During its half-century history, the Portland Japanese Garden has inspired homeowners to turn a part of their yard into one that hints of the horticulture in the island nation across the Pacific.
Beyond maple trees, Oregonians have installed graceful stone paths, contouring ponds, tranquil Zen-style raked gravel areas and plantings that showcase captivating colors in all seasons.
Some homeowners hire landscape designers who specialize in Japanese-style design. One of the most well known is Hoichi Kurisu, the former landscape director for the Japanese Garden Society who, starting in 1963, supervised the construction of the Portland Japanese Garden based on designer Takuma Tono’s vision.
A few years after the garden opened in 1967, Kurisu started the landscape design/build firm Kurisu International in Portland. Clients range from discerning homeowners to demanding city officials. All want contemplative outdoor spaces with features used in Japanese landscaping along with restorative and healing gardens.
The goal, according to the firm’s vision statement, is to harmonize light and shade, water and rock – opposites in Buddhist symbolism – and space with the senses.
Kristin Faurest, director of the Portland Japanese Garden Training Center, often helps people who enrolled in workshops to learn how to create a Japanese-style garden at home.
She offers this advice: “Creating a garden inspired by the Japanese tradition is not as simple as assembling a specified list of elements: stone lanterns and basins, rocks, bamboo, Japanese maples or pines. It is also about understanding the philosophical and aesthetic foundations of the art form.”
Faurest says Japanese garden design employs techniques for making a space seem larger than it is.
“Framing scenery outside of the garden, like a view of a distant landscape, can give the garden an added dimension,” she says. “The technique of hide and reveal – guiding the visitor through the elements of the garden in a way that selected views are opened at very specific points – is also important, as is a good sense of enclosure.”
She says that asymmetry also plays an important role.
“Even though Japanese gardens are intensely maintained, they’re meant to be representations of natural beauty,” she says. “The overall feel should be subtle, avoiding clutter, and prioritizing simple, beautiful materials that aren’t flashy and even maybe show age or flaws. Pay mindful attention to how the garden will evolve over time because a garden is a process, not a product.”
A Japanese garden path is not simply a way of moving around the garden without getting your shoes muddy, says Sadafumi Uchiyama, garden curator of the Portland Japanese Garden. Rather, it is a precisely designed element that directs you to certain points where the view is carefully constructed to be seen from that point.
Here are 10 elements that evoke a sense of a Japanese-style garden:
- An intentionally irregular stone path, which helps wanderers be “in the moment” and pay attention to where they are.
- Water dripping from a bamboo pipe and spilling over uneven, different size stones.
- Manicured, miniature junipers, maples or other bonsai trees in a carefully selected container.
- Clipped shrubbery, pruned trees and bouncy moss groundcover that create a sense of depth of space.
- A patch of raked gravel.
- A shed or small outbuilding used as a teahouse.
- A semi-circular wooden bridge.
- Cement lanterns near a path signaling changes in the landscape ahead.
- A bamboo fence
- Visually merging the end of the garden with distant hills or nature.
During landscape designer Kurisu’s decades of work, he has found that each environment is distinctive, drawing on the climate and culture of every place. “You want to make it unique,” he says.
If you don’t want to create your own Japanese-style garden, three residential properties that include Kurisu’s landscape work are currently for sale:
- The John E. G. Povey House, a 1891 Queen Anne-style Victorian at 1312 N.E. Tillamook St. in the Irvington neighborhood, which is listed at $749,000.
- A two-story Mediterranean villa on 10 acres at 581 Fisher Road in Roseburg’s Garden Valley West, which is listed at $2.45 million.
- An iconic peninsula property that includes a 5,542-square-foot main house with pagoda roof topped by blue ceramic tiles and a Robert Oshatz-designed studio, office and boat lift at 1900 Twin Points Road in Lake Oswego, which is listed at $7,999,000.
— Janet Eastman