I got an E-Mail via our Real Japanese Gardens website lately about the small details in Japanese gardens.
The writer visited Kyoto and was fascinated by the greater view of the gardens, but when he watched from close, it was far from the perfection he expected.
In this E-Mail he also asked for gardens in Kyoto or Tokyo, where he could find the perfection in detail like excellent pruning of the shrubs.
Unfortunately the writer didn’t leave a valid E-Mail address and my answer came back as impossible to deliver.
However, why not answering the questions here? And maybe he is also following our blog and will read…
I am not sure what state of perfection Japanese garden lovers expect when visiting gardens in Japan.
As a gardener who worked in a Botanical Garden in Germany and had the opportunity to care for one small garden every day, I know that it is not easy to keep it in a perfect state. Even when being there every day.
There are brown leaves every day, parts of plants becoming yellow, weed is appearing and the shrubs are growing faster than one person can trim.
With my experience working in Tokyo, I know that there are almost no gardeners in public gardens who are working there every day.
Major cutting works will maybe done 4 times a year. If a garden is operated by the city, these works could be given to a company by tendering process. This means, who can do the work for the cheapest price might win.
As we all know, time is money.. and the shrubs and trees might not be cut in a way it would be done by a traditional company in Kyoto.
However, these companies also have well trained gardeners and a layman shouldn’t see the difference in work except there are two examples right next to each other.
In private gardens in Tokyo, normally the same company is coming for all the major works and should have more time to complete the pruning.
Between the major cutting works volunteers often help with weeding and minor garden works.
In Kyoto we have more companies based with a very long tradition like the Ueji company. These companies already built gardens some hundred years ago and also continued to maintain them.
These companies were in the perfect situation to keep the appearance of a garden over centuries with replacing trees, which became too large and remove and replace dead shrubs.
Maybe a perfect example for this method continuing is the Adachi Museum of Art, although the gardens are still quite new.
However, in Kyoto the situation might be the same as in Tokyo. There is a schedule for how often cutting works are done. Even if one company is coming to a garden several times a week, they will not make cutting works every time. They will let the shrubs and trees grow, also to keep the flowers (if you cut azalea before the blossom, they will of course not bloom!), before making the next cut.
To see perfect cut shrubs, it is necessary to come right after this kind of maintenance work was done. Some gardens like Murin-an or temples like Myoshin-ji’s Taizo-in have Facebook pages or Instagram where you can check what they are up to in the moment.
The perfect details of Japanese gardens lie in my opinion not in the condition of the trees and shrubs or the moss, it is the perfect play-together of shrubs, trees, stone settings, the surrounding landscape, elements and the buildings.
Every element, every stone is carefully placed. Every tree was planted in its place with a special effect in mind.
Looking at a bamboo fence from close you might see that the bamboo is already old and have spots and the shuronawa is already worn out. But this is also a necessary part of Japanese gardens. You have to see that materials are aging because this is part of nature. Before they fall completely apart, they will be renewed and the life circle will begin anew.
Perfect details can also be seen in the architecture of the buildings in Japanese gardens.
Take the townhouse of Yoshida Isoya for example. I am sure most people visiting do not even see the details when they are not explained to them. The most impressive one here are the shoji.
Maybe, if one is searching for the perfection in the plants’ part of a garden, it is necessary to look beyond the maintenance part. Perfectly trimmed hedges might be found in a french or english castle garden, but not in a Japanese garden when it isn’t time for maintenance.
The perfection lies in the arrangement and placing of plants, stones and other elements.
This is exactly what we want to show in our eBooks. We don’t want to show photoshoped pictures. We want to introduce how a Japanese garden is really like. Show the beauty of a garden in rain or an old bamboo fence which should be replaced soon. We want to show that there is more to look at, more to experience and more to learn.