Japanese Gardens

San Francisco's Japanese Tea Garden

Japanese gardens can teach us small-space gardeners a lot of things, topiary, sizing bushes, using maximum impact in a small space.  And yet, I cannot bring myself to love Japanese-style gardens: they are too rigorous.  Too perfect.  They are lovely to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live with one.  The moss must be perfect.  The hedge trimmed in a perfect wave.  I just want to lie down when I think about it.

Nonetheless, I have visited a good number of Japanese-style gardens in my time- oddly, even though I have been to Japan twice (briefly) I never visited a native Japanese garden.

My favorite things about these gardens are the use of everyday materials in unusual ways.

Bamboo! trimmed into waves.

I have never seen bamboo pruned like this.  It was very cool.  I am certain that I wouldn’t/couldn’t do this for my hedge problem- but if I did!  (This was also in the San Francisco Japanese Tea Garden- worth a visit, even at $5 a person.)

I also admire the use of color- that isn’t in flowers: leaves, bark, groundcovers.  Don’t get me wrong, I love flowers, but purple-leaved maples, perfectly pruned silvery evergreens, bright chartreuse bushes (was that an evergreen?  I don’t remember.)

color without flowers

I also respect the pruning.  Neat.  Thoughtful.  Clearly done frequently.

pruning along the meandering path

The Tea Garden in San Francisco is a great example of this.  But it is not the only one.  Chicago Botanic Garden has a great one too: my favorite part, the island.

More pruning, in Chicago.

Oh- my hand aches to look at this.

Back in San Francisco, I couldn’t resist the azaleas (another no-no in my limey soil):

Lovely fire-red rhodies

As overly fussy as these gardens can be, understanding them may be akin to modern artists learning how to paint portraits and still lifes: once you know the technique, then you can be wild and crazy Picasso/flamboyant English Garden style.  Although it certainly wouldn’t hurt for me to be a bit more disciplined in the garden, it is probably the least disciplined part of my life, I think I’ll keep it that way.

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