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 How to Make a Japanese Dish-Garden

 By Marion Brownfield (1921)

    The Japanese art of making a dish-garden or Hachi-Niwa is as unique as it is picturesque.  Imagine a miniature landscape perfectly carried out in a shallow dish or bowl measuring anywhere from six inches to two feet, and you will know what the Japanese dish-garden is.  No wonder it is called landscape gardening in a teaplate!  Many of these tiny gardens can be set with perfect ease on a tea-tray.  The idea, it is said, was borrowed from China [sic].

       Such a miniature garden is particularly charming for the porch, paved court, or window ledge, where growing green things are limited, or where winter cheer is desired.
       As far as possible, these tiny landscape gardens are reproductions of some admired bit of Japanese scenery, for all Japanese gardens of the real native type, large or small, are imitations of a natural landscape made supremely artistic by their clever ‘improvement of art over nature!’

       For Americans the artistic possibilities of a dish-garden are great.  Why cannot we carry out in the same way some beloved scene of our native landscape?  On vacations and excursions into the country it is possible, not only to gather the inspiration for some exquisite scene from nature, but also to gather the materials to carry out a miniature landscape which we have enjoyed.

       Such things as moss of every variety, lichens, and tiny pebbles of various shapes and colorings are all part of a typical Japanese dish-garden, and quite easily obtained on a jaunt into the country.
       The correct dish to grow this kind of a garden in, Japanese style, consists of blue mottled or plain white china that measures approximately eight by twelve inches, and is one inch deep.  The shape of this shallow dish may be oval, round or square, but with the Japanese is most often oval.

       Damp earth makes the foundation for whatever scene is decided upon.  All the scenery – mountains, hills, cascades, and brooks – is next carefully molded, and then covered with whatever material seems most natural, whether it is moss, sand, or pebbles.  Sand is often arranged to flow down between rocks to imitate a rushing mountain torrent!  Next are placed the stones which are part of every Japanese garden and full of symbolic meaning according to their shape, color, and position.  The three chief stones used in these garden basins represent Heaven, Earth, and Mankind [sic].

  The best that the American can do is to use stones to make as artistic an effect as possible, unless a picture of a Japanese garden or landscape is exactly copied.  After the garden stones are placed comes the placing of miniature Japanese bridges, homes, teahouses, or such bits as make a picture.  Trees are now planted.  In Japan these are most frequently dwarf maples and pines – the last being a good luck tree for every Japanese garden.  Bamboo is also much seen in Japanese gardens and is easily grown in this country.  But we can just as effectively use ferns, willow cuttings, or anything that takes our fancy and is in good proportion to represent a tree!

       Last of all comes more sand of every possible kind – each variety, of course, to represent different parts of a real landscape.  White powder is sometimes used for a snow scene, as snow-capped Fujiyama, the sacred mountain of Japan, is a favorite scene to carry out in a Japanese landscape garden – large or small.

       Probably for Americans the Japanese prints offer good suggestions for making these original and artistic little gardens.  The spirit of them is a Japanese precept in art – perfect proportion.  To make them most charming they must be kept very wet, so that the velvety green mosses will be as verdant as a real landscape in spring.
       And it is interesting to know that celebrated Japanese artists have designed prints especially to be copied for these toy gardens, and that the making of them is an artistic hobby, equally popular with the gentle upper-class ladies of Tokyo, great statesmen, poets, and writers!




1    Brownfield, Marion “How to Make a Japanese Dish-Garden,” The House Beautiful, Vol. 50, No. 5, November 1921, pp. 422-423.


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