I’m putting this piece under ‘jobs for winter’ because I think finding inspiration is an important way of staying in touch with the garden when you might not be spending a great deal of time physically in it.
I know I’m not among a minority in the gardening community who feel more peaceful and restful and content out in the garden than anywhere else in life. The winter months can be particularly hard on folks for whom the garden is a soothing retreat. Sometimes you have to generate that peace and connection in other ways, and I find even just looking at gardens and plants can help keep the inner glow alight.
One designer I never get tired of looking at, is Ishihara Kazuyuki.
Gosho No Niwa / No Wall No War
Everyone knows Kazuyuki from the Chelsea shows if nowhere else, and it’s not difficult to see why his gardens are always so popular. I have heard criticism that they are too traditional for some tastes, but I don’t personally see them through that contextual lens. I see exquisite, thoughtful, eloquent planting, and a wonderful flourish when it comes to materials and palettes. There are certainly echoes of a certain aesthetic and philosophy, but in those very elements are the un-traditional and the down-right bonkers.
Here are my top 5 passions for Kazuyuki’s designs:
The Master of Moss
This image, taken by Caroline Banks, proves there is no bad view to these gardens. This is the ‘back-side’ of No Wall, No War, and the intricacy of it is staggering, considering this is not the part that wins the prizes.
Moss is a prime ingredient to a Kazuyuki garden, and its effects are manifold. From softening architecture in Togenkyo, to creating bold new textures (which almost err on the side of a humorous and childlike fantasy landscape), to filling the senses with absolute unequivocal green, moss is both a foundation and a highlight: the reliable staple and the star of the show.
A Room of One’s Own
Image from gardenista.com
I mean, you couldn’t design yourself a more ideal writing room!
But more than a garden with a bench or a seat, these designs fully incorporate the human into it. In times of trouble when nature is always being held aloof from us in a kind of ‘look what we’ve done, this is why we can’t have nice things’ telling-off, it’s wonderful to see we can have a place amongst natural, growing things which is harmonious and inviting.
Slightly elevated both for our viewing pleasure and to reassure with the sense we’re not disturbing anything.
The multiple layers, the heights and depths – it’s hard sometimes to imagine these plots are often no bigger than a few squared feet, because there is, for want of a better word, coverage, and it is absolute.
The impression of centuries of established growth is automatically soothing. It feels like a garden which will always be there, cool, secluded, self-perpetuating. I think this above all the artifice in a garden is Kazuyuki’s real masterstroke.
Elementary, My Dear
The obvious elements and also the senses are all invited and stimulated. There’s nothing missing. But there is also a sense of ritual or worship – the arrangement of these elements like the points of the compass, or the carefully considered incantation on paper – that underlying sense of purpose creates a reassuring tranquility. You are gathered safely in, as it were.
The influence of Japanese gardens might seem very obvious, but these designs are perhaps what I always expect Japanese formal gardens to look like, which is why I feel faintly disappointed when I visit the real thing.
In actual fact, there is as much English tradition at work here as Japanese or Eastern tradition. And this is because some forms are universal. Garden fashions will come and go – and what a merry time we’ll have with all of them! But some things will always draw us close.
An abundance of green, some water, some coloured foliage and delicate flowers, and the soft velvet tapestry of moss… perhaps it is a return to woodland, or a culmination of all our most beloved things, I call it harmony because in a Kazuyuki garden, art meets nature and reaches out with a clear intention for the soul.
It may be a safe place, and a beautiful place, but I doubt we’re so far flung out in the world that these things could really be called bad taste.
I like to be challenged intellectually by art and design, but I will always return to this: the green and abundant home from which I came.
Three annotated images from gardens Illustrated:
(Words by Noel Kingsbury, photos by Claire Takacs)