Specifics on the realization of Tsubo-en

One should not just reproduce the traditional gardens of olden times, but should study those works well and then refer to them when making a contemporary garden. To refer to and to imitate are two very different things (in [11] by Mirei Shigemori 6 ).

Many books have been written on the subject of how to realize your own garden, few however use a structured method to guide you in this, and even fewer use such method to realize a Japanese-garden, let alone a Zen-garden. This section is divided into two chapters. The first subsection is a general approach for garden realization. The second, this part, reflects how we used the method to realize Tsubo-en.

The sections below add directed content to the realization-phases. Content directed to Tsubo-en as karesansui garden and its unique lot and location.

In the following sections we will go into more detail on the realization-phases. We will elaborate on these phases with the, for Tsubo-en most, important considerations and decisions. In some cases we will link to the relevant page as some of the subjects are also included in the main option menu (left side).

You can click a phase-pictogram to jump directly to a specific realization-phase.

iterate      The six iterative garden realization phases (for Tsubo-en)       iterate
vision and strategy architecture visible objects infra compinfra design construction maintenance
- 1-
Determine the vision and strategy
- 2 -
Design the architecture
- 3 -
Design and select the visible-objects and elements
- 4 -
Infrastructure design and component selection
- 5 -
Build and construction of the integral design
- 6 -
Maintenance and tuning
Go for:
Archetype selection
O and ko-karikomi,
house/garden integration
Wish list

Based on:
Principles, Rules & Characteristics (traditional restraints)


Rules & Guidelines,


Based on:
Best practices,
Product manuals & usage instructions


Do It Yourself

Everlasting skillful labour

1 - Determine the vision and strategy

This may sound egoistic but in our case the purpose of the garden is just our delight and doing something creative in and with nature.
With this website we hope to relax the "us being selfish" part a little.

  • We most like and are most impressed by the Japanese gardens with a high level of abstraction. The ones that most influenced our design and on which we based some scenes and/or elements are listed in de Links section I-n.
    Kobori Enshu 4 (1579-1647) and Mirei Shigemori 6 (1896-1975, also see Shigemori residence) [11], [a] and Shunmyo Masuno, Zen priest 18  are among our favorite designers.
    The symbolism, not to mention superstitious beliefs, as such mean little to us. However symbolism sometimes has a direct impact on the aesthetics of a garden that can not be neglected. Hence we decided to take symbolism into account and bring it into the garden if it in our eyes, enhances the appearance and appreciation.
    The same is true for the geomancy [14], nowadays popularised as Feng Shui, (fusui in Japanese) Yin Yang and the Japanese equivalents and interpretations like Yi and the Five Phases as described in the garden book Sakuteiki 5 and older text like Huainanzi which precedes the Five Phase Encyclopedia by about 600 years.
    The essence regarding aesthetics from the opening words in the Sakuteiki [3] has been leading for us:
    " In making the garden, you should first understand the overall principles."

    1. According to the lay of the land, and depending upon the aspects of the water landscape, you should design each part of the garden tastefully, recalling your memories of how nature presented itself for each feature.
    2. Study the examples of work left by the past masters, and considering the desires of the owner of the garden, you should create a work of your own by exercising your tasteful sense.
    3. Think over the famous places of scenic beauty throughout the land, and by making it your own that which appeals to you most, design your garden with the mood of harmony, modelling after the general air of such places.

    In the modern translation of the Sakuteiki [14] the authors see three aspects of Buddhism reflected in the garden. The third relating to the aspect of Buddhism by which the religion is seen as a protector of the individual. Inserting specific Buddhist elements in the garden was done for reasons similar to those for introducing elements that had geomantic influence. Both the Buddhist elements and the geomantic elements were perceived as protecting the household.
    And as stated above, we have only taken these aspects into account for the impact on the aesthetics of the garden and under the assumption that it will not enhance the appearance and appreciation when seen or experienced by a spectator without a thorough background of the rules and taboos, imi or kinki.

  • Our surrounding is flat and so is our garden. Hence we wanted a garden that fits this and went for a flat, hiro niwa karesansui garden and moderate use of tsukiyama, landscape elements (artificial hills).
    Actually a flat karesansui garden combined with O-Karikomi (topiary technique of clipping shrubs and trees into large shapes or sculptures) and Hako-zukuri (shrubs clipped into boxes). This was first introduced during the Momoyama era [16].
  • We also like a pond. However the back boundary of the lot is formed by a canal, six meters broad, that separates us from the golf course. We decided to take advantage of that water rather than having our own pond. In combination with the above this determines our choice for a karesansui garden.
  • The garden should fit the surrounding and where possible make use of it. That is why we will not erect a wall around the garden. Apart from the back where we have ( Shakkei, i.e. the technique to make use of "borrowed scenery") this is more or less against the rules. So be it.
    This is probably the most obvious property of the garden making it less Japanese and less puristic, apart from the fact that it is located outside of Japan, is the fact that it is not enclosed. The primary reason for that is the integration with the surroundings. We live in a very open neighborhood and want to respect that.
  • The two major themes that are part of the building architecture, inside and out, are straight lines combined with curved lines, mostly circular. These themes should come back in the garden architecture.
  • We wanted to have sufficient terrace-space in the form of a veranda. Sufficient being large enough to host a small family party.
  • And yes our budget is limited. We just bought ourselves a new house and we can not afford the best for the garden. So if we can not afford or find natural material, we will go for a natural appearance.

2 - Design the architecture

Most important to us was the spatial organization and the integration of the house into the garden in a way that the house "naturally fits" the garden.
Design the garden so that its beauty accords with the site and responds to the passage of time as sensitively as do leaves in a whispering breeze, with nothing clumsy or coarse about it. The result must be fascinating in a quiet, graceful way.
The above passage from "Illustrations for Designing Mountain, Water, and Hillside Field Landscapes" (1466), sets a high standard for landscape designers, one that cannot be achieved simply by following rules. Even the author of Tsukiyama Teizoden5, the first "do-it-yourself" Japanese garden manual, cautioned against taking the rules he set down too seriously:
"Though these are called rules, they are simply intended to show the general principles to which people should adhere. These laws are not fixed and immutable. A stone by such and such a name need not be placed here and another there unless desired. They are only suggestions to be developed appropriately. People fettered by formal ideas should realize this and strive to improve their art."
Recall the vistas of various famous places, select what attracts you and add your own interpretation. It is best to use this as a theme to design the whole of the garden while adding just the right amount of changes.
Sakuteiki 5 , translated by Marc Peter Keane [14].

An important and interesting observation to be aware of is the fact that the advice and guidance given assumes that a new garden gets constructed in a "mature", that is existing environment with "character".So The scenes, elements and objects in the garden should be the ones that suite the site best. However in the contemporary western world and particularly in an overpopulated country like The Netherlands, the starting point is very different. Building locations can be developed "in the middle of nowhere", where everything you see in all directions is flat and sand. So the starting reference is very different from that of the medieval Japanese garden maker.
In case of Tsubo-en we had something in the middle. The houses where built on or around an existing, but young, Golf course in a Province that itself only exists for just a little more than half a Century (also see: House and garden).

To give you an impression, this is how our starting lot and environment looked back in 1997.

1688 1690
1689 1693

The above implies that thinking ahead and anticipate how things will develop over time is an important aspect of the design phases. Almost by definition some of the outcome will be different than anticipated and hence may require tuning and refining.

An other quality that we pursue is the experience of unity or "one-ness" with the garden from within the house.
These two requirements in combination with the fit into the surrounding lead to the conclusion that we would only use a minimum sloping and a relatively large gravel area (Ginshanada or "silversand open sea").
Although of subordinate importance, we want to do most of the work, including the heavy groundwork ourselves. This has also influenced the fact that we use very little big rocks, or actually few rocks all together. So we use the shrubs for that. An other factor that played an important role here is that Marijke is not in favor of the rocks as less of those will ad to the tranquillity of the garden.

The Tsjubo-en garden can be typified as a "Kyõto (karesansui) style" garden. These then are divided into two groups, one of which classifies as the more abstract type. Here abstract themes are used to compose a scenic garden [1] and they often incorporate the principle of "yohaku no bi" 7 : the beauty of empty space [2].
In addition Tsubo-en incorporates some tea garden (cha-niwa or roji) design-elements.

Some of the architecture and design principles we used are:

  • Today, ink monochrome painting still is the art form most closely associated with Zen Buddhism.
    A primary garden design principle is the creation of a landscape based on the three-dimensional monochrome ink (sumi) landscape painting, sumi-e or suibokuga, and the principle of the prescribed separation of the vista into three tiers or planes. The first and closest tier, on a human scale, the second or middle-tier on architectural scale, and the third tier, on a geologic scale. Also see: How to typify, architect and compose a Japanese garden ?
  • Some guidance we took from the Sakuteiki 5, e.g. on erecting rocks.
  • "Suchigaete" 数値違えて, "Asymmetrical" or "off-balance" in an otherwise highly symmetrical framework of house and lot (also irregular numerical value, designing with asymmetrical elements).
  • "Fuzei" 8, Literally "a breeze of feeling", actually the objective (that is natural) aesthetic spirit of a garden or place. Or the subjective aesthetic taste of the gardener or owner.
  • An interesting Muromachi era principle: "less is more" 7.

Tsukiyama teizoden 5 uses "forms", for "private gardens":

  1. Hira-niwa (level or flat lands), that typify something of plains or moorland scenery.
    The flat garden was a mostly secular residential garden which also appeared adjacent to some temple residence halls. It was first mentioned in the Tsukiyama Teizoden.
  2. Tsuki-yama (artificial mountains). Modified types of tsuki-yama are kare-sansui, sen-tei, naturalistic water garden and rin-sen, naturalistic forest garden.

Regarding the complexity or the degree of elaboration Tsukiyama teizoden names three levels: Shin, Gyo and So.
These originally referred to calligraphy and three styles of writing Chinese characters. It originated in China. The Shin style corresponding to the non-cursive, more rigid form of the letters, the Gyo style referring to the semi-cursive style of characters and finally, the So style corresponding to the very cursive form of the characters.
It developed over the course of time stretching from 1350 B.C. to 700 A.D. S-G-S was introduced to Japan and evolved during the period 593 to 1185 A.D. During the period 1221 to 1573 A.D. SGS was cultivated in the Japanese arts, specifically in the fields of Renga (linked verse), Noh (drama), Ikebana flower arranging and even Bonsai, (Japanese) tea ceremony and gardens. S-G-S in Japanese gardens first was about reducing the number of stones.

  1. Shin, very elaborate and formal. Controlled or shaped by man.
  2. Gyo, intermediate and semi-formal. The blending of Shin and So to compliment each other.
  3. So, the simplest informal. Things in their natural (or impressionistic) state.

This "complexity" relates to the number of elements and objects like: scenes, hills, rocks, stone, tree's, bushes and other objects and the level of detail in a garden. For Tsubo-en this means that the form will be of the Hira-niwa type with a Gyo complexity.

We also used the seven characteristics of Shinichi Hisamatsu (1889-1980) that where inspired by Zen Buddhism [2] These seven main principles of aesthetics in Zen philosophy are used for achieving sabi (rustic patina) and wabi (simple, austere beauty):

 1 fukinsei Fukinsei Imbalanced, uneven
Asymmetry, odd numbers, irregularity, unevenness and imbalance as a denial of perfection. Perfection and symmetry does not occur in nature.
The opposite of geometric circles or squares or of symmetrical balance
Asymmetry is intrinsic to Buddhist thought.
 2 kanso Kanso Simplicity
Keeping things basic and plain, free of decoration and gimmicks. Kanso is plain white paper and black ink on paper, not oil on canvas. You only use what you need and nothing more. Kanso is the bare essential.
 3 kokou Kokou Austere sublimity, maturity, aged, bare essentials, venerable
Basic, weathered bare essentials that are aged and unsensuous. Evoking sternness, forbidence and maturity. Things that can remind us of Kokou are the worn bark of old trees, rocks and boulders, harshness of the desert and the natural cycle of growth, decay and death.
 4 shizen Shizen Naturalness
Raw, natural and unforced without pretense. True naturalness is to negate the naive and accidental.Being natural is to let the natural grain pattern of wood show instead of painting over it. It denotes an implied, more or less hidden, (experience of) beauty.
It does not mean raw nature. It invovles full creative intent, but should not be forced; unselfconsciousness; true naturalness that is a regation of the naive and accidental.
 5 yugen Yugen Subtle profundity, deep reserve
Suggest and not reveal layers of meaning hidden within. Invisible to the casual eye and avoiding the obvious.Real beauty exists when, through its suggestiveness, only a few words, or few brush strokes, can suggest what has not been said or shown, and hence awaken many inner thoughts and feelings.
Things not wholly revealed but partly hidden from view; shadow and darkness, hence Yugen involves the shadow areas of the garden.
 6 datsuzoku Datsuzoku Freedom from attachment, unworldly
Transcendence of conventional and traditional. Free from the bondage of laws and restrictions. True creativity.
It invovlves transcendence from conventional usage. It is often a surprise element or an astounding characteristic.
Trust your imagination and let your mind and feelings go free.
 7 seijaku Seijaku Calm, tranquility
Silence and tranquillity, blissful solitude. Absence of disturbance and noise from one’s mind, body and surroundings.
The silent solitude of the moon, a lone person in the middle of desert .
The characteristic of "stillness in activity" should be strongly felt in a Japanese garden.

Mirei Shigemori 6 stated that the karesansui garden reflects two aestetic ideals fundamental to Muromachi thinking. The above described yugen and yohako no bi 7, the beaty of empty space.

From the previous phase we have the requirement to incorporate the two building architecture themes into the garden design. These two major themes that are part of the building architecture, inside and out, are straight lines combined with curved lines, mostly circular. This has been propagated into the design and applied throughout the garden. Not only can this be found in the ground-patterns formed by the Ginshanada and tsukiyama "coastline", and in the stepping-stones, that all have a straight side, but even in the topiary shrubs, expressed by the karikomi and hako-zukuri style.

This brought us to the garden architecture as depicted by the black and white garden-plan drawing on the left.

1622 1631

Typically flat gardens combined features of the rock garden with elements adopted from the tea garden. Even at temples flat gardens were without the rigorous spiritual connotations of the Zen dry landscape. They were designed in a pleasing, decorative manner and introduced the use of many more plants. A flat area of gravel, typically adjacent to the residence from which it was viewed, was bordered on the far side by shrubs, trees and suggestive rock arrangements.

Other elements and objects that might be included are garden ornaments such as pagodas (tahoto), water basins, wells, lanterns, and stepping stones used as accents and focal points. Such ornaments, particularly garden lanterns, water basins and stepping stones were late 16th century innovations, introduced to Japanese garden design intended for the practice of the tea ceremony (cha-no-yu).
In color this looks much more promising, that is the above plan on the right.

Note that we have multiple versions of the garden-plan. Using the same architecture template we use them to document a variety of subjects, e.g. scenes and elements, plants and planting, infrastructure components, construction and location, different languages etc.

The following drawing on the left shows a description of the landscape scenes, elements and objects in the garden-plan.

1627 Color section plan

For the purpose of elaboration we use the architecture design garden-plan with scenes and elements defined. We divide this in seven more or less logical garden-sections that have a capital letter for identification. These sections are then assigned to one of four garden compartments. Some scenes and elements will be specific to one section or compartment where others will involve multiple sections and possibly compartments. In Tsubo-en we do not plan a physical separation into compartments as such. During a walk around the house, like the virtual guided tour, you will not come across any obstacles or gates along the path.

Rather than start with a plants and planting chapter we will first discuss these as integral part of the applicable garden compartment and possibly garden-section below, as they can not be seen as separate from the scenes and elements. Only when relevant, additional detail will be given in a separate chapter.

The following shows the hierarchy of terms that is used to identify garden "parts", from the highest level downwards.
Garden -> Compartments -> Sections -> Visible Objects and Elements -> Components (or Infrastructure Component). Actually infrastructure components are at a different level as they can relate to each and every level of the garden. In principle and preferably these are invisible to the visitor. Elements are composed of objects.
Scenes can cross compartments and garden-sections and are composed of Objects and Elements where Elements as such are a collection of objects that "belong together".
In the following chapters we will use these hierarchical relationships to structure the web pages.

As an example we fill this in for the main garden compartment.
The Tsubo-en garden is divided in four compartments the main garden being one of them. The main garden exist of four (garden-)sections B. C, D and E. All these sections incorporate part of the tobi-ishi path element. This element on its turn is subdivided in a number of visible objects, tobi-ishi and some special purpose stones.
The heavy step-stones that give entrance to the veranda, belonging to section E, and the composite stone composition of cut-granite that was very much inspired by the so called "Oribe's style" 4.

Related to design and the desired qualities listed above we found an interesting study: "Visual perception in karesansui gardens" and "Visual perception in Japanese Rock Garden Design". See Note 9 for details and do not forget to read the added statement of caution.

3 - Design and select the visible-objects and elements

Definition: Visible objects can be distinct single objects or elements, where (garden-)elements as such are a collection of objects that "belong together".

This phase not only is a continuation of the previous phase, the architecture design, it is worked-out iteratively. As can be concluded from the above, some work related to this phase has already been done in the architecture phase. The division of these phases is not at all strict and actually can´t be even if we wanted to. In this section we elaborate on the scenes as designed and further detail and specify the implementation. Here we also give a brief description of the plants and planting along with the most important reasons for selection.
For plant selection there will never be a guarantee that you make the right choice. The first time you will definitely need a plant encyclopedia that is specific to your country or climate-zone. We used a well known Dutch standard-work for that [9].

Regarding visible objects there are two qualities known as sabi (rustic patina) and wabi (simple, austere beauty) of which a good understanding is of utmost importance to any garden maker. Although these terms are often and very much are related to the Tea ceremony and Tea garden they are of high importance for any Japanese garden. If you are not familiar with these please have a close look at their meaning by use of the hyperlink.
The most important factors that influence the selection of garden-objects, including planting, are: availability, affordability and our climate-zone. Interestingly a number of "visible objects" is composed of or constructed with, plants.
Regarding plants we have different selection arguments, like: speed of growth, size, suitable for our climate and location, ability to shape, required maintenance-effort, durability (also climate related).

In this chapter we tell about the design and selection criteria that we applied to decide on the (visible) object material we used and construction and composition details of scenes and elements. For a variety of reasons in many cases we had to come to an acceptable compromise. When applicable these reasons will be explained and exemplified.

The structure of this phase is such that here we make a subdivision of four garden-compartments. In every compartment we discuss general subjects and list the elements and objects that are part of it. These parts will then have a designated page dedicated to that subject. The same is true for planting. In this way we create multiple entry points and hope to make navigation as direct as possible.

To go directly to the chapter of a garden compartment or section select and click it on this groundplan.

     The main garden compartment. Some aspects herein discussed also apply to other garden compartments.

     The front garden compartment (zentei)
     The left side compartment
     The water front (back side) compartment

All information about the plants and planting in Tsubo-en including the

    Index of plants in Tsubo-en is available in
    Plants and planting in Tsubo-en.

During your study of this site it may be handy to have the groundplan at hand. In the site-footer you find a hyperlink: Groundplan pop-up, that brings up the groundplan in an independent pop-up window.

4 - Infrastructure design and component selection

Part of the infrastructure is required to upkeep the garden. An example is the drainage-system. Being located at the sea bottom, the garden will easily turn into a swamp or pond if not done properly.
The infrastructure should also make life more easy and make it possible to maintain the garden with substantially reduces effort (sprinkler, water-tap, electricity and lighting).

For a brief and quick overview see the Technology page. In addition some infrastructure detail can be found in the Maintenance page. More detail is given in the next chapter "Build and construction of the integral design".

This phase entails component selection, including brand, model and type selection, and detailed construction design to the level that all materials and amounts of items can be counted, calculated and ordered. Examples are number of bricks, length and type of cable and hose, number of clamps, swivels, screws, nails and what have you, for the following facilities:
  • The drainage-system.
  • Watering supply and sprinkler-system.
  • Lighting and garden electricity-system.

  • Paving stone, garden-wall brick, foundation stone, veranda and duckboard wood and construction material etc.
Important: To explain all this in a visual way we describe these selection and design activities in combination with the actual construction work in the next realization-phase.

5 - Build and construction of the integral design

When all of the above has been done, then we have everything to perform the actual work and start digging. In our case that is what we did. You can also go for the option to "outsource" this work and hire a horticulturist. This could actually already be done in phase one, with our without additional owner-input to the execution.

The Technology page and the Maintenance page show a short overview of the build and construction.
The following construction activities are more or less listed in the order in which they are logically executed.

The construction activities are more or less listed in the order in which they where perfomed but are often interrelated and partly dependent. In many cases build and construction is limited to bare placement of an object (which includes plants) or ornament. Although there is some logic involved in the order of activities there are numerous factors that can influence that order, e.g. seasonally determined circumstances and even quality of life. Like you must be able to park the car and get as soon as possible as close as possible to the house with it, etc. For your convenience, below we have included a visual and textual interface to jump directly to one of the eight construction chapters.

Infrastructure Construction, Build and Object Placement in Tsubo-en
Click for an extensive coverage

Functional Paving

Functional Paving
Walls, Retaining Walls, Stairways and Fences Walls,stairs,fences
Ground levelling, Soil enrichment and Drainage
Ground levelling, Soil enrichment, Drainage
Infrastructure Construction Infrastructure
Veranda, duckboards and gutter Veranda, duckboards & gutter Paths and Terraces
Paths & Terraces
Main Tsukubai and Turtle Island lakes
Tsukubai & "lakes"
Placement of Objects and Plants Placement of Objects & Plants

  1. Lay "hard functional" Paving
    Paving the front garden driveway and main-entrance and the left side pathway and some utilitarian paths.
  2. Building Walls, Retaining Walls, Stairs and Fences
    Building the front garden walls and water front retaining walls and water-side stairs.
  3. Ground levelling, Drainage and Soil enrichment
    The "ground-work" for the Ginshanada, gravel surfaces and the Tsukiyama areas.
    This work is done in combination with the construction of the infrastructure facilities.
  4. Constructing the Infrastructure
    This work is done in combination with the above Ground levelling, drainage and soil enrichment.
  5. Constructing the Veranda and Duckboards
  6. Constructing Paths and Terraces
  7. Constructing the Main Tsukubai and Turtle Island lakes
  8. Placement of other Objects and Plants.
    Placement of some remaining objects such as miscellaneous garden ornaments and small objects, and planting.

Well that is it. Be sure to document any changes for later reference. After many years it is easy to forget where pipes and wires lay. You do not want to find out the hard way during your maintenance activities, the last and eternal phase.

6 - Maintenance and tuning

Maintenance has two important stages:
  1. The first is to maintain and "tune" the garden during the initial growth to eventually arrive at the aesthetic maturity that was initially envisioned in the strategy and architecture phase. Tuning can also involve changing earlier choices. If, for whatever reason a plant or material doe not "perform" as expected or wanted then one should consider to replace it by one that does and that should be or by now is known to be better suited.
  2. The second is about preservation. Once the garden has reached its desired maturity we need to keep it at that level. This is the daily maintenance and is not only about pruning and clipping but relates to everything that is subjected to change in one way or an other.
For an overview of maintenance and "tuning" see the Maintenance page (also available in the left menu).

For all details about garden maintenance select a subject.

Maintenance and tuning in Tsubo-en
Click for an extensive coverage

Pest & weeds control
Pest & weeds control
Bottom surface maintenance
Bottom surface maintenance
Fukinaoshi 'to re-do' Fukinaoshi 'to re-do' trees Training, clipping and pruning
Training, clipping and pruning
Preventive & Repair Preventive & Repair Regular tidy-up Regular clean-up

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