates the observer, who is lost ecstatic to observe the small ponds and the sinuous figures traced in the gravel; for some years these gardens have also been made in the west, trying to follow the ancient guidelines from Japan.
The reasons for the success of Japanese gardens are certainly to be found in the fascination aroused by all that is exotic and in the peace evoked by such scenarios. Another fundamental reason why many gardeners try to prepare these gardens also in Europe derives from the fact that more and more often our homes can enjoy a small green area; the Japanese garden, and also the Zen garden, adopt such expedients that even a small area of land can be sufficient to contain a harmonious and welcoming garden.