Landscape design styles – part 4

After a brief break from the landscape styles series to share Flowers surviving in dry, dry conditions for Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day, it’s time to get back to the landscape styles discussion.

Japanese-style gardens offer views significantly different from the walled and/or geometrically designed Paradise and Formal gardens of ancient Egypt, Persia, and Roman and Islamic lands (discussed in part 1 of this series), and the pastoral, sweeping views established by the English Landscape Movement (part 2 of this series).

Japanese Gardens

Japanese Garden1DSC_2009_10662Like Paradise and English style gardens, climate and religion also heavily influenced gardens on the temperate-weather island of Japan. Japanese gardens highlight the simple, natural beauty of rock and stone, greens and moss, unpainted wood, and plant and flower structure set in a balanced and visually pleasing design.

During the 15th century, Zen Buddhists patterned dry meditation gardens of carefully placed boulders and rocks surrounded by evenly-raked gently-flowing patterns in tiny pebbles or sand – boulders to depict mountains or islands; pebbles or sand the ocean or flowing streams. Mosses, plants, shrubs, and trees, sculpted to represent other aspects of nature, often surround these dry gardens. The act of maintaining these areas and greenery became part of Zen Buddhists’ contemplative meditation.

Japanese designs may also utilize simple to severe pruning to show off the structure of shrubs and trees; flowing streams or water fountains to provide soothing sounds; pools of water to reflect adjacent plantings; and singular flowers or flower types to encourage the eye to contemplate the unique beauty of each. Walking paths, benches, and bridges provide viewers access to multiple vantage points from which to reflect.


The Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, aka MOBOT, offers a shining Japanese Garden example – from highly tended dry gardens as the one above to extensive pond/plantings as shown below.

Japanese Garden2DSC_2009_10663

This particular view of MOBOT’s Japanese Garden shares many characteristics of English Landscape design – sweeping views, carefully planted trees and shrubs, a soothing pond – but, compared with the pastoral style of the Boston Public Garden pond, this pond clearly evokes an oriental feel through the zig-zag decking offset by inter-planted water grasses, thoughtfully placed boulders within the pond, and carefully pruned trees overhanging the water’s edge. The structured and peaceful  dry garden offers a miniature reflection of wind-blown sand along a sea coast. Throughout MOBOT’s Japanese Garden vantage points and well-placed benches entice one to stop and reflect on the simple beauty of the plants and hardscape used. Tip: early September visitors to the St. Louis area can visit MOBOT’s Japanese Festival, September 4-6, 2010.

In contrast, a visit to the Missouri Botanical Garden will also guide visitors through highly formal gardens such as this Boxwood Garden …

Boxwood Garden10MO botanical pano1

… and Paradise-style gardens like the Ottoman Garden (left) and the walled garden tucked into MOBOT’s Climatron geodesic dome.

Ottoman Garden1DSC_2009_10597               Walled Paradise inside Pavillion1DSC_2009_10676

Historical aspects in modern gardens

Paradise, English landscape, and Japanese garden styles, analyzed individually, appear very different. But each follows concepts of visual balance and repetition in topography, hardscape, and plantings – concepts evident in all beautiful gardens. Contemporary gardens still seek to suit their owner’s/creator’s visions and needs, and the availability of water in most industrialized nations allows this. Modern gardens can strictly follow any one of the above designs or contain tidbits of each.

Consider the design options for an herb garden. A formal herb garden, built in quadrants around a structured central plant or sundial, mimics a Paradise garden plan. One designed in the style of a French kitchen garden, with geometrically planted beds and structured central and perpendicular walking paths, models the gardens of Versailles but in smaller scale.

An herb garden set along a natural slope or rock outcropping, so it enhances but does not block the natural view, mirrors more of the naturalistic-looking, curvaceous English landscape concept. And one set amongst boulders, carefully placed in a sequence of smaller, larger, moderate sizes and smooth or triangular shapes to mimic a mountain range in miniature, then sparingly planted with herbs carefully pruned to shapes indicative of larger trees and shrubs, could more closely represent Japanese design.

Modern gardens often achieve pleasing design using bits and pieces of each of these major landscape influences. But homeowners drawn exclusively to one of these design styles should take care not to ignore the style of their house when styling their gardens. Not far from where I live is a lovely Victorian-era farmhouse sans the typical Victorian ornamentation – more of a simple New England style two-story farmhouse complete with a large, well-kept barn off to one side. Surrounding the house is an equally lovely, well maintained garden of multiple conifers, all carefully pruned to hold their shapes. The garden, which covers the front and side yard toward the barn, has gently curving paths and the ground throughout is covered by pebble mulch in a sand-colored hue that matches the color of the house. Though both the house and the gardens are very well maintained, I feel discord each time I drive by. The house and the gardens don’t fit. The gardens aspire to Japanese style but the house and barn do not.  The white board fencing that parallels the adjacent road matches the style of the house, but nothing about the property fits the Japanese style plant arrangement, and I find myself wishing the garden designer had left a buffer strip of garden along the road that more closely reflected the New England style of the house. They could have ‘gone Japanese’ in the more private – not visible to passers-by – spaces. (I’m choosing not to take an illustrative photo so as not to hurt another’s feelings.)

To achieve true harmony in modern design, gardeners and garden designers must thoughtfully and carefully blend their garden style to its surroundings. Do you know of garden/house combos that are lovely individually but don’t work together – how do they not work?

A special thanks to my favorite photographer, who supplied all the photos of Missouri Botanical Gardens used here.

4 comments for “Landscape design styles – part 4

  1. August 17, 2010 at 10:25 pm

    Great series, Joene!

    • joenesgarden
      August 18, 2010 at 9:37 pm

      Thanks, Jean. Glad you enjoyed it.

  2. Jeannie Clark
    May 27, 2014 at 3:18 pm

    Hello Joene! Do you by chance know what kind of flowers are in the center of the boxwood garden on your main page? I was not able to zoom in enough to see…Its the garden at the Missouri Botanical Garden …thank you!

    • June 6, 2014 at 5:53 am

      Hi Jeannie, I took this quite a while ago and do not recall exactly what flowers were planted within that boxwood bed. They are most likely sun-loving annuals, perhaps petunias.

      Sorry I was unable to respond sooner … life is crazy right now. Thanks for stopping by!

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