Japanese Garden

Whether you have a large garden or a small one, the Japanese style garden is a terrific choice. It’s both soothing and beautiful. Since the number of plants are kept to a minimum, it’s a good choice for someone who doesn’t have a green thumb. However, don’t think that a Japanese Garden doesn’t require much upkeep since it’s relatively minimalist. They look their best when they are kept free of debris, when gravel areas are carefully raked, and when plants are pruned and healthy.

Japanese Gardens are separated into a few different types, so you’ve got choices even within this style. The hill and pond garden includes a pond or area of raked gravel that represents a pond, nestled within some gently rolling hills. The flat garden is more of a minimalist, Zen approach that is particularly good for small spaces. Japanese style tea gardens work well for larger spaces, since they focus on travel down a long pathway.

Japanese Garden History

Japanese Gardening developed among the upper class of Japan, and in fact, each element had a specific significance. Special groupings of rocks and arrangements of flowers were used to create a meaning that would benefit the owner and visitors to the garden. A poor garden design was believed by some to bring bad luck to the owner. For many, gardens were a natural outcropping of their religious beliefs, either Shinto or Buddhist, both of which demonstrated a reverence for nature. Many temples also had elaborate gardens.

However, it doesn’t follow that Japanese Gardens were specifically built for Zen meditation, or that they weren’t also cherished for their attractiveness and peacefulness. The Japanese Garden was instead simply an expression of the beauty of nature.

Japanese Garden Characteristics

There are three major principles that you need to keep in mind while designing a Japanese Garden. First, all of the elements should look natural but not wild and overgrown. For example, you’d never use perfectly straight paths surrounding square beds with perfect right angles, because that simply doesn’t happen in nature. Instead, a naturally undulating path surrounding irregular beds with pleasing shapes is both natural appearing and aesthetically pleasing.

The second major principle is balance. All of the elements in a Japanese garden should be in balance with one another. No one element should overwhelm the others in terms of size or scale, nor should one element take up too much of the space. For example, you wouldn’t want to plant one huge tree in a small garden. It would hog all of the space and ruin the balance. Instead, you’d want a few dwarf trees or shrubs. The large trees might work just fine in a larger garden with long walking paths, where the smaller trees would fade into the landscape.

It’s also a good idea to resist the urge to fill all of the space. In fact, emptiness is the final principle that you need to keep in mind when designing your Japanese garden. Leave some spaces empty; don’t fill every possible inch with plants or rocks. Allow your most beautiful plants and accessories to stand alone to draw the eye to them and make them really pop.

Japanese Gardens are almost always enclosed, shutting out the outside world and making them as peaceful as possible. Use fences and gates to enclose the garden, but don’t rule them out as design elements either. Cut windows in gates or fences to allow passersby to catch glimpses of what lies within your garden. Use walls within larger gardens to lead visitors from one area to another.

Japanese Garden Layout

  • Layouts should be natural, with undulating paths and placement of design elements naturally throughout the space
  • Paths may be raked gravel, stone pavers, or brick. In fact, using worked stone with straight lines is a good way to contrast with the natural undulating lines found in the rest of the garden
  • Plant beds can be covered with wood chips or gravel, or moss can be allowed to grow on naturally uneven hills to bring attention to the shape of the land
  • Pay attention to the direction in which gravel is raked. Draw attention to shrubs by raking in circles or semicircles around their bases. Then rake the rest of the bed in long, straight lines
  • Don’t forget to use rocks as a design element; don’t forget to select rocks with different shapes. Tall rocks, flat rocks, and wide rocks all have a place in the Japanese Garden
  • Japanese Gardens should always have a water element or at least an element that represents water. If you have a space for a Koi Pond, this will make a great focal point.
  • Plants should draw attention to the pleasing shapes of the rocks and add a little color at the same time

Plants to Use in a Japanese Garden

It’s very important to properly maintain the plants in a Japanese Garden. Because the number of plants is kept to a minimum, unattractive elements like deadheads, dead leaves and mold are readily visible. The overall shape of a plant is also an important element in your garden. You don’t necessarily need to prune them in the same way that you would prune a Bonsai Tree, but it’s certainly a good idea to prune off single protruding branches that make plants look scraggly and unkempt.

Shrubs and evergreens usually form the backbone of plantings in a Japanese garden. Blooming plants are added around the shrubs to inject a little color. Consider planting a stand of larger plants alone to draw attention to the symmetry. If you have the space for it, a stand of bamboo or cherry trees can be particularly beautiful.

Some popular choices for a Japanese Garden include:

  • Azalea
  • Bamboo
  • Cherry trees
  • Dwarf maples
  • Hydrangea
  • Iris
  • Lotus
  • Rhododendron
  • Water lilies
  • Wisteria

Japanese Garden Accessory Suggestions

Furniture materials:

  • Wood
  • Wrought iron
  • Stone

Some accessory ideas to integrate into your Japanese Garden include:

  • Place lanterns on pedestals at spaces along the pathways
  • A small garden bridge can really inject some Asian style
  • Plant a small island of evergreens in a sea of raked gravel

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