Japonia Hortus

key to understand the Japanese garden

Setting a Stone Arrangement


       A stonearrangement is unique skill seen in Japanese garden. Unlike functional stonework, such as stepstones and stone retaining wall, a stone arrangement is purely art work; it shows the gardener's aesthetics andphilosophy.
       To set a stone, you have to know two points; one is to find the front face and the second is to plant stone deepenough. The depth of stone impress natural looking. Proper stone setting makes as if the stone had stand at theplace for long period of time and looked big portion of the stone buried. To make so, bury until the bottom portionwhich starts to get narrower.
First one is just put on the ground. Second is in normal depth. Last is buried deep.

       Front face of stone is generally where the stone looks bigger and more entertaining (irregular surface).Smooth round surface tends to be boring and to require skills to use.
These are different faces of the same stone. (Last face is not good because it is chipped)

       To form arrangement of two stones, a main-stone and a sub-stone need to be chosen; it is nice to makecontrast between the two stones, such as big and small or standing up and laying down. Both stones are betternot to apart or line up but slightly overlap. When the main-stone comes front of the arrangement, the main-stonestands out; to make an equable arrangement, it is better to put the sub-stone in the front of the main-stone. If youwould like to emphasize the main-stone, put it in the front.
First one is normal set. Second is main-stone in front. Last two are not good two stone arrangement

       Unlike two-stone arrangement needs contrast; three-stone arrangement needs a balance. To put the sub-stone at half height of the main-stone and the assist-stone (third stone) at 1/4 of the main-stone makes a standardbalanced form like winners' podium (This stone arrangement is called Sanzon-seki).

       To make movement in the stone arrangement, apart the assist stone from the mainand sub stones to makespace between groups.

       Also Japanese gardeners think that stonesand trees have Kisei (direction or vector). When trees and stoneslean one direction, Kisei of stone is made to that direction. Kisei is important idea to make movement instonearrangement and controlling Kisei affects taste of the arrangement. To control Kisei in balanced form, one way isto uniform direction of stones and another way is to put in a radial pattern from the main-stone. To make Kisei inrandom direction needs some skills to balance. It is especially difficult to balance when the main-stone is leaning.The way to deal with the main-stone, use the sub-stone as a prop and the assist stone as an anchor.

In Zen garden, Kisei is limited because the garden is for meditation and does not need movement in it.

First one is with inner Kisei and second is with outer Kisei. Last one is the main-stone has strong Kisei and thesub-stone is supporting the main-stone with opposite Kisei

       To make a lager stone arrangement, place three-stone arrangement with longer distance, and add morestones around each stone. For the main-stone, make the group stand out (use more stones or bigger stones thangroups around sub-stone and assist stone). It is essential to place big and important stones first since it is hard tomove a big stone afterward and it is easier to think the balance of the stone arrangement.

       In general, a stone arrangement is formed by odd number stones such as 5, 7, and 9. Yet in my opinion, ifyou use morethan ten stones, you do not need to think about number.

       To make a large stone garden, make a mainstone arrangement/scenery and sub and assist stonearrangements/sceneries.

First photo is three-stone arrangement with longer distance, and second is stones placed around the three stone.



       There are many kinds of stones used in Japanese gardens and Japanese gardeners categorize stones inthree types; mountain stone, river stone and sea stone. A mountain stone has angular cornersand and is good touse for a stone arrangement representing mountain shape. A river stone has round corners since the stone rolledin river and smoothed down its corner. A river stone is good to use for making a stream or a pond. A sea stonehas unique surface made by waves and is used to make a garden more attractive.

       It is better not to mix stone types in one stonearrangement and also mixing stone colors should be avoided.Sometimes, a colorstone or unique shape stone is added to stone arrangement, yet you have to really careful tomake a balance with other stones.

First photo is seven-stone arrangement. Second is arrangement with Kisei. Last is arrangement of river stones.



       In most of cases, a stone arrangement is looked from multiple angles and it has to be looking nice from eachangle. More to say, it is the best if you can make the stone arrangement different impressions from each view. Tomake it so, you need to make minor changes in the stone arrangement for several times after checking from otherangles because when you move one stone, you have to move several stones too to make a balance. It iscomplicated process yet is necessary to create an attractive stone arrangement in your garden.


First photo is stone arrangement with focal point in right side. Other photos are from different angles.



       About the garden I made, I set the main-stone, looking like Mt. Fuji, at the back and the sub and assist stoneswith strong 'Kisei' in thefront, representing the boats tossed by the waves. Then I put two stones, small andmedium, in the left of the main stone to adjust the balance. I tried to create a contrast of 'Kisei' between the main-stone and sub/assist-stones, still and dynamic. Also the stones were placed in zigzag pattern to use the law ofperspective to make my garden looking wider.