A virtual guided tour of the Tsubo-en garden

The garden was designed in the period that the house was built. Although some details have changed, one can not always anticipate how well plants grow and show, the current garden very much reflects the original design.


This section is set-up like a guided tour of the garden where we take a virtual walk through the garden, using the path that goes around the house. Our tour goes counterclockwise around the house. We start from the entrance-path in front of the house, the front garden compartment (zentei, bottom part of above ground plan), and then go to the right-site, the main-garden, and the back (top of above drawing), that is the water front. Then from the back of the house we get to the herb-garden in the left-side garden, and back to the front-garden entrance. The herb-garden can be found at the far end to the left of the above map. If you want to see how this plan maps to the real world location have a look at Integration of house and garden.
In the Realization chapter you find maps and explanation of the partitioning of the garden and the terminology used in: Design the architecture. The internals, selection-criteria, planting, construction details, lessons learned etc. are (eventually) revealed in the chapters on the six realization phases. On the Table of Contents (sitemap) page you find a Visual Table of Contents and a Table of Contents book-style.

It may be interesting to observe that two major building architecture themes, to be found inside and out, are straight lines combined with curved lines, mostly circular. These themes have been propagated throughout the garden. Not only 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 is where we start our round trip. The front of the house, seen from the street. On the left side the drive and in the center the pathway.
The pathway has been closed off to prevent people walking in the gravel (sorry).

The front-garden

Below left: At the entrance of the garden the path with the Tobi-ishi ("floating stones") stepping stones. This path shows one of the subtle design principles. The illusion of depth and length is reinforced by the fact that the pathway border is not formed by parallel lines but constructed to be more narrow at the far end.
To reinforce the optical depth effect of parallel lines converging toward the horizon, the entry of the pathway is made about 25% wider than the far end. Unfortunately this works only from one view position, when looking back from the front door this effect actually eliminates part of the true natural depth.
Pointing the photo will reveal a detail found at the end (top of photo) of the path.

Below right: This (home made) stone copy of the original Tsubo-en calligraphy is placed next to entrance into the garden at the right.


Preferable all materials used should be of natural origin. Unfortunately this will not be feasible in all cases. Restrictions on availability, budget, accessibility and so on can all be reasons to look for alternatives. The "garden wall" bricks that form the pathway border are such an alternative. We have used pallets of these. This is one of the few applications where they are partly used in only a single layer. These brick have been used to construct walls throughout the garden. The front garden boundary, the "waterside terrace", and over the whole length of the waterfront at the back of the house. The bricks can easily be piled up, without cement, and have a natural look because the front edges are broken. The pavement for the drive is also a compromise. The brick used is named "boomerang". This refers to its shape and makes it look less industrial. The anthracite-gray color was carefully chosen to fit both the purpose and style.
Here you view the right side of the front-garden as seen from the drive.

The Prunus lusitanica and the triangular Buxus sempervirens in front of it have just been pruned and clipped in the so called Hako- zukuri style.

To the left the tsukubai with the beautiful Acer palmatum(Momiji) disectum garnet (Japanese maple) and the Ulmus parvifolia"seijn" just behind it.

The tiny Rhododendron "Scarlet wonder" in the middle only just survives.

Below: a composition of rocks, plants and a chouzubachi (ceremonial stone water basin) at the front entrance close to the door. When you point at the photo you get a better view of the rock that lies behind the red maple Tamukeyama (Acer palmatum disectum garnet).
In Netherlands rocks are rarely found. This is an original stone in that it was found close to our house in this ground that was "taken from the sea" only around 1942 (also see: Where we live). It is said to have got here from Scandinavia during the second last glacial period (200,000 year ago), transported by a glacier. The whole of this composition is called a tsukubai.

This chouzubachi is a so called shizenseki chouzubachi (made of natural stone)and a look alike of that found in the Ryoan-ji temple garden at Kyõto. The shape was based on an old-fashioned Chinese coin, a circle representing heaven (yang), pierced by a square hole representing earth (yin)  lit3. The original is said to have been contributed by Mitsukuni Tokugawa (1628-1700), a feudal lord and the compiler of the great History of Japan known as "Dainippon-shi".

The inscription Ware Tada Shiru Taru, "I alone know I am content with things" is found often on water basins in Japan. This is a Zen saying that can also be interpreted as: "If you learn to be content, you are rich in spirit!" or "I learn only to be contented". He who learns only to be contented is spiritually rich, while the one who does not learn to be contented is spiritually poor even if he is materially wealthy. This is an important concept in the Zen philosophy.

This water basin is called a zenigata mizubachi, literally "coin shaped". You can move the pointer over the photo for a close-up.

This is how this looks now in June 2008.

More information is available in chapter:
Tsukubai and chozubachi.
The Prunus lusitanica as seen from the entrance door.

Below: different view angles of our front "door step".
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Below: To the left of the front entrance, beside the drive: Hõray, "symbol of the islands of the Blest" (Taoist myth),
[2, page 27] sometimes represented as mountainous islands, "houraiseki". Here "the five Islands of immortality". These islands where thought to float in a remote sea, carried on the backs of giant turtles. The inhabitants lived in perfect harmony and where carried by cranes to move across the islands.
The technique of clipping shrubs into cube shapes is called Hako-zukuri. Actually not all of these will end up in a cube shape. For the two in the back we have a different plan (watch this space).

This photo shows where we will end our virtual tour as seen from the entrance drive. Now we have looked around in frond of the house, we will continue our garden tour by walking around the house.

From the front door we follow the path to the right side of the house (Tsubo-en name sign on the ground along this path) , we will walk into the direction and then along the Turtle island (symbol for longevity).

Below Left: The main entrance pathway as seen from the front door.
To get an areal-view move the pointer over the photo.
The Tsubo-en nameplate, in the center-right, lays conveniently in the Leptinella potentillina (prev. Cotula) groundcover that is used as a moss replacement.
The left of this photo shows the path that leads to the right side of the house (photo to the right).
This is the direction we go during our virtual guided tour. It runs counterclockwise. The photo's below show how house and garden work together to give "interesting views" and exploit the concept of tachidomaru. This word is a combination of "stand" and "stop" and means "to pause, stop and look back".
Below right: The path that leads to the right side of the house along the Turtle island.


Below left the Kame-jima, "Turtle island" located in front of the house. The composition suggests the shape of a turtle, the stone that represents its head is the one at the far end slightly to the right of the tree. The tree (Abies) symbolizes a crane that spreads its wings. Tortoise and crane both stand for longevity and happiness.
In close up or from a low view angle the flowers give the impression of clouds hanging in the sky over the island mountains.
Move the pointer over the right hand picture to see a flowering close-up version of the island.


The "upper lake" fountain in winter, covered with ice.
We leave the pump running so the birds will always have streaming water to drink from.
Upperlake winter

The main-garden

Then following the tobi-ishi, the path leads us to the left from where we can see both the right side, the main-garden, and the back side garden, that is the water front. The circuitous path has twists and bends around the house so that walking it reveals the unexpected.
The positioning of the Tobi-ishi is such that it gives the impression as though they were thrown at random, or by natural causes.
They are placed in such way that it is almost impossible to walk without looking to the ground.
This is a subtle way to force the visitor to view areas and objects from a particular angle and hence to attract the spectators attention and show the best view.

Below left: A view from above showing the corner that we go around with the "head" of the tortoise at the bottom.
Below right: A view, into the walking direction, as seen from the Turtle island.


The evergreen (or -gray/blue) tree on the island, symbolic for the crane, is vissible on most photo´s and is a beautiful Abies procera "Glauca".

Locking back, in the backdrop we see the Larix (Europeaus) decidua that was recently pruned.
On the right in the front we have the Abies procera.

Below left: The cut-granite path below is very much inspired by the so called "Oribe's style" 4, which also promotes reuse of stone elements. This view is a look back after just having walked it.
Below right: The right site of the garden viewed from the front. The Oribe's style path is just visible in the upper left corner.

Below: the Buddhist Triad or trinity [2, page 29] Sanzonseki-gumi. The triad is used as an archetypal aesthetic principle symbolizing the relationship between (from left to right on the photo: jin, ten, and chi (man, heaven and earth).

This karikomi (see later) tsukiyama landscape is getting shape. The original Rhododendrons had to make place for this Prunus lusitanica, that grows great.

Mount Sumeru or Shumi-sen, symbolized by the upright heavy rock is one of few stone arrangements, ishigumi, in Tsubo-en. This is the mountain at the center of the World in ancient Hindu-Buddhist cosmology. Its prominence is emphasized by some everlasting snow that seems to cover it.

The stone is a type of marble from South-Africa, named "Namaqua", pseudonime "Jumaqua".

The stone itself is pure black and white.

The skin colors are the result of moss and lichen.

The coloration is strongly influenced by rain.

We regard this stone as our, or better the Tsubo-en, "Iwakura" or "Iwasaku", a rock or "rock seat", venerated as divine. In Shinto it is thought to contain a kami at certain times of the year, or to be a link to the world of the gods. Although we are no Shintoists, we think this beautiful stone at this dedicated location is worthy to house a kami.
After three full days of work to move, lift, erect and turn this stone on the 17th of August 2008, we have already learned to treat it with respect. See the Tsukiyama chapter for additional information on the fitting of Mt.Sumeru in the landscape.

The following is again, as viewed from the path.

The Pinus leucodermis"Satellit" is getting shape. Next to it on both sides Prunus lusitanica.

Unfortunately the hedgerow of Taxus baccata in the backdrop does not perform well. This has our continued attention.

In between the two above elements we have the Wisteria sinensis and the heavy "Shumi-sen" rock shown in close-up below.

On the right a picture taken in May 2008 with the blooming Wisteria sinensis (Fuji).

The Buxus sempervirens has just been clipped in what we call the shape of an Elephant-paw.

Note that this was prior to the erection of Mt. Sumeru on 17 August 2008, as it had been lying for ten years.
"The wisteria maiden", Fuji Musume', is an otsu-e (Japanese Folk Painting) subject thought to have been inspired by popular dances. Paintings such as this were often sold as good-luck charms for marriages. Fuji Musume', is also a famous classical dance out of the Kabuki theater in Japan.
If you are interested, see: Fuji Musumè, the Wisteria Maiden.

At the right site, the back site and in front of the house we have the Ginshanada (silver sand open sea) with in the back right corner (North), as shown below, the main O-karikomi (topiary technique of clipping shrubs and trees into large curved shapes or sculptures) and Hako-zukuri (shrubs clipped into boxes and straight lines). It will take a number of years to reach the sculpture like shape we have in mind. The sculpture represents a treasure ship carrying the Shichifukujin, "seven lucky Gods of Japan" (Shichi means seven, fuku means luck, and jin means god) or actually the "seven gods of good luck" of Chinese mythology. Sometimes these are referred to as the Shichigosan or Shichi Go San, which seems to have a different meaning but still relates to the number seven.
The total length of this "sculpture" is 14 meters. In the back the "hidden terrace" that is invisible when viewed from the normal angle.
It should be noted that this "construction" has a few spaces that need to remain open. This is required to be able to apply maintenance to it. These open spaces are however invisible for a normal spectator.

okarikomi panorama

Below more or less the same panorama-view by night, eliminated by the floodlight.


Here with a snow carpet in winter and "borrowed scenery" in the backdrop.

okarikomi panorama

When we resume our tour, while trying to stay on the Tobi-ishi, we approach the "Oribe path"  4.a (also see: Paths, Roji and after that, we go around the left into the direction of the main terrace or veranda.

The right photo shows the heavy "guest stone" at the far end. In line with the agnostic tendency described in medieval treatises 4, this stone is reused and originates from a church.


In front of the veranda ( nure-en) you see a number of heavy stepping stones. To emphasize the roles and gestures of those attending the tea ceremony, in their approach to the tea house, these steps are formally defined by the (tea garden) tradition and tea etiquette.
The use of these steps is very much dictated. These stones can be very big and high because a veranda can sometimes be very high.

Here, when approaching the veranda from the direction we came, the large black step at the left is the Rikudatsi ishi or "sandal stone". It is used to leave ones sandals behind prior to setting foot on the veranda.

One should never walk on it with shoes still on. The biggest stone, here positioned in line with the pathway, is the "guest stone" ( fumi-ishi), used to step onto the veranda.
Formally we should also have a step dedicated to any visiting Samurai. The one we have used is a symbolic one and is positioned on the far left side (at the bottom on the photo).
Here, when approaching the veranda from the walking direction we placed a large black step at the left, the Rikudatsi ishi or "sandal stone". It is used to leave ones sandals behind prior to setting foot on the veranda. For this we found a beautiful stone, a jewel in its own right. A almost black granite flat stone, slightly polished with marvelous pattern. One should never walk on it with shoes still on. The latter is a traditional statement but even more true for this gem.

Photo taken just after a rain shower.
As stated above, the highest stone, third from the bottom, is in line with a development in the late sixteenth century. This refers to the spirit of freely experimenting with details in the garden composition and the reuse of stone artefacts, e.g. originating from temples or graveyards ( garan-ishi) [1]. This stone originates from the entry steps of a church and may be hundreds of years of age.

Below: A view from the veranda.
This photo shows an interesting yet subtle design principle used to create or strengthen the illusion of perspective. The shrubs used in the foreground have larger leaves than those more distant in the background. Due to the subconscious interpretation that the leaves of the shrubs more distant to the viewer are of the same size, the impression or illusion of depth gets reinforced. The same effect can be established by use of colors.
Lighter colors seem closer and darker colors give enhance the experience of distance.
At the center bottom and on the rollover photo, in the gravel lies the Raihaiseki or haiseki (contemplation stone).
This worshipping stone is normally used to stand on when paying reverence to a rock group.

This is one of many pictures showing how this garden integrates with the surrounding, or actually uses it, by means of Shakkei (method to incorporate "Borrowed scenery"). This picture shows the winter look. »»»
A more distant autumn view across the Ginshanada, gravel area.

This is also looking over the main O-karikomi.
2371 Shakkei
When standing in the opening of the living room sliding-door this is what we see. In front the main veranda.

Center back the Pinus densiflora or Japanese Red Pine, "Me-matsu".
In the backdrop "borrowed scenery" (from the golf course).
Taking a few steps from the above view point, looking back down the path from where we came this is the picture.
Looking to the left we see the Euonymus Japonicus "Compactus".
This large-leaved shrub in the foreground and the small-leaved Buxus sempervirens in the back reinforce the gardens depth impression.

In the left at the back we see the Acer Palmatum"Blood good" that stands just behind the chouzubachi as part of the second tsukubai facility.
The enforcement of depth is also established by the large-leaved bamboo, Sasaella masamuneana, and the large-leaved Skimmia Japonica "Rubella" that are in the foreground from different viewing points.
Here we stand in between the Skimmia and the bamboo viewing toward the main karikomi.
The Pinus densiflora, Japanese red pine or "Me-matsu" just after its first major pruning at an age of about 14 year, 10 of which in our garden [d], [12].

Below left: The bottom of the photo shows the Tsukubai (ceremonial water basin). A close-up view follows.
To the left the "waterside terrace". The pathway to the right of it leads to the "hidden terrace".

The act of raking the gravel into a pattern recalling waves or rippling water has an aesthetic function. Zen priests practice this raking also to help them focus their concentration.
Achieving perfection of lines is not easy. In Tsubo-en the rakes are according to the patterns of ridges as desired and limited to some of the stone objects situated within the gravel area. Nonetheless in Tsubo-en the patterns are not static. Developing variations in patterns is a creative and inspiring challenge.
The remainder of the gravel area of about 220 m2 is kept flat, which in itself is challenging enough already.
This is done so because it would not be feasible to rake the whole gravel area that is used as a freeway by half a dozen of trespassing cats, and by exception dogs, children or even adults, on a daily basis. This is one of the major disadvantages of an "open" garden.
How nice the raking shows very much depends on the light. Below photo's where taken close to sunset.
Use the pointer to get a close-up.

Below: The tsukubai (ceremonial water basin facility), still in its winter mode (the right as see from the roof).
If you point the photo below you can see how it looks in summer operation mode (well in spring here) with the bamboo dipper (hishaku) ready for use. The nach-ishi, black stones (here the pebbles) where collected from around the globe.

More information is available in chapter: Tsukubai and chozubachi.

Below you can see and hear the chouzubachi (water basin) in action in tandem with some of "our" birds.

Flowplayer is a free video player for the web.

Below left: An other view of the O-Karikomi and Hako-zukuri.
The center right of the photo just shows the Raihaiseki or haiseki (contemplation stone).

Below right a child Buddha, or better a Jizo bodhisattva in front of a bamboo bush. This was made by the author and inspired by a bosatsu statue that we saw at the entrance of a house close to the "Philosopher's path" (Tetsugaku no michi) in Kyoto. The Philosopher's path or walk is a 2 km public path in Kyoto. It is named after the Japanese philosopher Kitaro Nishida who used to walk the path to meditate.

If you want to know all there is to know about Jizo Bosatsu, click here.

Some of the few (ornamental) "frivolities" we have allowed ourselves.

The water front or back side garden

Below left: A view on the "waterside terrace", paved with cut granite and some marble.
Below right: The "waterside terrace" seen from the Tee of the golf course. The stairs lead to the sliding door
of the master bedroom (chuumon). In the inner corner of the stairway hako-zukuri clipped Buxus.

Below: The pathway from the "waterside terrace" to the "hidden terrace". This shows a part of the pathway that is made of warikuri-ishi, broken stone.

Below left: This path that leads to the "hidden terrace". These photo's where taken in May and show the Cotoneaster "Coral beauty" in full bloom, as though it is covered with snow.
Below right: The hidden terrace is one of the four terraces. The smallest one is the "herb garden terrace" and this is the second smallest one. Like the waterside terrace and the herb garden terrace this one is also paved with cut granite and some marble.
This "hidden terrace", that is located behind the O-karikomi, was not as such included because we needed it, it merely was designed this way because the overall garden design resulted in this corner of the parcel to become a sort of "left over". Nonetheless we have tried to integrate it in a natural fashion and we think this explains why the two stone seats are seldom used. Perhaps this will change when the trees to the right grow bigger to offer more shadow.


Below left, the duck-boards that connect the "water front terrace" with the herb-garden in the left side garden.
On the right a cormorant is decorating our stone lantern (ishi-doro).


The left side garden

Below left: still room for a herb-garden brought in style with the overall garden design and the application of hako-zukuri. Part of the small "herb garden terrace" is just visible at the bottom of the photo.

Below right: The herb-garden seen from the roof. As you see it nicely fits the overall style.

Following the pathway to the front of the house we come by these Hako-zukuri.
In the back, against the fencing, you can just see the vine (Vitis "vroege van der Laan").
Below right: To the right of this photo you can just see the Cryptomeria Japonica.

The other side of the pathway shows a prominent object.
The Cryptomeria Japonica "elegans" (sugi) just after its first major pruning for lateral growth [d], [12].
The Cryptomeria as seen from the "study". In the backdrop the just renewed hedgerow of Thuja occidentalis.

Below left: A low view-angle look from the front of the house towards the herb garden.
Below right: The pathway from the main entrance to the herb-garden. Here you see the Nothofagus Antarctica.
Pointing at the photo will show it from a different view. Here you see the bamboo pole and the ropes used to force the tree to grow into a particular form. Most Westerners do not like the view of this.
Japanese often make elaborate constructions to force a particular growth form. Binding trees is not only used to shape their growth but also to provide additional support against strong wind and the weight of snow on the branches. The Japanese do not mind the look of it. They just "look trough it".


Looking back from where we came...

The hedgerow of Thuja occidentalis "Braband" will be clipped straight like a wall.
And also the Nothofagus Antarctica has had a major pruning in June 2008. Now it is far more open and gets developing "layers".
And here we are back at the drive next to the entrance path in the frond-garden.

Here a 2008 view of the "the five Islands of immortality".

When you find something like this on your path do not just step over it, like most Europeans or actually Westerners do. This is a subtle sign not to trespass.
The stone is treated with respect, as each natural object houses its own Kami, hence the handsome wrapping.

Interestingly the photo's below show a major reason that Tsubo-en became a true karesansui garden.
In our previous garden we had a small pond with carp and Koi which gave as real pleasure.
Initially we have considered to include a pond. However being so close to this natural water, that separates our garden from the golf course, made us decide to take advantage of it in a way that does not ask for our maintenance.
Hence we excluded a pond (well apart from the tiny one on the turtle island) from the design.
In this way we could make maximum use of the concept of "yohaku no bi": the beauty of empty space [2], while still having the pleasure that water can bring into a garden.
We very much enjoy to be so close to this water and are often fascinated, impressed and intrigued by what all happens on and in the water. Below are just few examples.
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This drainage-gutter. is constructed in a classical way (cut granite and granite gravel).
Originally the water coming down from the roof finds its way via this gutter. In our case, where the roof has its own pipes for draining water, it only serves to get rid of water from the (Bangkirai) duckboards. The gutter very much forms part of the overall design esthetics.
This sitting monk statue or sekibutsu in the main garden is a frivolity that we have permitted ourselves.

The monk is sitting in a ever green bedding of Leptinella potentillina.
The hishaku, bamboo ladle, used to take water from the chozubachi (stone wash or water basin).
This stepping-stone in front of the chozubachi in the "inner garden" or main-garden, incorporates a metal object, based on an ancient Chinese coin, with four kanji characters, the same as those on the chozubachi near the front entrance, that more or less translate into the philosophical phrase: "Acquire knowledge not to pursue materialistic goals but for spiritual enrichment".
Although we love to see a diversity of birds that come to drink and bath in this small pond on the "turtle island" in the front garden, a duck inhere does look a bit silly, to say the least.
This is a close-up of the gravel used in Tsubo-en.
Probably most original is the use of Shirakawa (river) gravel or sand.
This is what is used in Ryoan-ji. This however is hard to get and many alternatives are used in and outside Japan.
A minor disadvantage of the gravel (2-8 mm pebbles) you see here is the fact that after a heavy rain shower the raked patterns will have reduced in size to eventually disappear.
The size of the pebbles also determines how well patterns can be raked.
Of course an important aspect is the overall color impression one gets from the average viewing distance and angle.
This should be considered in sun shine, in shadow and during the night, as well as dry and after a rain shower. A lot of glare is unpleasant to the eye on a bright sunny day. On the other hand a good white tone is very effective on a moonlit night. With only a minimum of moon light this can give a fairy like and romantic effect.
To learn more about the application of gravel see the Realization page: The Ginshanada, gravel area.

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