Japanese sand gardens are simple and serene. The sand is evenly spread and then raked to reflect the mood of the gardener and of the season. A cedar moon-shaped bridge is a classic element in Japanese garden design. It suggests the element of water even in this dry environment. The curves of the bridge add movement to the design. Specially selected and placed stones called suiseki act as visual metaphors for distant mountains. A Japanese sand garden is a work of art. However, even the home gardener can create his own masterpiece, with restraint and careful design.
- Skill level:
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Things you need
- Push broom
- Clean, washed sand
- Bender board, cedar or redwood
- Granite rocks
- Small boulders
- Pea gravel
- Bonsai miniature trees in containers
- White azaleas
- Decorative Japanese clay pots
- 1 gallon Sweet Olive (Osmanthus Fragrens)
- Wide-toothed bamboo rake
- Cedar moon-shaped bridge
Prepare your garden site. Pull out any weeds, removing the roots. Remove any small stones or twigs. Rake the soil so it is level and smooth. Edge the perimeter of your sand garden site with bender board.
Make a sketch of your garden area. Indicate the location for your bridge. Draw the location for the stones, and cluster them in groups of three. Stagger their placement instead of lining them up in a row. Draw where you want to put the azaleas, using a green pencil to identify them. Again, try to use either a group of three, or five for a large garden.
Fill the entire area with sand to a depth of at least 3 inches. Smooth out the sand with a push broom. Load your stones into a wheelbarrow. Place them according to your design. Nestle the stones into the sand slightly. Place the bonsai miniature trees near the rocks.
Place the cedar bridge in the location you chose. Anchor the bridge securely, according to the installation instructions. Place the stones at the base of the bridge. Place pea gravel under and around the footing of the bridge to suggest water.
Put the azaleas in their decorative pots. Place the azaleas according to your design. Alter their location if you need more emphasis in one area. The azaleas will need filtered shade from the sun. Put the Osmanthus in a decorative pot and place it in one corner of the garden.
Rake the sand and gravel with the wide-toothed bamboo rake. Make gently undulating horizontal lines to indicate the steam bed. Straight lines work well for a calm feeling. Return to rake a different pattern and watch your garden change.
Tips and warnings
- Osmanthus has fragrant, tiny flowers. Substitute White Lilac if you cannot find it.
- Use bamboo as decorative accents on walls and for benches.
- Always check for underground pipes before you start any landscape project (visit for more information).
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