Create a Japanese Garden

Japanese gardens embody peace, contemplation and beauty, offering a respite from the busy world outside. Although there is diversity in Japanese garden design, three fundamental elements are always present: stone, water and plants. With these guidelines in mind, you can create a Japanese garden as simple or elaborate as your imagination and backyard space allow.

The Element of Stone
The stone elements in Japanese gardens play functional as well as figurative roles, and they may include other rocky materials, such as gravel and sand. Create walkways between garden sections by laying pavers that serve as stepping stones. The functional walkway they create also represents the metaphoric path of life. Place a single stone as a focal point along the walkway to represent a traveler along life’s path. Rake a pattern into gravel or sandy areas, and change the design often. Use a single stone, or a grouping of several stones, as a sculptural accent at a strategic focal point.

The Element of Water
Water is an essential element in a Japanese garden, whether it's real or conceptualized. Install a pond that houses koi, which are Japanese carp, for a traditional water garden. To represent water, you can create a dry stream bed out of pebbles that winds its way through a garden section. Whether you use water or a facsimile, the sense and feeling of water must be present to fulfill this fundamental of Japanese gardening -- that water is the source of all life.

The Element of Plants
Plants in Japanese gardens typically are shades of green with only splashes of intermittent color. Plant evergreens, which are the backbone of Japanese gardens, such as dwarf Hinoki cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa “Nana Gracilis”), which is a perennial in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 8, and golden Japanese yew (Taxus cuspidata “Bright Gold”), a perennial in USDA zones 4 through 7. Include a Japanese maple (Acer palmatum), which is a deciduous tree that grows in USDA zones 5 through 9 and a mainstay in Japanese gardens. Cultivars such as “Shaina” and “Inaba-Shidare” add splashes of color through their brilliant foliage. To paint your Japanese garden awash with colorful flowers in spring, plant azaleas (Rhododendron indicum), which are evergreen shrubs native to Japan and perennials in USDA zones 7 through 8.

Integrating the Elements
Design your Japanese garden so each viewing point creates a beautiful panorama. The beauty may be from within your garden, or outside its boundaries, in a Japanese design concept, called shakkei, which means borrowed scenery. The shakkei principle uses landscape features that are outside your Japanese garden as a scenic backdrop to enhance the elements within your garden. Create your Japanese garden with winter in mind so it comes alive with a new look -- even snow accumulation on bare tree branches represents flowers.


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