By ANNE SWITHINBANK
Contemplative, spiritual and rooted in Zen Buddhist and Shinto philosophy, Japanese gardens can be a challenge to Westerners. We are more accustomed to looking and judging, perhaps deciding one garden is beautiful and another not to our taste. Lacking the tradition of an animistic religion and the concept that all
things have a soul, how readily do we open our minds to interpret plants, rocks, moss, water or moonlit gravel in an alternative way? A desire to engage more fully not just with Japanese but all gardens provides an excellent motive for immersion in this book.
In her introductory essay, garden designer Sophie Walker explains Chinese influences and the spiritual background that informed 1,200 years of Japanese garden making. Rock is important and in some gardens, there are cones of sand and gravel that might invoke mountains or other imagined possibilities. Amusingly,
these cones are likely to have come about by happy accident. Piles of gravel delivered to temple courtyards as a surfacing material appealed symbolically to the monks and instead of raking them down, they began to incorporate them into their designs, as at the temple precinct of Daitoku-ji Hojo in Kyoto.
Lit by historic anecdotes, Walker guides us through Buddhist temple gardens, ones for tea, and contemporary designs in ten themed chapters, each with an introductory essay followed by well-captioned photographs, amounting to 92 gardens in total.
In The Way, Body and Mind, we learn that some, such as the sublime garden of Tenju-an in Kyoto, invite us in but with mindfulness. 'Stepping into the Japanese garden is like entering a place of worship,' suggests Walker. Paths or stones for the feet dictate how and where to walk and there exists such a thing as garden slippers.
Carefully positioned gardens employ shakkei, or the art of borrowed scenery, and 'unenterable' ones are pathless and to be regarded or partly imagined from certain viewpoints. Dry landscape gardens (karesansui) like that at Ryoan-ji use no water, just rocks and raked gravel. Their emptiness is a significant absence
known as mu, designed to encourage self-contemplation. Injecting fresh and individual styles into the book are seven separate essays written by artists, architects and cultural experts.
Japanese contemporary artist Tatsuo Miyajima reminds us that the concept of mitate originally meant 'looking with one's own eyes to make choices', and in art, 'the ability to see one thing as something different'. Both are excellent mantras for anyone making a garden. Take care though, for such apparently natural looking gardens are bound to provoke an entirely unnatural amount of work.