It is said that the great gardens of Japan owe their timeless beauty to the genius of garden masters who truly understood how to work with large stones. In fact, the placement of boulders is the very foundation of these gardens.
For centuries the Japanese have studied stones in the wild. We might call their stones boulders, and we see them in a very superficial way. But the garden masters spent considerable time trying to analyze them.
But for the Japanese masters to pass on their discoveries, they had to define order in the seemingly chaotic presence of boulders in nature. They sought to create guidelines for how to properly incorporate stones.
There are five distinctive forms:
1. Tall vertical -- This stone is taller than it is wide. It's used in waterfalls or as the central stone in a composition.
2. Low vertical -- This stone is wider than it is tall. It is similar to tall vertical but is much wider relative to the height. This is a massive stone often used as a companion for tall vertical stones.
3. Arching -- This oddly shaped stone overhangs on the right or the left. It's also known as a thrusting stone. It is slightly lower than the low vertical stone and used to give strength and stability to vital points of the garden such as the corner of a stone bridge. To achieve this, a stone can be planted at an angle to make a moderate arch more prominent.
4. Reclining -- This boulder will resemble the shape of a reclining animal, with the head on one end higher and narrower than the hips on the opposite end. It's often referred to as an ox-stone due to the strength it infers. Masters use this diagonal top line to draw the eye to another element close by in the garden, almost as if it is a pointer.
5. Flat -- This easy-to-identify stone is less than a foot tall, but it may be unlimited in length and width. It must have a flat top surface. Such stones are used in front of a composition of boulders, at water's edge, as a bridge and as walks and stepping-stones.
Natural stone is among the most long-lasting and beautiful additions to a landscape.
Due to the cost of obtaining boulders for the landscape, it pays to hand-select them yourself. Strive to obtain boulders in each of the five shapes just described. Then use some smaller "helping" stones to fill in the gaps.
(Maureen Gilmer is an author, horticulturist and landscape designer. Learn more at www.MoPlants.com. Contact her at mogilmer(at)yahoo.com or P.O. Box 891, Morongo Valley, CA 92256.)