Japanese gardens are a unique look and are easy to implement to your space, big or small. You can choose to add a subtle oriental twist by adding a few key features, or you can completely re-create the look and feel of a Zen garden oasis.
Japanese gardens are often admired for their structure and symbolism. Many elements of the traditional Japanese garden are therefore implemented to highlight the importance of appreciating and understanding nature. So, what better way to start appreciating our gardens more?
The plants you choose can be a subtle nod towards the overall theme of your garden, as well as creating the structure for your space.
The Japanese maple is popular in all types of gardens, and a common choice in smaller spaces, providing stunning summer and autumn colour. With many varieties in all shapes and sizes, there’s sure to be one to fit the bill for your garden.
Acer palmatum ‘Trompenburg’ has intriguing colour-changing foliage that is purple in spring, becoming greener in the summer, but come autumn it is fiery orange-red.
Rhododendrons can be a welcome addition to your Japanese style garden with plenty of varieties to choose from. Rhododendron occidentale has fragrant funnel-shaped flowers that will grace your garden in spring in a partially shaded and sheltered spot. Alternatively, azaleas are intrinsic in Japanese garden design, the bushy evergreens deliver all year-round colour and interest, providing structure and shape to the space.
Japanese privet or box-leaved holly may be what you need to provide some structure in your styled garden, these can be pruned into the ‘cloud tree’ shape using the Japanese method of ‘Niwaki’ which means ‘garden tree’. These marvellously manicured trees may not be symmetrical, but they show balance, which is just as beautiful.
For the iconic spring blossom, cherry trees are a must-have. If you have a spall space, Prunus ‘Kojo-no-mai’ is compact and slow growing, perfect for a pot and also provide colour all year round with white to pink blushing blossom and great foliage colour for autumn.
Traditional Japanese gardens are designed with the senses in mind, so make your garden a sensational spot by incorporating wonderful water into your design.
In many Asian cultures, the garden is a place for meditative reflection, so feeling relaxed and in a state of tranquillity when entering in the space is key.
The trickling sound of water, or the calm stillness of a reflection pool both evoke feelings of relaxation and serenity.
Ponds are a great way of incorporating water into your design, whilst giving the opportunity to introduce new plants and may even some fish such as koi carp.
If you have a large enough pond, a small bridge over your pond will be a great ornamental feature for your garden as bridges are a common feature in many oriental style gardens.
For smaller spaces, a water feature or reflection pool will do the trick. Aquatic plants such as water lilies are a nice additional touch to your feature.
Pathways and bridges
Pathways are used in Japanese gardens to help the body and soul to wander.
If you have a larger space, you can create a ‘Zen’ rock garden, using large rocks or stones, surrounded by find gravel or sand which is raked into a pattern designed to imitate the ripples of water flowing.
Most Japanese style gardens feature ornate pathways and bridges that meander to unseen areas of the garden. Build a simple zig zag path to a hidden corner of your garden to incorporate this element, using simple wooden slats or paving stones to add to the effect.
Even if you don’t have a water feature, you can add a little bridge into your paving design for decorative purposes.
Or create a pathway that imitates water by using gravel, sand or slate chippings. Shape the pathway to imitate the flow of stream water.
Statues and pavilions
Authentic Japanese gardens will include a pagoda, which is an oriental style pavilion which was traditionally used as outdoor temples.
If you have sufficient space, you could have a pavilion nestled in a corner of your garden.
For something on a smaller scale, a simple stone statue of a pagoda pillar is an excellent nod to the tradition.
Lanterns and other sculptures that match your design will also help to add the finishing touch to your garden to complement the entire look.