A garden without flowers may sound like a contradiction in terms. But it is a fact that many Japanese gardens are of that kind, the object which the Japanese landscapegardener sets before him being to produce something park-like,- to suggest some famous natural scene, in which flowers may or may not appear, according to the circumstances of the case. When they do, they are generally grouped together in beds or under shelter, and removed as soon as their season of bloom is over, more after the manner of a European flower-show. In this way are obtained horticultural triumphs, such as are described in the Article on FLOWERS. Triumphs of another kind are achieved by dwarfing. Thus you may see a pine-tree or a maple, sixty years old and perfect in every part, but not more than a foot high. Japanese gardeners are also very skilful in transplanting large trees. A judicious treatment of the accessory roots during a couple of years enables massive, aged trees to be removed from place to place, so that a Japanese nouveau riche can raise up anything-even an ancestral park-on whatever spot he fancies.
Japanese landscape-gardening is one of the fine arts. Ever since the middle of the fifteenth century, generations of artists have been busy perfecting it, elaborating and refining over and over again the principles handed down by their predecessors, until it has come to be considered a mystery as well as an art, and is furnished-not to say encumbered-with a vocabulary more complicated and recondite than any one who has not perused some of the native treatises on the subject can well imagine. There is a whole set of names for different sorts of garden lanterns, another for water-basins, another for fences (one authority enumerates nineteen kinds of screen fences alone), another-and this is a very important subject-for those large stones, which, according to Japanese ideas, constitute the skeleton of the whole composition.
Then, too, there are rules for every detail; and different schools of the art or science of gardening have rules diametrically opposed to each other. For instance, larger trees are planted and larger hills made by one school in the front portion of a garden, and smaller ones in the further portions, with the object of exaggerating the perspective and thus making the garden look bigger than it really is. Another school teaches the direct contrary. Suggestion is largely used, as when part of a small lake is so adroitly hidden as to give the idea of greater size in the part unseen, or as when a meander of pebbles is made to represent a river-bed. Everything, in fact, has a reason,-generally an abstruse reason. Gardens are supposed to be capable of symbolising abstract ideas, such as peace, chastity, old age, etc. The following passage, from the authority quoted below, will show how the garden of a certain Buddhist abbot is made to convey the idea of the power of divine truth:-"This garden consists almost entirely of stones arranged in a fanciful and irregular manner in a small enclosure, the sentiment expressed depending for its value upon acquaintance with the following Buddhist legend, somewhat reminding us of the story of Saint Francis and the birds. A certain monk Daita, ascending a hillock and collecting stones, began to preach to them the secret precepts of Buddha, and so miraculous was the effect of the wondrous truths which he told that even the lifeless stones bowed in reverent assent. Thereupon the Saint placed them upon the ground around him, and consecrated them as the 'Nodding Stones.'"
What the Japanese call hako-niwa is a whole landscape-garden compressed into the microscopic limits of a single dish or flower-pot,-paths, bridges, mountains, stone lanterns, etc., all complete,-a fanciful little toy.
The roof ridge of a peasant's dwelling sometimes presents the aspect of a flower-garden; for when it is flat, it is apt to be overgrown with irises or red lilies. People disagree about the reason. Some say that the flowers are planted in order to avert pestilence, while others no less positively affirm the growth to be accidental. Others again assert that the object is to strengthen the thatch. We incline to this latter view. Bulbs do not fly through the air, neither is it likely that bulbs should be contained in the sods put on the top of all the houses in a village. We have noticed, furthermore, that in the absence of such sods, brackets of strong shingling are employed, so that it is safe to assume that the two are intended to serve the same purpose.
Book recommended - Landscape Gardening in Japan, by Josiah Conder, with Supplement, both beautifully illustrated. Brinkley Japan and China, Vol. II. p. 229 et seq.