Review: The Japanese Garden

My fascination with Japanese gardens goes back to my early days in journalism when I was sent to cover the launch of a Japanese Tea garden in the newly opened Albert Dock complex in Liverpool. I was struck by the delicacy and precision of the garden and captivated by the careful gravel designs. I was hooked!

So I was more than pleased to receive a review copy of ‘The Japanese Garden‘ by Sophie Walker. The book is an engaging exploration of the Japanese garden, examining over 90 beautiful gardens and spanning 1200 years of stunning design.

This is a well researched and thorough book, offering fresh insights into the art, culture and aesthetics of the Japanese garden. The gardens featured have been carefully curated and cover Shinto shrines, Buddhist Temple gardens, Imperial gardens, Tea gardens and contemporary urban designs.

The reader is taken on a journey of discovery through thought-provoking writing and beautiful imagery. The author points out in her acknowledgement at the rear of the book that as a garden-maker, writing the book has given her the opportunity to consider the abstract qualities that can be embedded or hidden in Japanese gardens. For me, this is one of the fascinating aspects of a Japanese garden and I found the author’s research exploring how the Japanese garden has been used as a tool for religious, philosophical and poetic contemplation for hundreds of years, one of the major aspects of the book. Walker places the garden in its broader historical context of a rich cultural heritage, while at the same time examining the enduring impact of this beautiful Japanese art and she does it very well.

There is a concise and clear description of each garden featured with beautiful photography, archival photos and illustrations by respected figures such as David Hockney, Anish Kapoor, and Dan Pearson.

This book is, however, much more than a carefully curated description of Japanese gardens for it covers a very wide range of material. Chapters include, The Nature of the Garden; Beauty, Terror and Power; Expanded Understanding and Zen Challenge and the Poetry of Plants. Further adding to the enjoyment of the book are the personal essays, on the philosophy surrounding an individual component of Japanese design, followed by a survey of gardens that illustrate the concept being explored.

The essays are from leading artists, architects and cultural experts and include contributions from John Pawson, Marcus de Sautoy, Anish Kapoor and Tan Twan Eng. Lee Ufan’s essay on the Gardens of Kyoto I found particularly fascinating.

Clearly the author is passionate about her subject and the reader will find much of interest in her scholarly writing. There is so much to learn and understand about the Japanese garden and one could spend a lifetime doing so. This beautifully designed book will certainly open the reader’s eyes to the cultural wonder that is the Japanese garden as well as explaining so much behind its conception as well as adding an in-depth appreciation behind meaning and understanding.

In fact, for me Walker’s chapter on Expanded Understanding added so much to my own knowledge and appreciation of the mystery of the Japanese garden. To walk in a Japanese garden, to be able to interpret and appreciate its different facets, the symbolism behind rock, gravel, planting and composition while at the same time being aware of the philosophy behind the garden, is for me priceless. If you enjoy the Japanese garden and want to understand more about its history, design and symbolism then this is the book for you.

At the back of the book the author has included a useful section on the Plants of Japan as well as a map showing the locations of the various gardens.There is a comprehensive glossary and bibliography.

Sophie Walker became the youngest woman to design a garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2014. She runs an international practice based in London. As well as designing gardens, the author lectures on conceptual design, the Japanese garden, planting and the garden environment.

The Japanese Garden‘, by Sophie Walker, is published by Phaidon – – in hardback at £49.95. (On sale from 30th October 2017).

Copy sent for review courtesy of the Publisher

Picture Credits: courtesy of the Publisher. Pictured banner above: Kinkaku-ji;

right: Taizo-in