Category Archives: Chinese garden

KotoJazz 69: Yellow Ornamental Grasses

Probably due to their unique and resplendent colors, I would say there are two top Japanese ornamental grasses that rival each other in popularity – the Japanese red blood grass and Japanese yellow forestgrass.

Of the two, only one is indispensable to a complete Japanese garden image – the forestgrass. In addition to its bright yellow hue, the Japanese forestgrass displays as a flowing cascading ornament unmatched in the world of grasses.

Varieties of yellow hairgrass and sedgegrass are more hardy versions. They can be used to accent a garden or garden area with a simple placement in the foreground of any garden area as pictured above.

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Koto Jazz 68: Mini Garden

Simplicity is my theme here in this basic mini- garden in Boulder, Colorado. A total of only $10 was spent on this serene mini scene. While space is not as much a premium in the vast expand of this globally trend-setting Rocky Mountain city, I still brought my creative miniaturization impulses with me from the Pacific Northwest city life. This mini garden replaced a common area lawn that had completely died away.

I seek to capture the surrounding area using local assets such a variation of rock and stones, elegant spacing, mini flowering bulbs such as dwarf tulips and mini- daffodils, along with naturally growing ground covers such as violets and forget-me-nots. Being in this semi-arid region that boasts 320-plus days of sunshine a year, it also helps to add a few desertous (new word) plants as accents to the mini garden image. These include a bonsai-style and shaped juniper in the background, and an ornamental grass off to the left.

I used pinkish- white marble rocks to outline the plants and stones in this mini-garden. I also created a mini dry creek that meanders from one end of the mini-garden to the other to give it a natural flow. Finally, I made a pretty rough but natural lantern out of local stones and a brick. The beauty of mini-gardens is that they fit into spaces of just about any size. 🙂

KotoJazz 67: Spacing in Gardens

Probably the most well known concept around spacing in gardens is Mel Bartholomew’s “Square Foot Gardening”. This first and foremost applies to vegetable gardens, but can be applicable to spacing in ornamental gardens as well. Here is an exploration of spacing for garden designs.

All plants ornamental or otherwise, need space to grow, and a minimum of twelve inches apart is generally a good growing space principal. Open spaces are critical, especially in dry Zen gardens where open spaces represent the open sea. In Japanese gardens, open spaces are often the center piece of Japanese gardens, while plants and stones provide the backdrop or outline.

Koto Jazz 66: Gong Hay Fat Choy! Happy Chinese New Year! (belated)

Come join a celebration at the end of the Chinese New Year on March 6th, 6-8pm, Friday, Dragonfly Holistic Healing across from the Fremont bridge is having a “Chinese New Year” celebration open house, featuring koto jazz piano by Chris Kenji at Dragonfly Holistic Healing, 760 N. 34th Street, Seattle, WA 98103; Fremont neighborhood. Website: DragonflyHolisticHealing.com. Come join us for a Free Admission party. Gang Xi Fat Cai!

Koto Jazz 64: Balance in Japanese Gardens

Japanese gardens seek to bring out the balance of the natural world. A key intent of Japanese gardens today is to replicate the natural world in smaller spaces; re-creating miniaturized versions of serene natural landscapes. In that re-creation, there are a few principles that bring across that image of balance, such as boundaries and regions that reflect the natural world.

Boundaries include regions divided by grass areas, or dry gravel areas. These can be divided by pathways, borders, or water. These borders can be rounded or straight edged, but remain consistently one or the other within the same region. These also include water borders, such as waterfalls, dry creek beds, flowing streams, ponds, and lakes.

A common number to create balance in the garden is the use of threes- three stones or three clumps of grasses. As a general rule, taller trees and plants are placed in the background, while shorter plants such as ornamental grasses and flowering plants are placed in the foreground.

So long as the plants create a natural flowing space, the garden can be minimalist with very little foliage, or it can be lush with carefully placed grasses and flowering plants and shrubs. Both can be accented with lanterns in the foreground, or off to the side.

A taller Japanese maple tree is always a good background for either approach, as are tall pogodas.

Koto Jazz 59: Stones & Rock Gardens

The Way of Zen and Zen values of simplicity (kanso), naturalness (shizo), and refined elegance are similar values expressed in the Japanese garden, and defines Japanese rock gardens. Stones and rocks derive from the natural banks of rivers and creeks. They provide accents for distinctive garden areas, including walkways, waterfall bases, creek borders, ponds and lakes, and garden sections. Rocks and pebbles of rock gardens are raked into patterns of flowing streams, undulating waves, and accents around larger stone island or bonsai trees, and other features. Other patterns can be checkered or angled or alternating lines.

Large feature stones are grouped by themselves or they are grouped in threes with a taller boulder standing regally behind two shorter boulders, presenting balance. All three stones are generally vertical, with the taller stone in the center representing The Buddha (one who has become enlightened), and the two other stones on each side representing two Bodhisattvas (one who is “bound for enlightenment; the two stones are called sanson). They are placed next to water, a body of water or water feature, as images of water features, natural hills and/or mountain scenes.

Bodies of water are represented in the Japanese garden by a pond or lake. In the case of dry Zen rock gardens where sand and gravel represent the sea or ocean, the stones would be placed next to or in the sand/ pebble garden. The scene of ocean and sea occupying the majority of the garden space (“chisen”) originates from China, as does the garden aesthetic and spirituality of Zen Buddhism. Groups of rocks on one or more sides of the body of water in the garden may represent the seashore.

Koto Jazz 58: Song Stories- Raindrops Fall from Trees (Ki Kara Amei No Shizuku)

This “Raindrops Fall from Trees” song is special as it originated with a fun music exchange with my daughter as we traded turns playing my keyboard one rainy spring day. She came up with a basic melody which is the basis of this song. The song conjures up the likeness of gentle raindrops falling on leaves and tree branches, then coalescing to slide off leaves and land on the moist earth below. It is like the gentle hands of the sky extending its reach to the earth to give us peace in solitude.

While I added to it, the original melody remains, on of the relaxing meditative tunes. It is a beautiful spontaneous expression my daughter came up with and she just as quickly and easily named it. “Why its raindrops falling from trees of course.” Yes, of course.

Koto Jazz 50: Japanese Cedar

A particular japanese cedar tree, sugi, is the national tree of Japan. Cryptomeria, also known as Japanese Cedar, was originally more function than form, but certain varieties have come to attract gardeners for its ornamental beauty. Though not related to cedars, it is in fact a bald cypress, they had been similarly exploited as a timber / lumber tree in Japan. However, their true lasting value may be in that they possess a wide variety of sizes, shapes, habitats, and textures. There are over 100 varieties, ranging from 6-80 feet in height.

As a timber source, the wood is a stunning pinkish to red in color, is a hard wood and is particularly resistant to decay. It is also used in bonsai as well as standard Japanese gardens for its draping, almost cascading needle branches, accenting a nicely designed garden (see image below).

The famous Jomon Sugi located on Yaku shima Island, Japan, is one of the world’s oldest living plants. It is estimated to be nearly 2,200 to 7,000 years old.

Reverse of many things Japanese, it is believed due to the age and varieties and other sources, that the Japanese cedar does in fact originate from Japan, though there are many species of the Japanese cedar populated across China and other parts of Asia.

KotoJazz 48: Japanese Ornamental Grasses

Though there are dozens of varieties of grasses that originate from Japan, there are three primary types of Japanese ornamental grasses. These are – Hakone grasses (also known as Golden forest grass), Silver grasses, and blood grasses.

Hakone Grass:
The golden forest grass can be a bright clump of cascading yellow grasses, or it might be a more light green shade if less exposed to the sun. These are ideal foreground accents for your garden as they remain fairly low to the ground.

Silver Grass:
Silver grasses are more appropriate for mid- to back- ground locations in your garden. They likewise grow in clumps, but much taller to 3-4 feet in height. Their stalks flower feathery seeds ranging in color from pinkish red to light cream or silver.

Blood Grass:
The popular Japanese blood grass gets its name from spiky red tips of these rare ornamental grasses, creating the image of grass on fire. These don’t grow in clumps like the others, but can spread to cover fairly large areas.

StiltGrass:
A fourth grass type worth noting that is not part of the above three primary grass groups, is the stiltgrass. Japanese stiltgrass, has the appearance of mini bamboo, green and growing low to the ground as a ground cover. Like bamboo, it can be invasive.

There are a number of other grass types commonly used in Japanese gardens that fall between the grass and moss categories that are commonly used as nice area ground covers.

Koto Jazz 45: Water Garden Ponds

Ike (池), or garden pond, has been accepted as an assumed part of the Japanese gardens, symbolizing a larger body of water, such as the sea or ocean. There are no restriction as to the size a pond can be; it really depends upon space availability. The pond or still body of water in a garden originates from China, where it is thought to represent feminine elements in the natural world, or the “yin” of yin-yang. Adding koi to the pond may presents a dramatic natural feel to wataer garden.

The spiritual pond or body of water, or kami-ike (divine ponds), represents the Japanese Shinto spiritual belief that the pond in Japanese gardens are sacred. It has been a special place of prayer and meditation. As mentioned in KotoJazz 9: Islands of Japanese Gardens, the scene of ocean and sea occupying the majority of the garden space (“chisen”) originates from China. Groups of rocks on one or more sides of the body of water in the garden may represent the image of a seashore and/or mountains. If an island or stone island is placed in the pond, it represents a special divine place from where the kami came hahaguni (妣国).

The pond is the centerpiece of numerous other Japanese garden features, including the following:]

  • Koto Jazz 24: Waterfalls/
  • Koto Jazz 40: Stream Gardens
  • KotoJazz 9: Islands of Japanese Gardens
  • Koto Jazz 18: Japanese Garden Bridges
  • Koto Jazz 7: Water, Water Everywhere
  • Koto Jazz 43: The Moon Gate

    As mentioned in my last blog, Kotojazz 42: Shapes in Design & Music, I visited a number of Chinese gardens which featured rounded garden entry gates outside of Shanghai and Shenzhen.

    These pedestrian passage ways, often entry gates to the garden, are known as Moon Gates. There are a number of spiritual meanings behind each part of the Moon Gate, such as the symbolic image of the moon in Chinese culture. Just as the moon rises out of the sky, the Moon Gate rises out of the earth. The harmonious shape of the moon creates an inviting spiritual, Zen-like feel to your garden entrance.

    Historically, the Moon Gate had been relegated to the gardens of the wealthy, as an entry to a special place. The circle is a symbol of perfection in Chinese culture. The Moon Festival celebrates the moon at its fullest and brightest illumination. Today, the Moon Gate is available to everyone. 🙂

    Songs about the Moon and the shape of the full moon:

  • Circle, Sea Gull album
  • Circle of Friendship, by Joanne Shenandoah with Peter Kater; Life Blood album
  • The Circle of Life, The Best of New Age Piano
  • Share The Moon, Off The Record Instrumentals
  • The Circle, Circle album
  • Blue Moon– Rogers & Hart, The Smooth Jazz Instrumental Band
  • Sunday’s Moon, Theme song to movie “Coma”
  • Alternative Instrumental:

  • Red Moon, by Steve Jones Band
  • Moon X