Friday, 27 December 2013

Water Permeating The Soil

The bank of bent ferns
Brilliant deep russet –
Saturation and dissolution
In aqueous flow,

Footfall on the muddy track
Clay flesh slippery underfoot,
The wind in the firs
The wind in the pines -
Different songs.

The path shapes my body
To its inward curve,
Enfolding silence
Awash with sound.

The swollen belly
Of mother to be -
Flowing also in water
The flowing of new flesh 
& consciousness.

Balanced in equity of being
The point of transformation,
Stealthy magick afoot
Single light in dark night
Burns of promised creations.

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Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Winter Water Music

The bones of the earth
Covered in moss -
Silent breathing
Soil life still churning.

Slipping out of form
Dissolved in formlessness –
Naked in soft winter rain.

Amidst white birch stems –
Ahh, no, the leaf carpet alive.

Down here
At the bottom of the cycle,
The bell rings
Then again –
Everywhere water droplets
Hitting the glimmering leaf carpet.

Black branches
Against the inky sky,
Arrow heads of deep ivy
Mosses and wood spurge –
No bird sound, just wind for now.

Wind music
Water music,
In the woods, late December.

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Sunday, 8 December 2013

Winter Gifts

Oh, how we crave answers
Responses to every shiver of desire-
Sitting still, finding no thing,
Just breath.

As if a falling shadow
The last crow reaches the roost –
Barely half past four.

Returning to the stream
Hoping to bathe in its music –
Clouds massing for rain.

Perhaps its winter’s gift
This lack of words for the world –
Empty pages and the poet.

Weaving our narratives
Into self-sustaining truths and beliefs,
So forgetting wind songs and leaf poems.
In this way we lose the path
Blind to the trees within the trees
And stumble over the rock strewn way.
Just breath, no mind required.

What of the dreams and aspirations
Of the earth itself,
Wherein its murmuring sigh of contentment,
Does it contract at our oncoming footfall?
Oh Beauty desiring to be known
To be placed in the light of awareness
No pushing for the river.

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A Brief History Of Japanese Gardens

Sento Gosho Imperial Palace, Kyoto
The Japanese garden tradition is one of the oldest continuous garden traditions in the world. The creation of gardens dates back to the time of the earliest official contacts between Japan and its continental neighbour China in the 7th century. In China the practice of landscape gardening was already highly developed and practised on a very sophisticated and extensive scale. Landscape gardens were created following the Paradise model. They were intended to recreate an idealised landscape, in effect creating a suitable abode for the deities on earth; in the anticipation by doing so that it would encourage the gods to reside on earth in closer proximity to human society.

The Heian period (784 - 1185), which began with the founding of a new capital, Kyoto, heralded a great flowering of the arts and culture in Japan. Culture remained the preserve of the minority, essentially the aristocracy. In particular, the garden tradition was to rise to prominence during this time, and a distinctly Japanese identity to gardens begins to emerge.

Illustration showing typical shindenzukuri layout
One of the characteristics of the period is the emergence of a particularly Japanese style of architecture, shindenzukuri. The shinden, or Main Hall, sat at the centre of the architectural complex, with roofed corridors extending out to the east and west sides, these in turn leading to pavilions. The area immediately to the south of the Main Hall was usually a flat gravelled courtyard (which was used on ceremonial occasions, in which two trees considered sacred - a mandarin orange and cherry - were planted). Beyond this, the garden was centred about a large pond, which was used for boating and situated in the pond would have been an island. The garden itself was landscaped in such a manner as to suggest a variety of different landscape settings, mountain landscapes, seascapes, riverine landscapes, marshes, and so on were created. A great variety of planting material was used specific to the type of landscapes being recreated in the garden.

It was popular to create sections of gardens which recalled or referred to scenic natural landscapes both in Japan as well as China. The aristocracy travelled rarely little beyond Kyoto itself, so these features in gardens became popular. The practice also indicates how important an ingredient the imagination of the viewer was in interpreting, understanding and appreciating the garden scenery.

In the early 11th century a manual of garden creation was complied, the Sakuteiki ('Records of Garden Making') is one of the earliest such books in the world. It covers many subjects in detail, from the different styles of gardens, use of stones and plants, to various taboos associated with gardens.

The end of the Heian period was marked by the decline in influence of the aristocracy, and the rise of the military class (samurai), as the predominant social class. At first, the samurai sought to maintain and imitate the garden and architectural styles of the nobility. In the gardens of the 12th through to the 15th centuries we find gardens such as Tenryu-ji, Saiho-ji, Toji-in, Ginkaku-ji and Kinkaku-ji, which retain elements of the Heian styles while at the same time striving towards new ideas and means of expression.
Komyõ-ji, Kyoto
The samurai were attracted to Zen Buddhism for its directness of expression, and they encouraged the spread and establishment of Zen temples. In the Zen temples a new style of garden gained popularity, the ‘Dry landscape’ or karesansui garden. Several monks achieved renown for their skills in garden creation. Zen temples are composed of two parts, the south-facing element is the ‘public’ section with reception rooms and the main prayer hall, and the north side of the temple is the ‘private’ section, where monks live and study. On the south side of the main hall was a large courtyard, usually enclosed by a tile-topped wall, the ground level spread with sand or gravel, which was used as a ceremonial space, known as the yuniwa. It was in this space that the karesansui gardens characteristic of Zen temples were developed,  and may be seen today. The gardens were not created specifically for the purpose of meditation rather they were gardens which were intended to reinforce the quality of sacred space associated with the temple..
From the 16th century onward one finds the emergence of a new style of garden, the Tea garden or Cha niwa. Essentially the Tea garden was a path (roji) which led to the tea house, and became a means by which the participants could prepare themselves for the ceremony. The garden deliberately down plays extravagance, rocks are small (if used at all), and the planting is predominately evergreen. Particular emphasis is placed on the layout of the path itself, as a means of influencing the manner in which the viewer is conveyed through space. Such features as stepping-stones, stone water basins and lanterns, which are now widely accepted as part of the fabric of a Japanese garden were first used and developed in the context of the Tea garden.

Daishin-in (Myoshin-ji), Kyoto

At the beginning of the Edo period (1603 - 1867) the seat of government was relocated from Kyoto to the small fishing village of Yedo (now Tokyo), which rapidly developed into a major city. There was a resurgence of estate gardens around Imperial residences, and also in particular around the homes of the leading samurai. They were required to have by edict several residences in the Edo are, the purpose was to soak up as much of their cash as possible, so they would not spend money on fermenting political troubles! Later, with the rise of a wealthy mercantile class, private gardens began to develop, albeit in fewer numbers. During the rise of Japan as an industrial superpower, many fine gardens were created for wealthy industrialists. Some survive to the present day, but are unfortunately rarely accessible to the public.

The Imperial gardens of Katsura Detached Palace, and Shugaku-in Rikyu are outstanding examples of gardens of the mid to late Edo period. Though relatively large in scale, the gardens incorporated many influences from Tea gardens. Katsura which was created in the early 17th century is a masterpiece of architecture and garden making. In many ways it has come to encapsulate the notion of 'Japanese style'

Katsura Rikyu
In the Edo period pruning techniques became popular. Clipped hedges began to appear in gardens, sometimes making dominant features. Azaleas and other shrubs would be planted en masse and clipped into controlled shapes. Garden creators such as Kobori Enshu (1579 - 1647) created innovative gardens by this means. The variety of plant species in gardens gradually simplified in number, and evergreens form the bulk of plantings. Many gardens are simply planted only with azaleas and pines.

Joju-in, Kyoto

Towards the end of the nineteen century, as Japan opened its doors to the West, lawns began to appear, and plant species from outside Japan were imported and used in gardens. Ogawa Jihei, Shigemori Mirei, and Nakane Kinsaku were the leading garden creators of the 20th century. They both maintained and developed the garden tradition into the modern age. It is a remarkable feature of the garden tradition that there is this apparently seamless development of the garden tradition. In fact the garden tradition established its norms and conventions relatively early, and has maintained them with great consistency over the years. Young trainee gardeners today still study the SakuteikiKyoto remains the centre of garden culture in Japan, it also has the greatest concentration of historic gardens, and several temples have been designated as World Heritage sites.

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Saturday, 30 November 2013

Trayscapes; Landscapes In Your Hand

Trayscapes, or bonkei (盆景) in Japanese, are an excellent way to practise the fundamental elements of design, and in particular rock arrangement – without straining muscles or budgets. Bonkei are essentially very small garden landscapes that can be created from the comfort of a chair if you so wish! Bonkei use plants and small rocks in the depiction of landscapes. An allied art form, bonseki 盆石 is very similar, but uses fine white sand on black lacquered trays to depict landscape scenery. The sand is manipulated with tools such as feathers in the creation of artworks that are not dissimilar to paintings. Sometimes this may involve also using small rocks to represent mountains or islands. Bonkei are more akin to three-dimensional sculptural pieces, and may include among the planted areas scaled down buildings, also animal and human figures set in the landscape settings. Bonkei and bonseki have a long history in Japan, and they have been created since at least the 13th century, and have been very popular with many classes of society. The idea of bonkei or creating reductive versions of landscapes probably originated in China, where they are called peng jing, though they are found through history all across south-east Asia (there is a long tradition of creating trayscapes in Vietnam).  In essence these miniaturized depictions of landscapes were an extension of the use of the garden to depict images or models of a paradisial state, and in doing so, to bring the qualities of the existence of such a state into the daily lives of those who made and tended such ‘landscapes’.

Trayscapes were seen to be a way of concentrating the life-giving forces contained within the landscape. To Taoist adepts dew was considered to be a drink of the immortals. Stones were placed (also mirrors too) in trays to catch dew, which was believed to originate from the moon. By this means the stones themselves were considered to have sacred qualities, and these qualities would pass on to collectors who displayed trayscapes in their homes. If stones can be endowed with sacred qualities then it is the same for plants that grow on them. One often used plants associated with trayscapes are bonsai pine trees. The pine in itself has many associations with longevity. Very old pines have a bark texture that is ‘stone like’ in appearance, and they can be to be found growing in narrow cracks in rock faces, where the tree and rock become inseparable one from the other.

As a garden apprentice in Japan one of the ways our sensei would explain the principles of stone arrangement was by demonstrating with using small pieces of stones and ordinary building sand. Work time was not considered a suitable occasion for lengthy explanations of what he was doing by way arranging stones, an apprentice was expected to obey orders swiftly, not to puzzle over what one’s teacher was doing. But come a rainy day when site work was not possible then getting a small group of apprentices together, and working with a handful of small stones our teacher could set out his ideas in an immediate and graphic way.

In the Zen temples of the early medieval period in Japan there was much interest in way of depicting of landscape in both paintings and bonkei. It was a means for some Zen monks to highlight and explore important ontological and aesthetic issues concerning the nature of reality and its depiction. In Buddhism there is a perception of the manifestation and perception of the world as being illusory, when seen from a viewpoint of ultimate truth. So the creating of gardens or trayscapes both of which depicted ‘landscapes’ was to the Zen monks an excellent way of challenging fixed notions of what reality was. It also allowed them to view landscape gardens, trayscapes and landscape paintings as being more than simply symbolic representations of landscape. But to also provide them with a means to break through conventional perceptions and notions to grasp something of the essence of landscape, and to be able to engage with the concept of the essence of landscape itself. As Joseph Parker writes; “Both illusion and playfulness entail an intrinsic sense of movement and transformation that erodes or breaks by means of disjunction and juxtaposition the rigid, clinging grasp of attachment and the rigid bifurcations of deluded, discriminatory thinking.”[1] In Zen thinking it is considered essential if one is pursing the idea of enlightenment that it is vital to break through attachment to conceived notions.

It is simple to use the term ‘minature landscape’ in association with bonkei, but I am not sure this is quite appropriate, and not actually misleading a term. Miniature implies something that is essentially reductive in size; whereas what is being attempted in a bonkei is to create a work that bears all the hallmarks of landscape. The method of delivery may be reductive, but the ambition is not, the essence of what is being presented to the viewer is not reductive at all. The bonkei presents one with sufficient material to engage the mind of the viewer, to stimulate his or her imagination in creating around those elements presented a much greater picture that will incorporate corporeal memory and experience of landscape itself. The bonkei scenery evokes landscape and stimulates the viewer to re-experience landscape, to reconnect with the landscape of body-mind.

Kokan Shiren (虎関師錬), 1278–1347) was an important figure in the Zen Buddhist world of Japan, who was responsible for establishing many Zen temples across the country at a time when Zen was beginning to become an established form of Buddhism in Japan. He was also regarded as a great poet in the Chinese style. Circa 1300 Shiren wrote a piece entitled ‘Rhymeprose On a Miniature Landscape Garden’, in which he details the response of a visitor to a trayscape he had constructed with small stones on a green celadon tray filled with white sand. Whilst Shinren felt the resulting landscape was successful, his visitor was less impressed, and commented the trayscape was “a little bald”, that is, lacking in planting.
Shinren responded ….“You see a pile of stones and fail to see the mountains. The marvelous thing about miniature landscape gardens is that they are imitations of mountains and streams. The base is made to look flowing waves and the cliffs are made to seem covered with vegetation. Sometimes you can see miniature gnarled pine or knobby plum. You might see unusual blossoms or strange new shoots from their trimmed branches. Of course you will discover the utter vexation of your creations withering and wilting due to carelessness of slow watering and tending. If you fail to exert yourself, then you will simply fail to fashion a magnificent mountain and a smaller world among the smaller mounds and hills.

“…. These stones then, just a number of inches tall, and this tray roughly a foot across, they are nothing short of a mountainous island rising from the sea! Jade-green peaks penetrate the clouds and are encircled by them. A blue-green barrier, immersed in water, is standing straight up. There are caves as if carved in the cliff sides to hide saints and immortals. Jetties and spits flat enough and long enough for fishermen. The paths and roads are narrow and confined, yet woodcutters can pass along them. There are lagoons deep and dark enough to hide dragons….

“Another thing, do you think this miniature landscape is big? Do you think it is small? I will blow on the water and raise up billows from the four seas. I will water the peak and send down a torrent from the ninth heaven! The person who waters the stones sets the cosmos in order. The one who changes the water turns the whole sea upside down. Those are the changes in nature that attain a oneness in my mind. Anyway, the relative size of things is an uncertain business. Why, there is a vast plain on a fly’s eyelash and whole nations in a snail’s horn, a Chinese philosopher has told us. Well what do you think?”
My visitor got up from his seat and made his excuses. He saw that these stones purified my senses and purified my intellect. He realized that events are really not what they seemed and yet they enriched me. I told him that he only understood what he perceived with his own eyes and did not understand my point of view at all. I asked if he wouldn’t like to sit for a while longer and study the matter afresh. He said he would, but there were no waves for him. He said nothing more and I was silent. After a while my visitor left without another word.”[2]

From these extracts we can see that Shiren is looking beyond the limitations of a mechanistical interpretation of the trayscape, one that only sees small stones and white sand on a celadon tray. In Shiren’s perception, his imagination conjures up a landscape in all it magnificent detail. More than that it is a landscape in which he is completely and utterly immersed, there is no separation between the landscape and Shiren, they become one and the same; it is therefore an immersive, haptic landscape, as much as an act of imagination. Shiren’s writings have had a profound influence on the development of the Japanese garden, particularly the karesansui or ‘dry landscape garden, which are in many respects trayscapes writ large, and likewise on the perception of these gardens.

Containers for trayscapes need not be trays. In fact nearly any manner of container can be turned to use in creating a trayscape. Dishes that are suitable for bonsai planting are very suitable, they are available from many sources, and are available in a wide variety of sizes, depths and colours. Containers can also be created out of timber, particularly if one is creating trayscapes that are not destined to contain planting. Karesansui, or ‘dry landscape’ style trayscapes are suitable for placing indoors, on balconies, or any location that may not be conducive to the use of plants, which will require light and regular watering. The size and configuration of the container can be of any dimension, there is no reason to constrain oneself, rather it is a question of using what is available, else creating a container for a specific location if the trayscape is to be a long term exhibit. Most bonkei will have a relatively short life span, and the materials and layout can be changed or reassembled anew.

The design principles for creating trayscapes are just the same as have been outlined for the creation of stone arrangements.  The selection of stones is always important and for trayscapes this is particularly so, as the stones will be observed at close quarters. It is not always necessary to use small stones in relation to the size of the container, as this will generally have the effect of emphasizing the limited dimensions of the container. Where the stones dominate the space they are displayed in then the stones will have a greater visual impact, this is particularly the case when using relatively tall upright stones in a container. As noted above, a viewer will likely be looking at the stones in some detail, so if one can find stones will interesting textural effects then they will make good subjects for a trayscape.

Traditional bonkei use fine sand, often white in colour. This is principally because the trays themselves are covered by black lacquer, in such a case the white sand shows in stark contrast and make good visual impact. Where the container is ceramic or composed of wood, then the range of sand or fine gravels are greater. If gravel is chosen then generally a maximum particle size of 8-10mm works best. Anything over this will look very coarse, and be out of proportion unless the container is large, and even then it is probably better to stay with a finer, 8-10mm, gravel in all cases. It is of course possible to create trayscapes using simply different gravels and not using stones to create vertical planes. In such a case then the design and layout of the gravels or sands can work well in creating abstract flowing patterns within the container. Although it is taking the trayscape idea beyong representations of landscapes, or landscape features, it is interesting to also look at Tibetan Buddhist sand mandalas. These are complex and intricate geometric patterns that are depicted by using coloured sands, some designs can take several weeks to complete. The sand mandalas are ritualistically destroyed when the accompanying viewing ceremonies are completed, this is intended to reinforce the Buddhist conception of the transitory and ephemeral nature of all material things.

Where planting is used in trayscapes it needs to be proportional to the container. In Chinese peng jing bonsai trees are used to great effect to create at times visually complex and dramatic landscape scenery. In general evergreen material works well, though there is no need not to also incorporate deciduous material too. Leaf size is important, and in general small, fine leaved plants, such as Buxus sempervirens, Hebe raikiensis, and Ilex crenata, work well. Other species to consider can include heathers (Erica spp.), dwarf Spirea, and evergreen Japanese Azalea. If the arrangement is only for a limited time then it may be interesting to consider other options such as grasses and other herbaceous material, even bulbs and corms such as small leaved cyclamen could be incorporated. Then there is a very large range of alpines that can be incorporated into trayscapes.  A visit to a local garden centre or plant nursery will invariably turn up a range of interesting material. Bear in mind to look for plants that will be in the correct proportion to the trayscape, also bear in mind the fewer different species works better than trying to mix a number of different species together. Many trayscapes incorporate small bonsai trees, and these are excellent to create the impression of a landscape. In peng jing arrangements trees are planted into small pockets, either natural or hollowed out in stones, or trees can be planted and nurtured to grow over a rock, so that in time they will ‘grasp’ the rock.

One of the great joys of creating trayscapes is that there is a great sense of creative freedom. You can make your own rules; most trayscapes are small in size and require limited materials so one can allow the imagination to run with the idea. Also consider incorporating overlooked materials such as broken pieces of moss covered concrete, gathering stones out of the garden or picking pebbles up on country walks. The world is literally in your hands.

[1] Joseph Parker, ‘Zen Buddhist Landscape Arts of Early Muromachi Japan’, State University of New York Press, 1999
[2] Saihokushu. The Princeton Companion to Classical Japanese Literature’. Milner, Odagiri, Morrell. Princeton University Press, 1985.

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Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Hakaze-an; Tea Pavilion Part 3

The building Hakaze-an is almost completed, just a very few minor details need to be finished. Originally the commission was to create the building with a small amount of landscaping around it. This has now been extended to add a large pond that will lap up close to the side of the building. The intention being that when the pond is filled with water the surface will catch a reflection of the building. The water surface will also add a air of mystery and calmness to the outlook from within the building. The pond will feature an island, which will be linked by stepping stones to the shoreline, allowing for a circular walk around the garden as a whole.

The tokonoma or alcove is for displaying a flower arrangement, a piece of pottery or a scroll painting.  The floor of the alcove is of cherry wood, and the white lime washed wall catches natural light from above. One last detail is to be added to complete the tokonoma, which will be shown in the next blog instalment.
Walls being rendered with lime plaster . The drainage gully filled with polished black pebbles has not been installed in this photograph.
Projects, be they gardens or buildings, the best of projects evolve in their own right. One can as the designer, visualise and conceive of a concept for a building or garden, but what happens in the best of circumstances is that the building or garden is recognised as having an independent life or being of it's own. This demands a leap of faith by the client, the designer and the builder, also a level of sensitivity in how to manage the 'inner' expression of the building or garden. It is ultimate a fine balance, as the work requires guidance, yet equally sufficient space to establish its own sense of being. 

The shaped roof was covered with a 150mm (6") deep layer of free draining material and then sheets of pre-grown sedum matting was laid over. The green roof absorbs and retains water, it also allows the building with its curved roof to blend elegantly into the surrounding landscape.

The roof is covered with Sedum matting, retained by a copper edging. Also visible is the window inserted to allow natural day-light to illuminate the tokonoma alcove.

                               The drainage gully can be seen, it catches water dripping from the roof.
The level of love, care and attention that has gone into the building has been a measure of developing its own identity. Respecting the qualities of the materials is also an important aspect. All material have their own 'life', and when approaching the creation of a building as a work of art, then these qualities need to be respected and incorporated into the unfolding of the finished form. The rendering of the walls is done with lime plaster, a traditional material that has been used in buildings in England for centuries. Lime plaster breathes, that is it allows the passage of water through the material. It hardens in time through a process of carbonification. Once the two coats of render have been applied and have dried  then a colour wash is applied. On the walls of Hakaze-an four coats of a neutral colour lime wash were applied to colour the walls. All the timbers have been treated with oil to bring out their colour and the detail of the grain of the timber.

All the main structural beams are held together with oak pegs.
Detail of roof supports
A hallmark of the whole ethos of the building has been to create a simple structure of fine natural materials, allowing as far as possible to allow the materials to reveal their own qualities. To enrich the eye and heart of the visitor by their presence and individual qualities. In approaching the landscape treatment of the exterior of the building it was conceived that here there would be more in the way of detail. Hence the detailed stonework of flat black and white pebbles have been set on edge to create the notion of flow. This detail actually starts within the entrance (genkan) 'flows' out to meet the path leading up to the entrance. The dry stream of pebbles then splits to the right and left; to the right it meets two large boulders set as guardian spirits, and to the left the stream flows towards the water basin arrangement, a traditional feature of the Japanese Teahouse architecture, where guests would perform a ritual ablution of hands and mouth.

The completed landscaping of the entrance to the building. The drainage gully can also be seen

Detail of the completed 'hard' landscaping immediately to the front of the building.

A water-basin arrangement to one side of the building. The basin (centre) is carved from a glaciated boulder.
 The approach to the building is calm and measured, principally laid with York stone flags of various sizes as stepping stones. The entire design of building and garden draws upon both Eastern and Western sources for inspiration. The whole is intended to find a meeting of Eastern and Western conceptions.
A stepping stone path of flagstones leads the visitor to the main entrance. Sagina subulate has been planted between the stones. The water-basin arrangement is to the right side behind the planting of dwarf rhododendrons

In the next blog post further details of the pond construction will be shown. The pond will have an island and a 3waterfall. The pond is intended to be a shallow pond, used mainly for its reflective surface, but with the inclusion of two deep areas. A specimen pine has been sourced to be planted on the island.

The pond will come quite close to the building. The island is the area where the surveyor's tripod is stood.(centre left). The concrete shelves will support stonework once the liner has been laid into the pond.

Looking out from the main space towards the pond and island being excavated. 

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Saturday, 23 November 2013

Wind Stories

Arcing into light
Soft footfall at daybreak,
Pushing on the open door.

Arcing into dark
Searching for fuel for warmth,
Closing the door

The last of the crab-apple leaves
Spinning wildly on their stems -
A sudden gust of wind.

Slipping into the cave for winter
Withdrawing the roots
Withdrawing the stems
Silence lit by a single flame.

Wind crossing open space
Bending grasses
Scattering the frost –
Receiving the gift of change.

How long ago it seems
That distance was closed
Corporeal tenderness unbound
Memory’s binding blessing -
Song of the birds at first light.

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