Design Principles in Japanese Gardening
Harmony with Nature
Central to the design of Japanese gardens is appreciation and respect for nature. Therefore, all that is done in the Japanese garden is to be in harmony with its natural surroundings. Within the garden itself, much effort is given to bringing all the opposing elements of the garden together into an artistic unity: dark and light; space and form; smooth and fine; hidden and obvious. The other underlying principle, already discussed, is the theme of natural scenery whether it is a minimized version of nature, a copy of a particular natural scene, or a representative scene using symbolic materials.
Asymetry and Odd Numbers
You will find the Japanese garden reflects a preference for asymetry and odd numbered components, usually threes and fives, with a dominant element and two subordinate ones. This comes from Taoist and Zen influences on Eastern thinking. There is an appreciation for the process of attaining perfection rather than on the state of perfection itself which symmetry more accurately reflects. To the eastern mind, there is beauty in what is absent as well as in what is present. Also, odd numbered components better represent the randomness found in nature.
Triangles Create a Sense of Balance
The elements of the garden and the plantings follow the lines of a scalene triangle in their relationship to one another. This is more satisfying to the Japanese gardener than a symetrical balance. There may be single objects at the apex or odd groupings or even at time empty space. This pattern is repeated throughout the garden -- a series of interlocking scalene triangles. The designer tries to portray this balance from the various viewing points in the garden.
Using Perspective to Alter Depth, Distance, and Size
The Japanese are masters at altering the sense of depth, distance and size of the garden from the viewers perspective. The various elements of the garden can be manipulated to bring about the desired perspective and sense: placing larger trees, shrubs or objects in the foreground, smaller objects in the background; more commanding textures and colors in the foreground, more subtle textures and colors in the background; narrowing a path as it recedes in the yard. In your small gardening space, these principles can be applied to accomplish a greater sense of size.
Severe and calculated pruning, manipulating and contorting trees and shrubs help to bring about that prized sense of age in the Japanese garden. Pruning is discussed in more depth on the Pruning and Shaping page of this site.