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Tuesday, April 4, 2000

If Japan is under your skin, get dirt under your nails

Staff writer
CREATING YOUR OWN JAPANESE GARDEN, by Takashi Sawano. Tokyo: Shufunomoto Co., Ltd., 1999, 120 pp., 3,800 yen (cloth).

This is the kind of book you might give to a committed Japanophile like Larry Ellison, Oracle president and CEO. While professional landscape architect Takashi Sawano does not say whether the corporate samurai spirit fits the bill, he does insist that without a studied appreciation of Japanese aesthetics, any attempt to build a Japanese garden is destined to fail from lack of soul.

And so he sets out to introduce the physical and philosophical elements essential to a Japanese garden, exhorting would-be designers to bear in mind the oldest advice in the book: "Follow nature." He then provides nearly 20 examples of gardens that, as a 25-year resident of England, he was commissioned to design, from indoor nooks to estate expanses to roof gardens.

For the purposes of this book, Sawano focuses on two of the three major garden styles, "karesansui" (dry garden) and "chaniwa" (tea garden).

The traditional standard in the field of Japanese garden design is the 11th-century "Sakuteiki" ("Treatise on Garden Making"), and while Sawano draws on it like the bible that it is, his aim is to solve the problems associated with creating a garden with a Japanese aesthetic in foreign climes, where materials and space requirements differ.

This well-balanced book presents a wealth of ideas for gardens you can design and make yourself, while at the same time advising the beginner when it is best to draw on professional help.

Tips covering the psychological and environmental aspects affecting your design, budgeting basics, the nitty-gritty of constructing and setting the elements in your garden and the costs of upkeep are accompanied by numerous photographs and detailed illustrations.

Rake in hand, you're ready to create a contemplative design for your pebbled dry garden, you say? Sawano has even thought to include a selection of patterns from which to choose.

Finally, a chart of plants, organized by height, and a list of public Japanese gardens outside Japan, from Europe to Israel, are appended.

The wealth of information contained in this concise volume is laid out as carefully and expertly as the stepping stones in one of Sawano's creations.

If you are thinking of making some East-inspired changes to your landscape, you should take a look here. The ideas are guaranteed to grow on you.

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