The Katsura Monastery Garden
I mowed the yard yesterday. It’s about a third of an acre. It’s going to rain all weekend, and by Monday the grass will be an inch higher. I forgot the part about working into exercise gradually, so I went to bed early and hurt today. It was worth it. The grass is evenly cut and seems densely sowed. I can be proud of the lawn. I wasn’t last fall, when I didn’t get it cut one last time in time.
Mowing the yard put me back in touch with the gardens. Seeing the new growth, the lines of grass paths between the flower beds, the bushes sprouting buds, the trees beginning to leaf, and even places where grass wants to bury gravel,---all reminded me of the love and labor I’ve put into those gardens during the past nine years. There are three gardens and two garden spaces around my home, which I sometimes call Casa Serenissima: the Katsura Monastery Garden, the Edith Ellis Renaissance Herb Garden, the Rue McClanahan Memorial English Perennials Garden, the Himalayan Glacier Garden, and the Maine Woods Garden.
Let me tell you about the Japanese garden.
The Japanese Katsura Monastery Garden
The Katsura Monastery Garden is the primary garden now at Casa Serenissima. I began this Japanese garden as soon I moved to Maine in June of 2004. It is named after the Katsura Villa, a former imperial family palace in Kyoto, Japan. I was inspired by the grounds of this villa, by a Zen Buddhist abbot’s garden at Ryoan-ji Monastery, and by a photo in an unknown magazine.
Along the way, I designed and a friend built a Japanese “fence” made of 4 x 4 posts, beige-stained concrete slabs, a shingle roof, shelves for relics, and a platform for meditation. This fence provides for the garden a visual boundary instead of the side of my white Maine farm house. I’m told that this garden was the “keystone” of the Lewiston-Auburn House and Garden Tour in 2008.
The design elements that make this garden a success are all essentials.
Japanese Katsura Monastery Garden
My Japanese Garden
Scale in Japanese Gardens
Scale in a Japanese garden is extremely important. The garden is intended to be a smaller version of reality. If one has a good imagination, then small stone mountains become real ones, shrubs become trees or woods, and slate chip ponds and streams become real water. Hills or mountains outside the garden can be incorporated as “borrowed scenery.” The overall effect is to resemble nature as much as possible on a smaller scale.
Stones in Japanese Gardens
Japanese gardens require lots of boulders and stones, lots of shrubs, small and medium-sized trees, water features, and virtually nothing that flowers. That’s a lot, really.
Small boulders and stones come first (one doesn’t use the term “rocks” in Japanese gardens). Boulders and stones help shape the garden. I drove all over Maine looking for them.