Building a Japanese Garden in a Weekend

In an earlier blog I spoke about the planning process for a garden workshop in Scotland, in which Professor Maseo Fukuhara would guide a team of volunteers in the building of an authentic Japanese garden for one of the members of the Japanese Garden Society (Scotland) (JGSS). After the 18 month planning period, this weekend the garden was built – and this is how it went:

Original concept plan, prepared by Professor Fukuhara, based on a simple survey plan sent to Japan in advance of his first visit to the garden

Simple sketch of proposed garden – a mountain stream leading into a small  lake, with turtle and crane island motifs (all created using rocks, gravel and turf – as a Scottish moss substitute)

Scaled site plan, generated after the first planning meeting in March 2012
The ‘story’ of the garden is based on the concept of longevity, from the Edo period of Japanese garden making.  The garden contains both male and female elements which together encourage many generations of progeny.  The male element is represented by the crane island at the far end of the lake; the female element is the rocky source of the mountain stream.

In order that the workshop volunteers could see the fruits of their labours by the end of the day, some preparation work was required.  The Professor and his team (Jun the landscaper, Angela the interpreter and 3 of the Professor’s design students) arrived in Scotland prior to the workshop and put in 1.5 days hard labour pruning, transporting materials, stripping turf and positioning the large rocks, with the help of a couple of local JGSS members:

Jun-san tackles the over-large Viburnum opulus that will sit on the turtle island.  He eventually reduced it in height and bulk by 50% but it still looked very natural

Bringing the stones into the garden from the front parking area was a long, hot process, but Barry and the students (and later in the day Barry and his wife Joan) managed to move 2 tonnes of gravel and 3-4 tonnes of stone into the garden by hand

The mountain stream, as it looked at the start of the workshop, without the turf stripped or the rocks dug into the ground

On Sunday 1 September, 24 workshop participants arrived on a cool and windy morning, ready to build the garden:

The Professor and Jun ‘sort’ the stones in the mountain stream after our efforts to put them back into position after excavating the stream bed and laying down the landscape fabric

How the mountain stream looked by the end of the day

Stepping stones across the end of the stream separate it from the body of the lake

The finished garden, viewed from behind crane island and looking up the slope towards the rocks at the source of the mountain stream, with turtle island (and the beautifully pruned Viburnum) in the middle of the lake.  Excavated soil was used to create mounds and the stripped turf was relaid in place of the moss that would be used in Japan.  Beaches of Scottish cobblestones surround the Scottish beach pebble ‘water’ of the lake. A mix of deciduous and evergreen shrubs will soften the garden as they mature and provide both spring flower colour and autumn foliage interest

Professor Fukuhara and Jun-san looking somewhat quizzical, but pleased with the results (I think!)

As the last one in the garden (apart from the delighted garden owner) I took this parting shot of a peaceful space that will only get better with time

For more information about the Japanese Garden Society, including on joining, see

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