Friday, 24 May 2013

Not Simply Lumps of Stone


In the context of the Japanese garden tradition, stones or rocks are one of the most important design elements. This has been so since the earliest gardens were created in Japan. In the 17th century there did develop a style of garden known as 'karikomi niwa' (clipped shrub garden), where stones were not used at all, though in their absence the plant forms evoked their presence. Stones and their arrangement ( 'ishigumi' ) form the skeletal structure of the garden, they play an important role in defining the movement movement of energy within the garden space, as well as generating energy within the garden.

The practice of naming stones or arrangements is well known, it features strongly for example in the 15th century writing 'Sansui narabi ni yagyõ no zu', Illustrations of landscape features (in the garden) by Zõen. The nomenclature of stones is drawn from a variety of sources, evoking the names of specific deities ( mainly of Buddhist origin ), mythic sources, also well known existing landscape features. Due care though should be taken in interpreting this fashion, as it implies that there is an intellectual system or practice in the placement of stones. At the highest level, 'ishigumi' is an art form, carried out from the developed senses and taste of the designer. It is an instinctive response to the demands of the materials and the site itself, in the context of the scheme being undertaken. The designer develops this ability through practice, also through a profound understanding and appreciation of the materials being used. This is not quite as daunting a task as it may appear. The keen gardener can practice by arranging small stones in a sand tray. It is an excellent way of sharpening the eye, and developing the all important 'feel ' for the placement of stones. It is also one way the contemporary garden masters in Japan transmit their own understanding of rock placement to their students.


The Historical Basis.

Mankind has always held stones in a special regard, witness the numerous 'arranged stone' groups that are scattered across western Europe alone, silent observers to thousands of years of history. In Japan too the earliest settlers worshiped their 'kami' (gods) at selected landscape sites. The places varied, from whole mountains, spring sources, waterfalls, groves of trees, and also single large field boulders. Takamiya are areas of sacred ground, levelled and covered by a scantified gravel, which may have its borders defined by a ring of boulders, and Iwakura are large boulders that occur as the central feature of some takamiya, such sites are found all over Japan and may be of great antiquity. These sites are the dwelling places of kami ( gods ), and are the places where man may come to commune through prayer and ritual with the gods he feels close to.



The early Chinese view that stones were pieces of the sky that had fallen to earth, is expressive of the regard in which stones were recognised. This can be seen in the calligraphic character which represents stone in Chinese and Japanese,石,where the small square element is a piece of stone falling from the ceiling (heaven) represented by the two lines above.They were seen as objects reflecting and containing divine energy. The stone was seen as a manifestation of the energy that created it, the very force of life itself. The energy is contained within the stone in a pure form, because stone is inanimate it can only be as it is, shaped and transformed by Nature. Thus the stone is an expression of that energy, so it is the stone arranger's task to harmonize that energy within the framework of the arrangement. A useful analogy is to see stone arrangement as being akin to musical composition.

A stone symbolises Being, solidity and strength. Hardness and durability in stone impress because they appear to represent the opposite of biological decay and vunerability. The stone, when whole, may symbolise unity and time beyond measure, shattered it may represent disunity, infimity and death. These are fundemental elements of creation and should be treated with great respect in the garden setting. The designer will pay heed to the needs of the stone, relinquishing even his own will to the stone. In China, stones were regarded as works of art in theoir own right, as well as being appreciated as for their symbolic qualities. There is no particular attempt to use stones of the same geological provenance in the garden. Stones are used, and collected for their expressive qualities, indicating an appreciation that extends beyond the material form.


Stones in Garden Design.

For the purpose of garden design, stones may be seen to fit into five basic categories;
a) Tall Vertical
2) Low Vertical
3) Thrusting
4) Reclining
5) Flat

A Tall Vertical is a stone that will be set upright, generally over 0.9m in height. Its verticality is pronounced. A stone of this category will often be set as a 'principal' stone of an arrangement.

A Low Vertical will rarely exceed 0.9m, it will be stongly vertical, and is used in a supporting role.

A Thrusting Stone has a pronounced inclination of energy moving diagonaly, this may appear in the overall shape , as well as in the dynamic form. The movement may be from left to right, or right to left.



The Recling Stone is a recumbent form, the emphasis is on its horizontality. The stone may be physically large, it is often use in a Crane Isle arrrangement, for example. By its nature it is a passive stone. 

The Flat Stone is also used in a practical manner, as stepping stones,viewing stones and as bridges. Although it takes on a humble posture, it should be borne in mind that such a stone lifts and supports the viewer.

These categories should be regarded as a general guide only, because in the final analysis, the stones are used for their inherent expressive qualities, which will be unique to each stone. The choice of stone for a particular scheme will also be influenced by considerations of the overall mood of the garden, as well as factors such as cost and availability.

There are a few general rules as to the placement of stones in the garden lanscape. A tall vertical stone is often  used as the Principal Stone in the garden, that is it is placed first in the sequence of setting out the arrangement, and all the subsequent stones will be placed in respect to that one stone.In the 'Sakuteiki', the author refers to the "requesting mood" of the stone. Within the stone group the energy flow or pattern is harmonized by aligning or orchestrating as smoothly as possible the flow of energy. This does not mean that the arrangement may not be vigouous or dramatic, it does imply that all the elements are brought into an integrated visual relationship with one another.

The Character of Stone.

Individually, each stone may be understood to contain a dynamic form. This refers to the 'grain' of the stone, that trace of primordial energy leaving its trace within the stone. Striations of crystalline banding, as well as the organisation of the constituent material may create a distinctive pattern. Whereas the form ( mass ) of the rock is developed after its separation from its source, through the processes of weathering etc. All these process have taken place usually over extraordinarily long periods of time, not uncommonly  millions of years, involving forces that are hard to imagine. Looked that through such a prism stones are both ordinary and quite exceptional.

The texture of a stone should be noted too. Stone may be smooth, fine textured, rugged, or coarse grained, texture will also be influenced by weathering. It is the stone's response to nature in time. Colour is important too,though perhaps less so than form, interestingly in the 'Sakuteiki'*, the author expresses the taboo of placing a large white stone in the east direction of the garden, and warns of the placement of stones whose colour may conflict with that of the colour symbolising the direction they occupy. Blue representing the east, white the west, black the north, and red the south.




A stone is refered to as having a 'face'. This is simply the most interesting aspect of the stone, taking into account the various points above. The 'face' is usually presented toward the viewer, though it may be obliquely angled away for dramatic effect. Also, the 'face' may be partially hidden by other stones of the group, or even partially obscured by planting, to heighten the sense of suggestibility and potential. The part of the stone that is buried in the ground is refered to as the 'root', it is important that the stone should have a good contact with the ground. A poorly placed stone will appear overbalancing and may well disturb the sensibility of the viewer, and his sense of harmony. The depth of the 'root' will vary according to the needs of the stone, and this will be taken into consideration, when assessing the potential siting of a stone. Where the stone reveals more than one 'face', then usually the 'face' that is best suited to the requesting mood is chosen. From a single viewpoint it is better to concentrate on a single 'face' best suited to the mood. The same stone may of course be seen also from a number of positions, and due consideration needs to be given to the harmonization of each aspact of the design.


The Design of Stone Groups.

From Chinese landscape painting, we may understand that the vertical line suggests the relative position of the forms and implies depth. The horizontal plane establishes stability and breadth. Transitions and connections are indicated by the diaganol planes, herein is revealed the role of the Thrusting Stones. The fundemental relationship in stone arrangement is the asymmetrical triangle. Asymmetry allows change to occur, balance is derived from harmonizing the 'interior energy' of the respective stones in the group. Symmetrical balance, on the other hand, would present a situation where change would not occur so readily, because the respective energies would work to cancel each other out. Thus the stone arrangement is built up of a series of triangular relationships. Set the Principal stone, add two attendant stones for support, then in turn, these attendant stones may be used to create subsidary arrangements, reflecting a respect to the unity of the design as a whole.

The Principal stone is often set in the background of an arrangement. In the 'Sakuteiki' we are warned against setting large stones near to the verandah. Placing tall elements in the foreground of a composition will have the effect of increasing the apparent depth of the scene, especially when combined with smaller elements in the distance. It may be pertinent to employ this technique of false perspective, for example on a site where the depth is limited. Even so, it should be used with discretion, as tall upright stones in the foreground may appear overwhelming to the viewer.


Dark stones, especially when combined with smooth textures and a soft outline, will appear to recede, whereas, rugged stones and those with a light colour will appear to advance toward the viewer. The selection and placement of stones always must be dictated by taste and in the spirit of what feels right. This in turn will relate to the cointext of the garden being created, be it a flat Zen - style dry landscape, or a hill and pond garden.


Stone Arrangement and the Movement of Energy.

Energy by its very nature implies movement. Dyamic form in the stone is expressed by the distribution of its mass and also by its texture. Thus we can speak of an 'accented dynamic form', in a vertical stone that has a srong vertical marking or grain. In a Thrusting Stone, the movement will be enhanced by a diaganol grain or pronounced diaganolly running planes. Craggy textured stones express energy more obviously than smooth. rounded forms. Though of course every possible combination can be found.

All these qualities need to be observed and put to use by the designer, the analogy with music composition stands. Too many stones of similar type or expression will create a negative impression. A lack of dramatic tension will result in sterility and the eye becoming 'bored'. Variation heightens the sense of drama, potential is created and suggestibility is evoked. The viewer should involuntarily become engaged in a dialogue of energy with the garden, once that process begins to occur then the garden will begin to weave its magic.

The basic unit of a stone arrangement is made up of three stones, the triadic form will generate movement within itself. On a symbolic level, the triadic form may represent the  Heaven - Man - Earth relationship, as well as refering the viewer to the Buddhist cosmology ( Buddha, Kannon, and Daiseishi ). One, is the number representing the Divine Unity; Two, is an expression of the division into Duality ( Yin - Yang ); whereas, Three, represents the return to Union from Duality.

It is in this sense that the triad is most important in the garden. The garden exists to guide the viewer toward a spiritual comprehension of the landscape, every aspect of the garden can be seen in this light. At its core the arrangement of stones in the garden is concerned with the expression of both aesthetic and spiritual values. Another pair of numbers have a significance in the japanese garden, Five and Seven may be seen as extensions of the primary number Three. There are also a variety of symbolic contexts that feature the numbers, such as the seven Gods of the Treasure Ship. Combinations of Three, Five and Seven are found amonst rock arrangements, as well as paving patterns. The use of odd numbers prevents the establishment of symmetrical balance, and hence the 'stagnation' of energy.

Much within Japanese art and philosophy is concerned with the resolving of apparent contradictions, in this manner pointing a way beyond a view conditioned by duality. The nature of a stone arrangement serves to respect and enhance these qualities when carried out in the right spirit, and by respecting the qualities of the materials and also the place where they are set. In the Western garden  stone is used for its material qualities, in the Japanese garden, stone is used in such a way as to draw deeper on its creative potential. Thus, the key to creating arrangements is to understand both the principles and the material. Through training the eye, in harmony with the heart the stone arranger will bring out the deepest qualities of both materials and also the garden creator.

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