Turning Japanese

It’s almost a year since we dug the pond – the first stage of a Japanese-inspired garden.  As it turned out we had more time on our hands in 2020 then we expected and that meant that we could create the next part – our take on a Zen garden.

When I say ‘Zen’ I am not trying to pretend that I have any deep insight into this ancient style (and certainly not the philosophy). The intention is to create a quiet, restful place that leaves space for the mind to fill.  Not full of showy flowers, focusing instead on greens from ferns, pines and bamboo.  At the garden’s centre would be a raked, gravel ‘sea’ with a mossy mountainous island rising from it….

The end result is simple but it is deceptively time-consuming to put in place.  To create a sea and mountains means of course shifting lots of soil.    In order to convincingly suggest an expanse of water surrounded by the land you need the water to be flat and to ensure that the enclosing mountains ‘keep the water in’.  Digging the pond almost killed me so I won’t pretend that I enjoyed days more digging – even if it is sand.

The starting point was a fairly anonymous area next to the large cedar, just beyond room five and heading out towards the woods.  When we first arrived the area was covered mostly conifers.  I then tried to start a rose garden but it didn’t work –  too dry and too much shade.  We all make mistakes but there were plenty of places to move them to.

Once the grass, bramble and the odd bit of errant bamboo had been removed we brought in the local tree surgeons to remove the old conifer stumps.

Once the stumps had gone there was a blank canvas.  Soil was moved around (randomly?) to try and create the sea and mountains – whilst at the same time having to keep a certain black Labrador occupied.

Fortunately I had plenty of offcuts from the pond liner that somehow managed to almost exactly cover the base of the ‘sea’.  I did use a spirit level to try and ensure that it was flat but it was still a challenge and your eyes can play tricks on you – whatever your tools might say.

The final addition was of course gravel – provided by a UK company that focuses entirely on Japanese supplies.  Apparently it is the type that is used in Japanese Temple gardens – perhaps the only authentic part of the whole thing!

The sea is then ‘bordered’ at one end with a curving brick path (the bricks having been saved from the demolition of the original cottage).  Strictly using artificial materials in Japanese gardens is a no no – but it’s good to recycle and we don’t have the money for anything more appropriate.  Hopefully come the spring it will be lined by iris. Though as I grew them from seed last year – perhaps I am being rather ambitious.

The brick path marks the boundary of the last part of the Japanese Garden….. hopefully that will be coming soon.