Japanese Gardens

A traditional Japanese garden always reflects beauty and serenity. The Japanese gardening aesthetic strives to create a landscape that mimics the natural world. While many western gardens are praised for their formal beauty, the Japanese garden is best-loved for its naturalistic design styles. Transforming a residential landscape into a Japanese garden can be accomplished on both large and small-scale plots. The following are the top ten features needed to accomplish a Japanese design.



Plantings are an important element that can signify Japanese style. Wisteria, Oriental cherry trees, bamboo, azalea—there is a vast array of plants that reflect an Oriental sensibility. While many of these plants exist in western-style gardens, they can reflect the Japanese style through placement and pruning. For instance, Japanese gardeners often prune their trees to reflect the rugged windswept appearance of seaside trees on the Japanese coast. Plantings are kept simple so that each bloom and plant might be singularly appreciated.

Water typically plays a central role in Japanese gardens from rustic fountains and basins to large ponds filled with Japanese Koi. Fountains and small reflecting pools are ideal, but even a tabletop basin beset with a single lotus bloom can provide the necessary aesthetic of water. Be sure to keep basins simple and unobtrusive. Japanese basins are rustic and tend to blend into the setting to create a harmonious setting.

In dry settings where water is not easily available, consider adding pools of colored pebbles or rivers of gravel raked to convey the idea of waves or water flow. Many Japanese gardens feature areas of gravel that are meant to signify water even though they are a hardscape feature. Gravel pools might circle a tree or line a border of the garden. There are many types and sizes of gravel to consider—any choice would be fine when pooled somewhere in the landscape.

Rocks and boulders in various shapes and sizes are essential components of Japanese gardens. When placed on dry land, the large rocks symbolize mountains. When placed in shallow water, the rocks represent islands in the sea. These rustic features are typically placed in naturalistic formations and often near a water feature. Be sure to incorporate groupings in various locales of the garden for an authentic Japanese touch.

Rock basins for drinking and hand washing are also popular features of Japanese gardens—particularly for Japanese tea gardens. These are never overly stylized. The best examples are naturally large rocks with dips for collecting rain water. Such basins are often placed at areas where visitors are likely to come to sit and reflect.

Traditional Japanese stone lanterns come in many styles and sizes. They, too, are essential components of Japanese gardens. Either Tachi-gata lanterns or Ikekomi-gata lanterns can be set at various locales throughout the garden and are most popular. Certain types of lanterns, however, are often identified with specific places. For example, small oki-gata lanterns are usually placed near water or at entrances while tachi-gata, or large pedestal lanterns, are usually placed in a prominent location.

Nothing gives a yard more Japanese flair than a bamboo fence. Bamboo is a natural grass that is used for fencing, floors, and more. There are many styles for designing an Oriental fence so it is possible to choose one that meets the garden’s needs—whether for privacy or beauty. Silence and serenity are important to Japanese gardens and the bamboo fencing certainly helps to foster these elements.

While not absolutely essential, a bridge made in the Japanese style will definitely prove a highlight for any landscape or garden. There are many styles to employ—a rustic wood or stone bridge or a highly stylized red-paint and lacquered bridge complete with ornamental carvings. Such bridges might span a simple backyard creek or over a narrow dip or valley of the property. Depending on the width and strength of the bridge, they can even be ideal viewing places for enjoying the rest of the garden.

Garden platforms also have a definite place in the Japanese garden. Typically, this is simple decking that might flank a garden pool. However, the platforms are usually set in a zigzagging pattern as straight lines are often avoided in Japanese settings as they do not reflect nature. These platforms are great places to view a particular garden feature such as a terraced section of flowerbeds or alongside a pond. Just like western decks, they can be terrific places to entertain guests of the garden.

Finally, various props can signify a Japanese look for the garden. It is important not to overdo the ornamentation, but the following articles can help give the garden a Japanese appearance: a copper rain chain, bamboo wind chimes, hanging gong, paper lanterns, lacquered plant containers, and Oriental fabric for patio furniture.