When you begin creating a design for a Japanese garden you start first by looking outside the garden for features you want to include or exclude as part of your visual garden presence. What’s included could be a single tree, a group of trees, or an entire mountain or body of water.
When the borrowed scenery is dominant it creates the main theme of the garden. If the distant feature only enhances or gives depth to the inner garden setting it is considered simply background.
Shakkei is the Japanese practice of visually borrowing a major landscape feature outside of the garden and capturing it as the main element of the garden. False claims of shakkei are common when this distinction is not recognized and then authenticity is lost.
When we began designing Momiji-en a nearby tree-covered hill was dominant to the northeast of our garden and became the main reason we purchased the property. We know it as IV Hill. It’s importance to the overall impact of the garden is in framing the garden’s horizon just above and behind the tea house.
Over the years neighboring landscape trees between us and the hill have grown to obscure most of its iconic mounding (tamamono) shape. Where we once could claim shakkei at Momiji-en we now must allow it has evolved into just a lovely background for the garden. This is true for about nine months of the year when the trees all have leaves.
However, we are fortunate and thrilled when we regain the shakkei in the winter as the trees become bare and the full arch of the hill is revealed once again (and it isn’t foggy or raining hard!).
I’m not sure I have ever read about shakkei being a seasonal, weather effected, element but that appears to be the case at Momiji-en. To maintain authenticity and knowing the garden’s history, we recognize the shakkei at Momiji-en only for our own personal reminder.