The Japanese garden style has a timeless and widespread appeal. The careful arrangement of plants, rocks, art and space meet a universal understanding of order.

The Japanese notion of a garden being both a reflection of nature and of human creativity is a constant theme and one that has great resonance. Wild mountains, water courses, ponds, sculpted old trees and well-tended plants together with tranquil areas for reflection and meditation have a strong intergenerational appeal.

Toowoomba has one of the very best Japanese gardens in Australia. The garden, Ju Raku En (which translates to ‘to enjoy peace and longevity in a public place’) is located at the northern edge of the University of Southern Queensland and was designed by well-known Japanese landscape architect Professor Kinsaku Nakane in the early 1980s. Professor Nakane lived in Kyoto which is the spiritual home of Japanese gardens with literally hundreds of famous gardens located in the ancient capital of Japan. Images of famous Kyoto gardens such as the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji), the rock garden at Ryoan-ji and the moss garden (Saiho-ji) appear worldwide whenever Japanese gardening is discussed. The Toowoomba Japanese garden does indeed reflect some of the best of these gardens.

The careful placement of elements within the landscape leads you on a journey of discovery. At the most simple it may be just a matter of enjoying the flowers, the water, the hillsides or the wildlife. On a deeper level some quiet time can lead to contemplation perhaps more in line with the Zen Buddhist origins of Japanese gardens.

Every Japanese garden is designed with a story to tell. Ju Raku En tells the story of a Buddhist paradise. To most visitors, the story and symbology take a back seat to the sense of calm that is created with the careful placement of pavilions, stones, garden elements, clipped trees and numerous shades of green.

Gardeners seeking to create their own tranquil corner can learn plenty from Japanese gardens. Many of the elements that make great Japanese gardens are the very same elements that make all great gardens. The elements of layered planting, using garden ornaments wisely, using water, balance between hard and soft elements and creating places for people.

Most Japanese gardens use plants very simply. Plants are selected and grown according to their cultural relevance. Plants are selected that will grow well in the local area. In other words hardy proven performers are used that suit both climate and soils.

At USQ, this means mass planting of abelia, hardy conifers of many types, deciduous trees including maples, ivy to represent moss, and liriope, mondo grass and juniper as groundcovers, and azaleas, camellias and wisteria for colour.

Nearly all Japanese gardens use water to create a balance between soft and hard. Even when water is scarce, the essence of water can be created with dry river beds, flat stones set to imitate a small pond, and raked mulch or gravel laid out as if water is set to flow.

Words and Images by Brian Sams