The Garden Path

Moss gone amuck was not intended to be the garden’s definitive element when Muso Soseki, 14th-century Zen priest and famed garden designer, created the gardens surrounding Saiho-ji temple in Kyoto, Japan. That would come centuries later, muffling a design rare and original for its time: a garden intended to be enjoyed for its idealized earthly beauty, not as a religious exercise.

Paths invited pleasurable strolling; small, flat-bottomed boats took visitors to three islands floating in...