Using Earthen Walls for Japanese Gardens in North America – by EMILY REYNOLDS

Emily Reynolds is the author of the book “Japan’s Clay Walls,” , a founder of the Japanese Earthen Plaster Exchange (JEPE) and a member of the North American Japanese Garden Association (NAJGA)

Earthen walls have been a defining characteristic of man-made structures in Japanese gardens for many centuries. We often miss this important element, because the clean and flat aesthetic appeals to our modern taste.

Ryoan-ji's Earthen
The centuries-old, thick earthen walls of Ryoanji’s famous rock garden are infused with oils.

But using Western finishes on Japanese structures in gardens leaves something to be desired. They lack a softness, a seamless integration with the natural surrounding and an element of health. While Japanese gardens across North America are being established, and while many more enjoy the challenge of fostering their landscapes, an appropriate wall finish for structures deserves consideration.

Katsura Imperial Villa
The earthen walls of a tea house in Katsura Imperial Villa blend with the view. 

The Japanese Earthen Plaster Exchange (JEPE)  seeks to become an educational resource and bridge-builder for harnessing the traditional advantages of earthen walls in Japanese gardens and other places we consider as sanctuaries of well-being.  By remembering to include the earthen wall in the Japanese garden, we deepen the healing experience. This is not only a visceral or esoteric thing, it is science! Science tells us that we need negative ions for optimal health — from maintaining feelings of general well-being to actually boosting the immune system.   Clays contain negative ions, and release these to their surroundings. Waterfalls also expose us to negative ions. Paints do not. Cement stuccos do not.

JEPE also aims to promote the authenticity of Japanese gardens in the United States, Canada and beyond.  Earthen finishes, either clay-based or lime-based, are the only authentic and appropriate choice for Japanese garden structures.   While thoroughly earthen walls are the tradition, an earthen or earthen-like finish will still benefit the whole atmosphere of the garden, whether applied over an existing surface, or for a new structure.

Thick earthen walls often separate various areas in the garden landscape.  The
Thick earthen walls often separate various areas in the garden landscape. The “go-sen,” “five lines” on these walls denote a temple dedicated to imperial and noble families.

Support the JEPE Campaign. JEPE needs the support of the Japanese gardening community to realize its aims. Please go to igg.me/at/thejepe and make your support known between now and April 22, the end of our campaign. With a simple $1 contribution, you will be counted among our advocates.

You may also visit the Japanese Earthen Plaster Exchange (JEPE) website: www.thejepe.org and the Plaster with Wa blog: www.plasterwithwa.wordpress.com.

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Using Earthen Walls for Japanese Gardens in North America – by EMILY REYNOLDS

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