Book Review

Author

Assoc. Prof. Mike Barthelmeh

Teachings of the Garden: Conversations in Japan.

 

1

 

The Sakuteiki is an eleventh-century Japanese gardening manual, likely to be the oldest published work on garden design and construction in the world. It has long fascinated Viennese researcher Carola Platzek, an art historian and cultural scientist, who spent time in Japan in an attempt to understand the principles that underpin the teachings of the Sakuteiki. As well as visiting many different types of gardens in Japan, she also met with and formally interviewed Japanese gardeners, designers, historians, and priests who have intimate connections with Japanese gardens. These interviews form the basis for an exquisitely produced book which has recently been released in an English language edition, following a very successful launch of the German-language edition in Austria in 2018.

 

Platzek's interests lie in the ways in which an understanding or appreciation of order might allow us to frame or model the ways in which we engage with the world and attempt to understand our communities, our places, and our landscapes. That perceived underlying sense of order may also help us understand how we respond to unique qualities of place. She postulates that our engagement with the sense of structure, or "spiritual order" in traditionally designed gardens in Japan can be understood through a precise observation of nature, sensing how the essence of nature can be expressed in a frequently small space with limited materials.

 

The book is set as a series of interviews, with in-depth responses to probing questions about different aspects of Japanese garden design recorded in a Q&A format. The book's format allows the reader to meander and dip into the opinions and ideas expressed by the interviewees, each responding to a structured series of questions about a particular topic, such as the application of traditional garden design principles, the role of sound in the landscape, aesthetic approaches to garden design, or the relationship between design ideals and arrangement principles. Rather than attempting to provide an 'answer' to her initial investigation into the essence of the Sakuteiki, the interviews provide a fascinating in-depth collection of perspectives on design, interpretation, and meaning in the garden, on concepts and connections, allowing the reader to slowly gain a better personal understanding of the significance of the structure, arrangement and material choice in traditional Japanese gardens.

 

The two editions of the German version sold out quickly, in part because the book was included in a list of Austria’s 'Most Beautiful Books' of that year, and it is easy to see why. The unique double-folded page design provides a sumptuous feel, complementing the abundance of wonderful images. Rather than presenting story-like text with large glossy images normally found in books about garden design, the book's editor and designer chose to present the series of interviews on a rich matt-finish paper, to bring an understated aesthetic to the words and images, in keeping with the book's focus and intent.

 

A perfect gift for anyone interested in garden design, a perfect way to spend an evening by the fire (winter now in NZ!), this beautiful small book would be a great addition to every landscape architect's library.

 


Teachings of the Garden: Conversations in Japan.

English language edition publication date 03 Jan 2020 
Published by Schlebrügge.Editor

Published in Wien, Austria 
Paperback
ISBN13 9783903172272