A small Oriental garden is traditionally a place to find solitude, time for reflection or perhaps somewhere to meditate. The essential elements to an Oriental garden will include a small number of carefully selected garden plants, stones, gravel or slate, a water feature, trees and perhaps even a small bridge. The simplicity of design will provide you with a serene and peaceful haven. Once created, your garden will require minimal maintenance except for regular pruning, watering and potting.
Prepare your garden plan by drawing up your design, noting where you want your plants positioned and where you wish to have paving, pathways and a water feature, such as a waterfall or fountain. Remember that everything in a small garden will be on display and easily seen.
If you are stuck with someone else's hard landscaping, review what you would like to keep or modify to suit your new garden design. Hard landscaping, such as installing pathways and water features, should be completed before you begin planting. Lay weed-control fabric down over the areas you don't want to plant in.
Decide which plants you wish to use in your garden, choosing any trees or shrubs first, as these will take up the most space. Buy the healthiest plants, with brightly coloured leaves and strong branches and structure. Each plant should also have a healthy collection of roots and not be pot-bound.
Smaller shrubs are relatively cheap and establish themselves quickly but if you want instant impact, go for a larger, well established shrub.
Choose a few smaller plants such as azaleas, chrysanthemums or oriental lilies to provide additional colour in the warmer months.
Arrange your plants in different positions around the garden to see what looks best before planting.
Prepare the ground for planting by adding plenty of organic matter or garden compost. If you plan to keep the plants potted, fill containers with a layer of gravel, broken terra cotta or polystyrene before adding suitable potting compost.
Control the growth of taller plants by planting them in large containers. If you have alkaline soil in your garden, use pots and specialist composts for azaleas and camellias. Soak each plant before planting, dig a good-size hole and add a handful of fertiliser to the soil. Position the plant so the garden soil just covers the top of the potting medium, firm up the soil and add water.
Support any trees and taller shrubs with a short stake next to the tree, and hold the tree steady with a rubber tree tie. Ties can be adjusted if they become too tight. Regularly water all the new plants over the next few weeks, and remove any weeds that appear around them.
Tidy up the dugout areas, and surround all plants with weed-control fabric. Cover the fabric with gravel or slate to secure it. You can also create fantastic patterns by laying different sized stones or pebbles on the fabric. Add a few lanterns, statues or wind chime to complete the design. However, resist the temptation to have too many focal points, or the garden will just end up looking cluttered.
The focus of a garden should be the plants, and if you choose carefully, just a couple of trees, a half dozen evergreen shrubs, and a mix of bulbs and bedding plants will provide year-round interest, which is essential in a small garden.
Some plants can irritate the skin, so always wear gardening gloves and wash your hands thoroughly after gardening.