How To Create A Japanese Garden Design

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There's nothing quite like a well-groomed garden. One of the great things about having outdoor space connected to your home is being able to retreat to your own little piece of nature at the end of a hard day. Maintaining a garden can be a full-time job; you're required to feed, water, and monitor your plants daily, not to mention periodic pest control and landscaping. If you already feel overwhelmed with the day's stresses, you might want to opt for a garden that requires less attention and more tranquility. A Japanese garden will provide that much-needed escape you've desired while staying relatively low-maintenance.

Prepping Your Garden

Backyards that are large and open are the easiest to remodel, but you can still attain the ultimate tranquility with a small yard. Draw a layout of where you want to place the different elements of your garden. The four main components will be:

  • Trees and shrubbery
  • A pond or stream
  • Rocks
  • Japanese décor

These elements should all be incorporated into your final design, but there is no set of rules that decides how or where they will be laid out. So, it's time to break out those exterior design gloves, and get to work.

Placing Foliage

The positioning of the trees and shrubs in your garden is important. Minimalism is key when planning for a Japanese garden, so make sure you don't go too crazy. There are several types of trees and shrubs that can be considered appropriate for Japanese style. They include:

  • Cherry blossoms
  • Junipers
  • Japanese maples

When it comes to floral elements, options include:

  • Lilies
  • Orchids
  • Azaleas
  • Forget-me-nots
Ready for Planting Finished Product

In Japanese tradition, flowers are a very important part of nature, and are said to communicate with each other using their own language. Hanakotoba, (or in English, the language of the flowers) assigns a human-like trait or characteristic to each flower. They vary quite a lot from plant to plant, even down to color. For example, white lilies are said to represent purity, while orange lilies are said to represent anger or hatred. Incorporating flowers that represent your core values is a great way to add a touch of yourself in your design.

Water Works

If you think it's within your budget, hiring a professional to dig out and prepare your irrigation system will save you a lot of trouble. If you're only in the market for a small pond, a DIY cement basin and filtering system will suffice. Building a waterfall can also be done without the professional. Utilize rock placement, water current, and varying levels to create this effect. Japanese water arrangements should always maintain a soft and steady flow, and be careful not to become stagnant. Think of your water display as a representation of the flow of your own life. Always keep moving; nothing is static.

Rock Out

Landscaping warehouses and home and garden stores can usually provide you with the smooth, polished rocks most commonly used in a Japanese garden. There are several ways to lay out stones in a Japanese garden, including:

  • Flat-in place of grass
  • Stacked-to use in sculpture and design
  • Scattered-to create symmetry and peace

Figure out the lower, deep-set areas of your back yard to play home to flat rock gardens. Your stones should all be relatively the same size, shape, and color.

Japanese Theme Décor

Once you've created the full layout of your garden, it's time to incorporate elements that will back-up the Japanese design aesthetic and create a sense of peace. There are several pieces that can be used, including:

  • Bridges
  • Meditation huts
  • Lantern-style lighting

Building a small bridge over your rock garden or water display is quite common in Japanese design. Bridges are thought to be the passage from one life to the next, or one stage of life to the next. Meditation, although not as common in the U.S., is a huge part of Japanese culture and tradition. In Japan, the idea of having a place to escape when you need to be alone with your thoughts has been the foundation of clear minds for thousands of years. When purchasing "Japanese décor" remember that this is a garden of your own creation. All though it is nice to include elements that represent the design aesthetic of Japan, you don't want to lose your own voice. Pick items that are meaningful to you, while remaining somewhat design-oriented.

Bringing the tranquility and peace of a Japanese garden to your backyard can create the much needed relaxing spot you've been desiring. Remember to stick with the tradition of Japanese minimalism, and not go to crazy with the elements and décor. It is better to under-design an Japanese garden, than to over-design it. It's all about peace, symmetry, and feeling at one with nature, so try and make the design experience equally as enjoyable.

Last Updated: September 25, 2011
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About Chanti Burnette Chanti was a freelance writer for

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