THE WESTERN WORLD HAS HAD a love affair going with Eastern gardens ever since the days of William Kent and Capability Brown in the eighteenth century. Brilliant Chinese scrolls, with their paintings of naturalistic gardens revealing the poetic nuances of mountains, stones, and water, fired the Western imagination first in Italy and then, most famously, in Britain. Kent and Brown and their colleagues, pioneering landscape gardeners all, reworked the estates of their aristocratic patrons at an immense scale, creating rolling hills, meandering streams, artful copses of trees, and carefully placed follies small temples or ersatz ruins designed to pique a visitor’s curiosity.
This naturalistic tradition, derived largely from Zen practice, is much loved in the West, and the basis for among other forms many private modern gardens and the public park systems of North America. But its origins continue to be poorly understood.
Into the breach steps Martin Hakubai Mosko, ASLA, with his colleague Alxe Hoden. Mosko is a Buddhist monk, landscape architect, and contractor, trained at Yale in painting and Sanskrit. He practices in the Rocky Mountains, and the underlying template for his design work is the Buddhist mandala, the central formative idea within which earth, water, fire, air, and space must be expressed as the garden develops.
The objective? A garden that lends itself to meditation, to inner contemplation. The “balanced garden” will be an outer symbol of inner harmony if all goes well. The critical problem, of course, is slowing down Americans enough to appreciate this sort of thing getting them to sit still, look around, and be quiet.
Mosko and Hoden have written a book that attempts to do just this. Garden design is best presented, perhaps, with plans, sketches, and photographs accompanied by notes, and the photography in Landscape as Spirit is good and compelling, and all in color. The gardens, all high-end and private, are frequently exquisite, and boiling with ideas. They are chockfull of elegantly arranged plants, stones, water, and accessories.
But the book is also an active invitation to metaphysics, especially in the early chapters, and the attentive reader may well have to wade through “the energy flow of the garden” before he or she can proceed to the design work.
As an unexpected grace note, Mosko’s Zen gardens are frequently packed with brilliant banks of bulbs and perennial flowers, anathema in the classic Muromachi Period, perhaps, but welcome and joyful in the modern Rockies.
Baker H. Morrow is the principal landscape architect, president, and chief administrative office of Morrow Reardon Wilkinson Miller, Ltd. Landscape Architects in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is the author of the collection of short stories, all set in Somalia, entitled Horses Like the Wind and Other Stories of Africa, and published in 2001 by the University Press of Colorado in 2001.