Japanese Garden Design Tips
Traditional Japanese garden design is based on centuries of tradition, custom, and messages. What the garden says – or doesn’t say – is an important element of Japanese garden design.
There are many intricacies involved in creating traditional Japanese gardens, and we can’t begin to cover all of them here, but we can help you to get started with a few tips.
A Japanese garden needs to make sense for instance, and this is part of the yin and yang elements strived for in any good Japanese garden design. You wouldn’t for instance, find a pond in the wild that’s shaped like a perfect square, so you shouldn’t have one in your garden either. If you have a pond in a Japanese garden, it should look just as natural as if nature itself created that pond.
Japanese gardens can be large or small, but one key difference that seems unusual to American gardeners is that all the available space in the garden is not used. In Japanese gardens, it’s important to leave some empty space too.
Stones are a very big part of Japanese garden designs. The gardens are not complete – or aren’t done properly – without one or more stone elements in place. In fact, many Japanese garden designs start with the layout of the stones and rocks first, because those are said to create the rest of the garden design. True Japanese garden designs incorporate several types of stones such as arches, columns, and horizontal stones. Some types of stones are said to be “bad” for the garden and are always avoided. Stone elements can be grouped together into threes or fives, or used as individual garden elements too.
Sometimes stone elements are integrated as functional items too. A stone bridge, for instance, can be found in some Japanese garden designs.
Water is also a crucial element of Japanese garden designs, but not all Japanese gardens actually have water in them. Sometimes raked gravel or river stones are used to symbolize water instead.
When true water elements are used in Japanese garden designs, they should be natural water elements. Naturally shaped ponds for instance, or waterfalls fit in nicely. But a square pond or water fountain is not considered natural, and shouldn’t be placed in a Japanese garden design.
The types of plants you put into a Japanese garden design are quite important too. Since much of the design revolves around nature and natural elements, it’s considered to be bad taste to put showy flowers and plants into a Japanese garden. Native plants, shrubs, trees, and vines should be used whenever possible.
Essentially, a well-designed Japanese garden will fit well with the gardening site chosen. It will contain only natural elements and reflect things found in nature. It will also be a place set apart from the rest of the world. It’s common to find fences, gates, and other borders around Japanese gardens because they’re meant to be sanctuaries for all who enter.
Japanese Style Garden Plant Ideas
The type of plants and flowers you put into a Japanese style garden will vary from one garden to another. Many people mistakenly believe you’re supposed to use very showily, exoctic-looking plants in a Japanese style garden, but this is not always the case.
True Japanese garden plants are those which complement the area around the garden. So showy or exotic plants would only fit properly into a Japanese style garden which is located in an area that is exotic and showy naturally. If you live in a mountain region, your Japanese garden will have mountain-style plants, flowers, trees, and shrubs. Likewise, if you live in a wooded area, then your Japanese garden will feature plants that grow naturally in the woods.
This is a difficult concept for many Americans to understand because it’s so flexible. The whole goal of a Japanese style garden is to blend in with, compliment, and enhance the surrounding natural elements. Because of this, there is no one specific look, list of plants to use, or design layout to be used. Each Japanese style garden is unique to the area it’s constructed in.
With that said, however, there are some plants, flowers, and trees that are considered to be Japanese in style, thus many people like to include these plants in their Japanese style gardens.
Planting bamboo in an area of your garden, for instance, will give it a Japanese feel. There are different varieties of bamboo plants that can really add color and interest to your garden too. The Nandina, or Heavenly Bamboo, has very colorful foliage for instance, and bright red berries.
Trees and shrubs such as Japanese maples and yews are also favorite Japanese garden plant ideas. Almost any type of ornamental grass, evergreen shrubs, trees, or deciduous trees are also popular plants for Japanese gardens. Choose trees and shrubs which have interesting colored bark, or those which create unusual or striking shapes.
Since stones and rocks are very important elements in any Japanese garden, planting varieties of moss in shady areas and growing over the stones makes a wonderful accent area. Creeping thyme is also an excellent plant to put on slopes or between the pathway stones of your garden. Dichondria is another plant that works wonderfully planted between the pathway stepping stones, and it holds up better than moss in dryer areas of the garden.
You might also want to dedicate part of your Japanese garden to planting herbs that are traditionally used in tea too. Tea gardens are one of the three main types of traditional Japanese gardens, so putting herbs and tea plants into a section of your garden will help give it that extra Japanese design style.
Azaleas are a popular plant choice for Japanese gardens too. These plants are evergreen, which means they’ll keep vital color in your garden throughout the winter, and they also provide splashes of bright color when spring comes.
And of course, since it’s your Japanese garden, if you do want more showy or exotic plants then by all means, scatter some of your favorites about the garden as well.