Mind Without Fatigue; Tranquil, Yet Enlivened

Cover. Farr’s Bay Fern [2013]. Photography: Rob Oliver.

Poets, philosophers, landscape architects have long held that exposure to the beauty of Nature in gardens are the primary pillars of a life that is the most satisfying: physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. Renaissance humanist Sir Thomas More said: 'The many great gardens of the world ...all make the point as clear as possible: the soul cannot thrive in the absence of a garden. If you don’t want paradise you are not human, and if you are not human you don’t have a soul.' In his Essay of Gardens, philosopher Francis Bacon wrote: 'God Almighty planted a garden and indeed, it is the purest of human pleasures; it is the greatest refreshment to the spirits of man.'[1] In 1865, landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted argued that '…the enjoyment of scenery employs the mind without fatigue and yet exercises it, tranquilises it and yet enlivens it; and thus, through the influence of the mind over the body, gives the effect of refreshing rest and reinvigoration to the whole system'.[2

This spirit of Nature, architecture and human culture in harmony, was expressed at its most sophisticated in Kyoto’s centuries old temple gardens. Visual artist Jacqueline Hassink explains: 'I was drawn into the temple grounds because of a unique architectural phenomenon that takes place in Japanese gardens and Buddhist temples; there is no divide between tatami/meditation space and garden space when one is seated viewing the garden. These defined spaces are also geared towards a more private inner life. One tends to withdraw and contemplate about life while sitting on the tatami.'[3] Highly influenced by Zen philosophy, the gardens commonly located in these temples was the distinctive dry landscape karesansui garden: a stylised landscape of carefully composed arrangements of pruned trees and bushes, rocks, moss, water features, and white gravel or sand to represent water, 'white space', emptiness and distance. Usually relatively small, and surrounded by a wall or buildings, it was meant to be seen while seated from a single viewpoint outside the garden, such as the engawa [verandah], and to serve as an aid for meditation.[4]

In the context of residential outdoor space – for example, a semiprivate front yard with a view of the street or a private backyard, karesansui are to be set up, to be constructed, not to evoke a nostalgic sense of a 16th century Zen temple or monastery, but as tsubo niwa or courtyard gardens parallel or along the open end of a deck or terrace. The primary aspect of the configuration is the 'living screen': a geometrical bed of evergreen trees and shrubs, flowering perennials, and curved water bowls, that serve to separate or divide space, create privacy or seclusion, screen an unsightly view, or perhaps offer protection from climatic elements, among many other miscellaneous functions. The most important role of the tsubo niwa however, is as a 'visual garden' or 'natural painting' that can be experienced with the eyes and the mind, and has a tranquil effect upon the viewer, while sitting, inside and outside.

In the place where there is neither a terrace or a tsubo niwa - the space within a space - one can put in place a dry garden or dry landscape. In the semiprivate front yard, a small and narrow footpath of white gravel or sand creates what is generally referred to as a threshold - a zone of passage or pause between a very public space such as the street to a semiprivate space such as the engawa [verandah]. The gravel is heard during transition, its sound signature reverberates whenever there is a coming or a going. In the private backyard, a large square or rectangle of white gravel or sand defines a field of space commonly referred to as a patio - a summer season, open air space designed for sun bathing, watching the sun set, and viewing the moon and the stars. Placed within it is one large ornamental rock enveloped in moss, and a single tree that defines a shaded resting place, and represents the cycles of Nature.  

Bibliography and footnotes
1. Mark Hovane [2020]. Invitations to Stillness: Japanese Gardens as Metaphorical Journeys of Solace
Francis Bacon [1625]. Essay Of Gardens.
2. Frederick Law Olmsted [1993]. Introduction to Yosemite and the Mariposa Grove: A Preliminary Report [1865]. 
3. Kyoto Journal [2016]. Our Kyoto: The Garden View.
4. Gunter Nitschke [1991]. The Architecture of the Japanese Garden: Right Angle and Natural Form, pp. 65.
Note 1. 
Click on any image to open the Lightbox Gallery and display all images in fullscreen mode aswell as switch between them horizontally.
Strategic Diagramme​​​​​​​

Fig.1. Dead Space

Fig.2. Intervention

Fig.3. Prospect

Fig.4. Refuge

Note 2. Dead Space
Semiprivate and private residential outdoor space in which one sees concrete covering land which once supported hundreds of varieties of plant and animal life; a hedge or a tangle of bushes; one or two private cars, and the preternaturally ugly ‘wheelie bin’; but few people, if any, because conditions for outdoor stays [the key word is staying] is more or less impossible. Under these conditions most residents prefer to remain inside, what are most certainly sensory-reduction environments, in front of the television – the greatest mind control tool ever created.

Note 3. Intervention
Floor, wall, and ceiling planes serve to define and isolate a portion of space. Of these, the wall plane, being perpendicular to our normal line of sight, has the greatest effect as a spatial boundary. It limits our visual field and serves as a barrier to our movement. Intervention is a procedure often distinguished by a small, non-structural cut or subtraction of a parapet – the wall plane below a window facing a semiprivate front yard or a private backyard. Without a parapet to block, a window gives way to a porte-fenestre, merging inside and outside, home and garden - both visually and spatially. 

Note 4. Prospect
People prefer environments and spaces that provide unobstructed views or vistas from multiple vantage points, so that internal and external areas can be easily surveyed and contemplated for both opportunity and hazard. In natural environments, prospects include open terrain, copses of shade trees, an understory of herbaceous flowering plants, bodies of water, and evidence of human activity or habitation. In human-created environments, prospects include open or semi-open floor plans, deep, elevated terraces and balconies, the generous use of windows and glass doors, louvred or slatted filters and screens, and thickly planted shrubberies less than or equal to 1m [42in].

Note 5. Refuge
People prefer the edges, rather than middles of spaces; spaces with ceilings or sheltering canopies overhead to provide protection from weather; spaces with few access points [i.e., protected at the back or side]; and spaces that provide a sense of safety and concealment, retreat and withdrawal – for work, protection, rest, contemplation or healing. In natural environments, refuges include enclosed spaces such as caves, dense vegetation, and climbable trees with dense canopies nearby. In man-made environments, refuges include roofed, open-air architecture, lowered colours, temperatures or brightness, and translucent [or semi-opaque] shades, blinds, screens or partitions.

Fig.1. Dead Space

Fig.2. Intervention

Fig.3. Prospect

Fig.4. Refuge

Isometric Impressions

Fig.1. Mid-terrace @ semiprivate front yard with engawa verandah and tsubo-niwa garden 1.50

Fig.2. Front facade beside engawa verandah and tsubo-niwa garden 1.24

Fig.3. Mid-terrace @ private backyard with sala pavilion and kare-sansui garden 1.50

Fig.4. Rear-facade beside sala thai pavilion and kare-sansui garden 1.34

Orthogreaphic Impressions

Fig.1. Whole-house ground floor plan incl. enfilade [marked red] 1.40

Fig.2. Ground floor plan @ rear and front threshold 1.20

Fig.3. Longitudinal elevation @ street/semiprivate front yard 1.32

Fig.4. Longitudinal elevation @ rear passage/private backyard 1.32

Fig.5. Longitudinal section aa @ semiprivate front yard 1.32​​​​​​​

Fig.6. Longitudinal section aa @ water bowl/rain chain junction 1.4

Fig.7. Longitudinal section cc/ground floor plan @ front threshold 1.20

Fig.8. Longitudinal section dd @ private backyard 1.32

Fig.9. Longitudinal section ee @ private backyard 1.32

Fig.10. Longitudinal section ff/ground floor plan @ rear threshold 1.20

Fig.11. Cross-section gg @ semiprivate front yard 1.12

Fig.12. Cross-section gg @ front water bowl/rain chain junction 1.6

Fig.13. Cross-section gg @ private backyard 1.20

Fig.14. Cross-section hh @ front porte-fenêtre/semirivate front yard 1.20

Fig.15. Cross-section hh @ rear porte-fenêtre/private backyard 1.12

Mood & Ambience
From left to right: Dollis Hill Avenue by Thomas-McBrien ArchitectsBrunswick by Nathan Burkett Landscape ArchitectureWoodland Residence by Stimson StudioSt Petersburg by MokhBluebells in Ferns by Karl GercensSalvia Amethyst [Woodland Sage] | Athyrium filix-femina [Lady Fern] | Grass by [?] | Bamboo by Ian AlbinsonShisen-do Jozanji Temple by MugiGranite Tapered Saddle Stone | Kazutsu no le [House with a Wind Chiney] by Toshihito Yokouchi Architect & AssociateAmanu Lounge Chair by Yabu Pushelberg & TribuPure Sofa & C-Table Teak by Andrei Munteanu & TribuKos Dining Table & Kos Bench by Studio Segers & TribuHat House by Tina Bergman ArchitectSouth London Garden by Studio CullisRobin by Peter StaniforthToluca by Terremoto LandscapeNewry by Straw BrothersCamberwell by Andy Stedman Design.
Isometric Cross-Sections

Fig.1. Cross-section gg @ semiprivate front yard 1.16

Fig.2. Section gg @ front water bowl/rain chain junction 1.4

Fig.3. Section gg @ private backyard 1.24

Fig.4. Section gg @ rear water bowl/rain chain junction 1.6

Fig.5. Section hh @ rear threshold 1.20

Fig.6. Section hh @ rear threshold 1.4

Isometric Assembly Drawings

Fig.1. Finished geometry/edge @ front path/planting bed junction 1.1

Fig.2. Finished geometry/corner @ front path/planting bed 1.1

Fig.3. Finished geometry/edge @ front path/planting bed 1.1

Fig.4. Finished geometry/corner @ plinth/planting bed junction 1.2

Fig.5. Finished geometry @ front planting bed/water bowl junction 1.2

Fig.6. Finished geometry/edge @ rear planting bed/path junction 1.2

Construction or Working Drawings

Fig.1. Whole-house ground floor plan 1.40

Fig.2. Ground floor plan @ rear and front visual gardens 1.20

Fig.3. Ground floor plan @ rear living screen/path junction 1.4

Fig.4. Ground floor plan @ front deck/living screen junction 1.8

Fig.5. Longitudinal elevation @ street/semiprivate front yard 1.32

Fig.6. Longitudinal elevation @ rear passage/private backyard 1.32

Fig.7. Longitudinal section aa @ semiprivate front yard 1.32

Fig.8. Longitudinal section aa @ rain chain/water bowl junction 1.4

Fig.9. Longitudinal section dd @ private backyard 1.32

Fig.10. Longitudinal section dd @ rear storage 1.6

Fig.11. Longitudinal section ee @ private backyard 1.32

Fig.12. Longitudinal section ff @ rear facade 1.32

Fig.13. Longitudinal section ff @ rear threshold/porte-fenetre 1.8

Fig.14. Longitudinal section ff @ rear threshold/porte-fenetre 1.2

Fig.15. Cross-section gg @ semiprivate front yard/street 1.20

Fig.16. Cross-section gg @ semiprivate front yard 1.12

Fig.17. Cross-section gg @ front rain chain/water bowl junction 1.6

Fig.18. Cross-section gg @ front living screen/slatted screen junction 1.6

Fig.19. Cross-section gg @ private backyard 1.20

Fig.20. Cross-section hh @ rear threshold/port-fenêtre junction 1.12

Fig.21. Cross-section hh @ rear threshold/porte-fenêtre junction 1.6

Fig.22. Cross-section hh @ rear storage 1.6

Scope of Works

Tree Protection
All trees so designated on the drawings are wrapped or enclosed according to the specifications to protect them from root or bark damage.

All trees, shrubs, rock outcrops, slabs, structures, and utility lines within the project area are to be abandoned or moved.

Topsoil Stripping
The contractor removes all topsoil within the grading limits and stockpiles the soil in whatever areas will be convenient for future respreading at the completion of the project.

Rough Grading
The contractor – by blasting, trenching, backfilling, cutting and filling - prepares all subgrade surfaces to receive foundation footings and sub-base material for below-and on-grade structures. At the completion of the rough grading, all exterior surfaces are cut or filled to specified rough-grade tolerances [± 150 to 300 mm [6 to 12 in]. They are then ready for final grading prior to placing the topsoil and the wearing surfaces [concrete, asphalt, brick, etc.].

Finish Grading
The project is staked out and resurveyed to establish the finished geometry and the elevations of paths, and other edges. The paths are then graded to finer tolerances, and base material is installed. Topsoil is spread over the rough grades in the planted areas to within a tolerance of ± 25 to 75 mm [1 to 3 in].

Installation of Site Improvements
The contractor installs fixtures, benches, pavements, steps, trash receptacles, planters, equipment, and finish amenities.

Planting & Seeding
The contractor plants trees, shrubs, and other plant materials; mulches and edges beds; and harrows, rakes, conditions, fertilisers, and seeds or sods lawn areas.


Itabei Fence

20x45x1800mm Untreated Douglas Fir/Larch

75x75x2350mm British Larch/Douglas Fir

+250mm Type 3 Open Graded Crushed Aggregate, 210x265mm Cast-in-Place Concrete

Reflection Pool

600x140mm [8kg] coated steel water bowl

16x230mm steel rod, 210x400mm cast-in-place concrete, +250mm Type 3 open graded crushed aggregate

Finished Geometry & Edges

6x200mm mild steel edging


Moss layer/carpet*
Common fern moss [Thuidium delicatulum], Pink creeping thyme [Thymus praecox ssp. arcticus 'Coccineus'], Periwinkle [Vinca minor], Lilyturf 'Big Blue' [Liriope muscari], English lavendar [Lavandula angustifolia]

Note 1
Growing on the surface of the floor is vegetation of up to about 100 millimetres in height in what is variously described as a moss.

Herb layer

Shrub layer

Tree layer


Rough Grading
Stable [Uniformly Dense] Soil Base, 100mm Type 3 Open Graded Crushed Aggregate, 50mm Coarse Concrete Sand/Sharp Sand Setting

4.8x100mm Sure-Loc Steel Edging

100mm Dove Grey Pebbles [8-16mm]


Rough Grading
Stable [Uniformly Dense] Soil Base, 100mm Type 3 Open Graded Crushed Aggregate, 50mm Coarse Concrete Sand/Sharp Sand Setting, 50mm Mortar Bed

4.8x100mm Sure-Loc Steel Edging

Finish Grading
30x100x200mm CE Certified Limestone Cobble

Living Screen

Rough Grading
Stable [Uniformly Dense] Soil Base

+250mm Type 3 Open Graded Crushed Aggregate, 210x400mm Cast-in-Place Concrete, 16x230mm Steel Rod

Finish Grading
+200mm Top Soil

Golden Bamboo [Phyllostachys aurea], Lady Fern [Athyrium filix-femina], Amethyst [Salvia nemorosa], Bambusa Metake [Pseudosasa Japonica]

600x140mm [8kg] Aluminium Water Bowl
In-between Space 2024
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