New landscape book explores Zen gardens

Contributing Garden WriterMarch 15, 2014 

Difficult as it is to imagine after our extended frigid winter, cherry blossom time is around the corner.

In Washington, D.C., the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival, celebrating the beauty of the Yoshino cherry trees lining the Potomac Tidal Basin and the Jefferson Memorial, is March 20 to April 13. A gift from Japan in 1912, the 3,000 trees have remained a symbol of friendship for more than a century. Events including origami workshops and pink-tie balls and parades have blossomed with the flowers.

The National Park Service even keeps a "Bloom Watch" webcam, linked at

Peak bloom time is expected in early April.

The idea of observing and pausing to step aside from everyday life is a long-held Japanese notion. Especially honored are historical Japanese Zen temple gardens, which hold precisely placed landscape elements designed to capture reflections, both in water and in mind.

Gardeners here in the West often seek to incorporate their features, including tea gardens with arching wood bridges, the placement of large rocks in carefully raked dry stone beds, and framed vistas of pale pink weeping cherry blossoms in the spring and flaming ginger maple leaves in the fall.

Yoko Kawaguchi's newly published Japanese Zen Gardens (Frances Lincoln Limited, $50), with photographs by Alex Ramsay, is a guided exploration of Japan's many temple gardens, including Kyoto's famous spectacular Ryoan-ji, or Peaceful Dragon Temple, built in 1450.

Ramsay has captured perfectly angled, framed and seasonally timed color shots that allow a feeling of intimacy and of being there experiencing the gardens.

Kawaguchi offers scholarly, detailed, deeper exploration of the history and significance of each element. Born in Tokyo and raised in the United States and Canada, Kawaguchi not only interprets titles and words, but knows how to sync cross-cultural concepts.

This is both a visual idea book that gardeners can flip through in a day, and an in-depth look at the Zen mind's landscape possibilities that could be revisited throughout a lifetime.

Susan Smith-Durisek is a master gardener and writer from Lexington. Email: Blog:

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