Japanese gardens are the reflection of an ideal landscape: plants, stones and ponds symbolize natural and Buddhist principles. In a new illustrated book, landscape architect Sophie Walker explores these places.

By Katharina Cichosch

A handful of rocks on a tiny piece of grass, surrounded by a 248-square-foot gravel bed, fringed by a clay wall, on which a few pale patches of brown and orange are visible: The Ryõan -ji is, even if the Banause may assume this , no place like any other.

The American avant-garde composer John Cage wrote a whole piece of music in 1985 in homage to the Japanese Garden; He also contributed a series of the same name with drawings. Yoko Ono, who made a performance there in 1962, in turn attracted him to the more than 500-year-old rock garden in a Zen temple in Kyoto.

The Japanese experimental filmmaker Taka Iimura even dedicated his own film meditation to the fabulous garden in 1989, which is intended to familiarize the viewer with the concepts of emptiness and "Ma", the concept of space and time, which are difficult to grasp in Western minds.

Scientists have also kept Royan-ji busy: with his perfect proportions, visual axes and materials, he is considered a prime example of the Japanese Garden, the mysterious green space that, at first sight, has nothing in common with its western counterpart.

In her book "The Japanese Garden", Sophie Walker approaches Far Eastern garden art from several directions simultaneously: systematically as a landscape designer and associatively as an admirer. The young British and former art history student creates private and public gardens and gardens. In 2014, she was the youngest member of the legendary Chelsea Flower Show, which the BBC reports in daily specials year after year. She was, if one can say so, the shooting star of Horticulture - and dedicated in her first book now just the Japanese horticultural art.

"Japanese gardens present a world that is deeply nonhuman"

Walker explains plants and epochs, Shintoism and Zen Buddhism, as well as very tangible things. She explains to the reader, for example, that one enters with caution a Japanese garden - and in special garden slippers, which are often available at the entrance. Very often, she lets her study objects speak for herself: dry kieselgärten and plant seas in all manner of colors and textures, which sometimes seem straight out of a Technicolor film by Douglas Sirk. Others look like the miniature world of a beautiful railway system. Modern versions even use artificial light or brighter colors. And yet others exist only so, seemingly completely outside of their own horizon.

"Japanese gardens present a world that is deeply nonhuman," writes artist Lee Ufan at one point in the book. The driving force here is not anthropocentrism, the human being in the center, but a higher principle. That's right: with the romantic feelings aroused rose gardens of British provenance, with the sublime parks of French castles, which are tailored straight for an effect for their visitors, has a garden like the Konchi-in in Kyoto at first glance little in common. Its bushes and trees are arranged, its stones and streams are placed and its paths created so that the human can walk around on them. But its effect does not unfold between bombastic seas of flowers and artfully modeled hedges, but far more subtly on the second,

The Japanese Garden as an invitation to internal emigration

Conversely, this composition of plants and stones without the human being as a designer is unthinkable. This highly cultivated horticultural art has little to do with wild nature. With Walker one can read about the meaning levels of the design and why stones and green do not resemble each other within a fraction of a second. One learns that the contrast of pond and hill is one of the most important for the Japanese garden. How plants can be poetically arranged. And why many gardens should be looked at by a round lookout, which - as shown on the book cover - breaks out of a rectangle.

With "The Japanese Garden", Sophie Walker has created more than just another pretty coffeetable book for occasional flipping through: her book is an essay, collection of material, cultural-historical and landscape-architectural contemplation of a phenomenon that has shaped a generation of artists and intellectuals. Only the one or the other guest contribution has an esoteric or missionary effect on the reader. The "zen boom" of the fifties may have long since subsided, Walker shows: The topic is still exciting today.

One can sink into a consideration for a good while in this consideration; Think of the architect Walter Gropius, who learned to appreciate the Japanese Garden as an invitation to internal emigration: do not conquer outer worlds, first open up inner ones. And then you find somewhere a photo of John Cage, black and white: He sits in front of the Hojo Garden in the Nanzen-ji Temple, just sitting there and watching.