Japanese gardens are one of the most popular overall garden style and themes today. They can take the style of the owner subtly and beautifully and can be done in both traditional and modern designs. They are found in places from backyards in the suburbs to shrines and temples.
Design Theory and Purpose in Japanese Gardens
The theory or purpose of the Japanese garden will depend on its style. The focus of all, of course, will be to create beauty and a naturalistic setting in a controlled space. Plants and elements are chosen for their aesthetics, simplicity, and tradition.
Types of Japanese Gardens
The traditional styles of Japanes gardens are Chaniwa, Karensansui, Tsukiyama, and Kaiyu-shiki. Each has a different look, feel, and purpose.
The Chaniwa Garden will be built for holding tea ceremonies and will have a tea house as its centerpiece or most prominent feature. The hut (tea house) and garden will focus on the concepts of sado with a simple path leading to the tea house and the use of stone lanterns and basins for purification before the tea ceremony. A Chaniwa Garden can also be a Kaiyu-shiki (strolling) garden and can also be built around a pond.
Karensansui Gardens are dry landscapes and are heavily influenced by Zen Buddhism. These will have an absence of water, using raked gravel or sand to simulate it. Everything will be chosen for its shape and the way it interacts with the other elements of the garden with small shrubs used to break up the desert feel of the Karensansui. These gardens are often built either as Kaiyu-shiki or Kanshoh-style gardens (strolling or to be viewed from a home).
Tsukiyama Gardens emphasize two things: space and ergonomics. The primary focus of Tsukiyama is to create a large space where a smaller one exists. Through artful use of layout, features that hide obstructions, and blending elements to make it appear there are no limits, the Tsukiyama makes a small space seem very large. These gardens are popular backyard and courtyard gardens in Japan and are usually made as a Kanshoh (garden to be viewed from a residence window or patio).
Planning Your Own Japanese Garden
To create your own Japanese garden, you’ll need two things: patience and a plan. Patience comes in because few things worth having come quickly and a Japanese garden can take years to perfect. The plan comes in because everything about a Japanese garden is carefully planned to look as if it was not planned at all.
The Japanese garden is an organization of nature that appears both well landscaped and wild. To accomplish this requires thought, experimentation, and skill.
Your first step will be to consider the space you have to work with and the environment (elements, climate) that it will reside in. In most of North America, only some traditional Japanese plans will thrive. Luckily, with the rise in popularity of these gardens, many substitutes or new variations are available that will retain the traditional look. In addition, many successful Japanese gardens use only native plants to their location – however far from Japan that might be.
Once you know what you can use and work with, design the paths (if any), sitting areas, water or water substitute (always an important part of the Japanese garden experience), etc. Build your design around the major elements you plan to include (waterways, paths, and large features).
Just remember that your Japanese garden will be a personal thing and it will likely continually evolve throughout its lifetime as you add, subtract, and change it over time.
Learn more about Japanese gardens: