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Created Dec 28, 2017
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It is safe to assert that no other country has such a distinctive form of landscape gardening as Japan. In English, French, Italian, and Dutch gardens, however original in their way, there are certain things they seem all to possess in common: terraces, which originally belonged to Italian gardens, were soon introduced into France; clipped trees, which were a distinctive feature of Dutch gardens, were copied by the English; the fashion of decorating gardens with flights of stone steps, balustrades, fountains, and statues at one time spread from Italy throughout Europe; and possibly the over-decoration of gardens led to a change in taste in England and a return to a more natural style. The gardens of China and Japan have remained unique; the Eastern style of gardening has never spread to any[2] other country, nor is it ever likely to; for, just as no Western artist will ever paint in the same manner as an Oriental artist because his whole artistic sense is different, so no Western gardener could ever hope to construct a garden representing a portion of the natural scenery of Japan—which is the aim and object of every good Japanese landscape garden, however small—because, however long he might study the original scene, he would never arrive at the Japanese conception of it, or realise what it conveyed to the mind of a Japanese. Their art of gardening was originally borrowed from the Chinese, who appear to have been the first to construct miniature mountains, and to bring water from a distance to feed miniature water-falls and mountain torrents. They even went so far as, in one enclosure, to represent separate scenes for different seasons of the year, and different hours of the day, but to the Japanese belongs the honour of having perfected the art of landscape gardening.
It is not my intention to weary the reader with technical information on the subject, which he will find admirably explained in Mr. Conder’s volume on Landscape Gardening in Japan, but an outline of some of the theories and rules which guide[3] the Japanese gardener will help us to appreciate his work and give an additional interest to the hours spent in these refreshing retreats from the outer world.
The designer of a good landscape garden has to be guided by many things. A scene must be chosen suited to the size of the ground and the house, and its natural surroundings; and the Japanese garden being above all a spot for secluded leisure and meditation, the temperament, sentiment, and even the occupation of the owner are brought into consideration. Their conception of the expression of nature is governed in its execution by endless æsthetic rules; considerations of scale, proportion, unity, and balance, in fact all that tends to artistic harmony, must be considered, so as to preserve the perfect balance of the picture, and any neglect would destroy that feeling of repose which is so essential in the landscape garden. When we realise that the art has occupied the minds of poets, sages, and philosophers, it is not to be wondered at that something more than the simple representation of natural views has entered into the spirit of their schemes, which attain to poetical conceptions; and a garden may be designed to suggest definite ideas and associations, in fact[4] the whole art is enshrouded by quaint æsthetic principles, and it is difficult for the Western mind to unravel the endless laws and theories by which it is governed.
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