- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Bob and Carole Winter feel as if they visit Japan every time they step onto the patio and into the Japanese garden attached to their Potomac home.

The water, stones and plants are enclosed by a wall and set against the larger landscape. The area, which is accompanied by a deck, features a 2-foot-deep pond, Pennsylvania rock and Japanese and American vegetation. Occasionally, the Winters observe a nearby fox, deer or hawk while relaxing in the setting, which looks especially lovely covered in snow.

“We wanted a sense of simplicity,” Mrs. Winter says. “We love the way the water looks when the wind blows over it.”

Designing a Japanese-inspired garden involves more than buying a lantern or wooden bridge. Homeowners can take the basics of the Asian style and incorporate it with their own desires.

Osamu Shimizu, owner of Shimizu Landscape Co. in Glen Echo, created the garden for the Winters. Born in 1947, he is from Okayama, Japan.

He used a triangle design in the landscape, where the far left-hand corner of the garden contains most of the stones and vegetation. He features various plants, such as five-needle white pines, cotoneasters, Kingsville boxwoods, Hinoki cypress and Japanese maple trees in the layout. The front of the almost rectangular pond has stepping stones in it.

Before creating the garden, Mr. Shimizu studied the area and learned about the Winters’ expectations.

“It’s like making pottery,” Mr. Shimizu. “You have to experiment.”

Japanese gardens focus on the plants as forms and textures, which is different than most European gardens, which highlight flowers and color, says Holly Shimizu, executive director of the United States Botanic Garden in Southwest. She is married to Mr. Shimizu.

European style is more formal, with annual plants. Japanese techniques are more subtle, displaying minimalism.

The Shimizus have their own Japanese-American style garden in their back yard. A stream runs into a small pool, which runs into a larger pool. Plants, such as Japanese maples and evergreens, surround the area. The Shimizus also grafted moss into their soil.

Everything from the stones to the walkway is considered part of the garden element, Mrs. Shimizu says. She suggests using naturally aged rock instead of quarried rock.

The stone reflects the Japanese reverence for age. Because the stones are older than the plants, they usually are placed in the garden first to look as if they were always there.

Historically, traditional Japanese gardens emulate nature, she says. For instance, the topography of a garden might reflect the sense of a mountain range.

If there isn’t moving water in the garden, the look of water can be made with pebbles.

“Nature is the teacher,” Mrs. Shimizu says. “A lot of the designs are really based on recapturing the beauty of nature.”

Pruning techniques are meant to make the gardens look windblown, as if the plants are on a mountaintop, she says. In Japan, well-groomed pines are a status symbol.

“In America, you look at a person’s Mercedes, and you say, ‘They’re doing well,’ ” Mrs. Shimizu says. “In Japan, you look at their pines. If their pines are nicely pruned, you say, ‘Oh, they’re doing well.’ If they are left without pruning, you say, ‘Oh, they’ve fallen on hard times.’”

Ornamentation such as a bridge or lantern can be added after the overall design is perfected, Mrs. Shimizu says. Repetition, balance and rhythm are keys to a good layout.

Serenity is the effect of most Japanese gardens, says Brian W. Barr, deputy director for horticulture at Hillwood Museum and Gardens in Northwest.

The organization has a Japanese-style garden that was restored in 2000 from its original design in the 1950s and 1960s.

Two large stone dogs guard the garden, where a stream runs down the hillside. A tall granite lantern is featured in the area. Other sculptural features include a tortoise, small stone lanterns, and Hotei, the Japanese god of happiness and prosperity.

Native and Japanese plants grow in the garden, such as Japanese pines, maples, azaleas and false cypress, with Colorado blue spruce.

“It’s a garden where you could escape,” Mr. Barr says. “We have such a busy lifestyle. A Japanese garden slows me down. You become contemplative.”

Asian gardens have a mystique, says Carole Bordelon, supervisory horticulturist at the United States National Arboretum in Northeast. The National Bonsai and Penjing Museum on the grounds features plants collected from China, Japan and Korea.

“They are very ancient gardens,” Ms. Bordelon says. “You can create a garden in minimal space.”

Time-honored Japanese gardens are outside and created to look as beautiful in winter as in summer, says Ben Carroll, senior horticulturist at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, Ill. The standard elements of stones, water and plants also can be used in an indoor area.

Visiting Japanese gardens in the snow is encouraged, Mr. Carroll says. Part of the effect of having a pruned shrub is when the snow is caught on the shrub: It mimics boulders, which might mimic clouds — and they all look the same covered with snow.

The Chicago Botanic Garden has a three-island garden called “Sansho-En,” where only two of the islands can be visited. The third island is supposed to be for the immortals.

The outdoor aspect of the garden allows for winding paths. Serpentine trails, not straight lines, slow the observers and gives them more time to reflect. The entire garden is not revealed at once. Portions of it are concealed and exposed when corners are turned.

Further, the arched bridges cause the person to be unhurried. There is an uphill struggle, but once the top is reached, it’s easier to walk down the other side.

Before installing a Japanese-style garden, home gardeners should know that they are high-maintenance, Mr. Carroll says.

“You may have a few plants, but they are very labor-intensive because of the pruning and tidying,” he says. “Flowers are not allowed to remain dried on the plant. They are immediately dead-headed so everything looks pure and clean, as ideal as it could possibly be.”

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