(iii) The Background:
In the far section of the garden the main feature is the setting of seven upright stones. The stones are set about a small ‘pool’ of the same flat pebbles of the stream course, at the very centre of the dark pool is a low, dark stone which was brought to the garden from the bed of the River Shannon. This stone represents the point of origin of the river, and thus the origin of the garden.
In part the training and development of a traditional Japanese gardener lies in developing an aesthetic sensitivity towards the materials one uses; the earth, space, rocks and plant material. The Japanese garden, unlike its Western counterpart, is not primarily a horticultural exercise, in spirit it is perhaps closer to sculpture and owes of a great deal to the design concerns of Chinese landscape painting. Above all any creative work needs to ‘belong’ to the place where it exists. Many of the principles of the Japanese karesansui garden are of a universal nature, in that they can communicate with a viewer even when reinterpreted outside of its native cultural weave. Many cultures have developed a particular sensitivity to the landscape that supports them, in this Ireland is no different to Japan. All gardens, of either the Western or Eastern traditions are rooted in, and derived from, the expression of the state of Paradise. In both China and Japan, landscape was recognised as a cultural metaphor for spiritual aspiration and wholeness. The Zen karesansui garden is a intense distillation of the notion of landscape, thus it enables the viewer to form a direct connection with the gestalt of landscape as representing an ideal state of Being. In creating gardens with this awareness one is simply continuing a multi-millennia old practice that has occupied societies across the world regardless of being separated by time or space.
The seven standing stones symbolize the hazel nut trees that according to the mythology of Sionna, stood guard over the Pool of Wisdom. They may also be read as the slopes of Cuilcagh Mountains, which form the source of the River Shannon, which eventually reaches its end at Limerick. According to the myth, the pool contained salmon who ate the nuts of Wisdom when they fell into the water, and the fish acquired a pink spot on their flank when they did so. A spring or source in Japan is one of the most sacred of places and almost invariably there would be a consecrated structure mounted over or near its site. The same can be said in many landscape-orientated spiritual traditions and this was certainly also the case in native Celtic belief, where springs were held in special regard.
In the early consideration of the garden I had seen the visual plane being more or less flat, stretching away from the viewer, with the primary visual focus of the garden to be seen from the ground floor foyer, but also from above. In a Zen garden, the stone arrangement forms the skeleton of the garden, each stone is set with particular attention to every detail in respect of how the stone grouping as a whole works together. As the garden construction got underway, and one developed a more intimate feeling for the space, I decided to bring the Sionna triad of stones closer to the front of the composition. This then lead to deciding to raise the rear of the garden, in effect to tilt the picture plane, as this would help to bring the garden as a whole closer to the viewer. All the while, a garden creator is balancing his own ideas/ego against what he perceives to be the request of the stones and other materials. The garden that emerges from this process is a compromise between those two poles.