Reviewer Allan Becker: Allan has been designing and planting flower gardens, since he was a teenager in the 1960's. Now retired from the soft goods industry, where he held several positions in design, product development, and marketing, he has turned his passion for gardening into a second career, as a garden designer for private clients in Montreal, Canada.
Photographer: Alex Ramsay
Publisher: Frances Lincoln
Japanese gardens belong to a tradition of artistic landscaping that began over a thousand years ago. Readers with only a vague idea about this subject will be surprised by the mesmerizing images that await them; the serene gardens visited in this publication are both spiritual and beautiful beyond words
Photographer: Alex Ramsay
Publisher: Frances Lincoln
Japanese gardens belong to
a tradition of artistic landscaping that began over
a thousand years ago. Readers with only a vague idea about
this subject will be surprised by the mesmerizing
images that await them; the serene gardens visited in
this publication are both spiritual and beautiful
The Gardens of Japan is a guided tour through 28 historic landscapes, each one a living work of art. While the background information is comprehensive, it is an easy topic to grasp. This is due to the masterful way in which the author, Helene Attlee, has classified the evolution of the Japanese garden into 5 historic eras. For each period, she explains how the ancient designers created gardens, the function of the garden for its time, and how the designers intended it to be appreciated by visitors.
· Japan’s garden history begins in the Hein era, from the 8th to the 12th century. In this period, parks were refered to as pond-spring-boat-gardens. Water played a key role in the design because landscape was admired from a pleasure boat.
second era, called Pure Land, spanned
the 11th century. Records dating back to this
period include manuals for designing gardens that
begin with instructions on how to select a beautifully shaped
· Kare-sansui gardens of
the third era span the 12th to the 14th century.
This period accompanied the growth of Zen
Buddhism, which influenced the physical appearance of
gardens. Essentially, they were austere and
monochromatic compositions depicting abstract versions
of natural landscapes. Rock and stone were the primary elements
used in designs where meticulously raked gravel symbolized
water. Unlike gardens of other eras, where visitors
admired nature by moving from one scene to another,
Zen gardens were contemplated from a stationary position.
· During the 16th to 17th century, the fourth era saw the introduction of Momoyama or theTea Ceremony Garden. Here the visitor would stroll through an idealized landscape before arriving at a building used for the ceremony. The garden included a twisted path to a teahouse, flanked with naturalistically planted evergreen foliage. Within the path, stepping-stones, placed at specific intervals, controlled the pace of the visitor’s movements. The garden contained groves of pruned trees, artificial rolling hills, and elaborate rock arrangements. From inside the teahouse, there was always a framed view to the outdoors that recreated a famous landscape.
· The fifth
era, the Meiji period, extended from the 19th to
the 20th century, when designers
incorporated western influences into their gardens. A wide
range of foreign plants began to appear, as did the
rolling manicured lawns of the English. During this time, many
private gardens, belonging to Japanese aristocracy,
were converted into public parks
The author deftly separates the tour of the gardens into 28 chapters so that the reader can study and appreciate one garden at a time. Each chapter explains the historical context in which a garden was created, and is illustrated with superb photographs. There are more than 130 stunning color images in this publication.
Of special interest to this reviewer are
two ancient gardens that resonate with a modern
architectural idiom. The first, Hosen-In was built as
a temple garden about 700 years ago. Its design
allows the visitor to admire the garden from
inside the temple. The “windows” of the temple are floor
to ceiling rectangular openings, reminiscent of
picture windows introduced by architect Frank Lloyd Wright in
the early 20th century. The second garden is the
Katsura–Rikyu. Built in the 17th century, it became an
inspiration to other early 20th century architects, such
as Gropius and Le Corbusier, who were astonished by
the design and described it as ”a model of modern
It is amazing to learn how urban Japanese people, living on the cutting edge of technology, will gather annually in ancient gardens to celebrate the beauty of the spring flowering trees and the fiery foliage of autumn. While these festivals are over 1500 years old, they are as relevant to Japanese society today as they were in antiquity. For those readers who would like to experience the gardens and the festivals first hand, The Gardens of Japan includes a map of garden locations, with contact information both for gardens and for tourist offices.
The landscapes featured in this publication exemplify all that is beautiful and serene about a Japanese garden - a park where “nature has been condensed, reproduced in miniature, and trained to perfection.” Photographer Alex Ramsay is to be commended for placing us inside these 28 gardens and filling us with awe.Click Here To Purchase The Gardens of Japan