Written about 1,000 years ago, ‘Sakuteiki, Visions of The Japanese Garden’ is the oldest known book on garden design. It begins with the phrase “ishi wo taten koto” which is translated as “when creating a garden”, but means, literally “when setting stones upright”, because in those days the correct placement of stones was at the heart of garden design. Some of the book is about aesthetics, such as how to make the most of a borrowed landscape, but much of it is about how to placate the Gods, or at least how to avoid annoying them too much. There’s a chapter on taboos, which begins: “Regarding the placement of stones there are many taboos. If so much as one of these taboos is violated, the master of the house will fall ill and die, and his land will fall into desolation and become the abode of devils.”
This set me thinking about the placement of stones in my own garden. Could the fact that we’ve become the abode of devils be related to the fact that we haven’t paid enough attention to how they’ve been placed? I’ve got in mind the massive piece of rock (pictured here), which is found by our back door. It’s about 6 feet tall and 15 feet across and, I suppose, was simply too massive to be moved when the house was built. It’s unfortunate that this stone faces west and I see from Sakuteiki, that I’ve fallen foul of the taboo which says: “If a large stone is set in a reclining position so that it faces to the west, the master of the house will surely die within a season”. I’m still alive, but that may be because I’m mistaken as to who is the master of this house. Perhaps I should take comfort in Denis Thatcher’s reply to the question “Who wears the trousers in your house?” “I do”, he said, “And I wash and iron them as well”.