Books / Reviews | ESSENTIAL READING FOR JAPANOPHILES

'The Art of the Japanese Garden': Green-fingered insight into Japanese garden spaces

by Steve John Powell

Contributing Writer

Steve Jobs described Kyoto’s Japanese gardens as “the most sublime thing I’ve ever seen.” The splendid color photos that adorn every page of this book offer convincing support for that claim.

The Art of the Japanese Garden, by David and Michiko Young.
176 pages
TUTTLE PUBLISHING, Gardening.

However, “The Art of the Japanese Garden” (winner of the 2006 American Horticultural Society Book Award) is no mere coffee table tome. Authors David and Michiko Young delve deeply into the development of Japanese gardens over the centuries. They also examine the intricate interplay of elements and design principles that create the sublime effect.

The book begins by examining a garden’s typical components. First, the structural elements — such as rocks, ponds, trees — that are arranged to suggest mountains, valleys and beaches. How this miniaturization of large-scale landscapes is achieved in a limited space never fails to intrigue.

Equally important are the decorative elements — stone lanterns, pagodas, koi carp, flowers and buildings like pavilions and teahouses, not forgetting the crucial role of the changing seasons.

In the section “Japan’s Most Notable Gardens,” the book examines the various styles chronologically, from early gravel courtyard gardens, through Heian Period (794-1185) Zen, samurai, tea and Edo Period (1603-1868) gardens. Finally, we see a selection of modern gardens and some Japanese gardens abroad, with the characteristics of each illustrated by choice examples. Newcomers will find this book to be an ideal introduction and even veteran garden-goers will find it helps them approach familiar gardens with renewed enthusiasm and insight.

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