Japanese Gardening Design Ideas

Updated April 17, 2017

Designing gardens has been a respected art form in Japan --- where it is known as "nihon teien" --- for more than 1,000 years. Traditional Japanese gardens typically feature flexible, organic boundaries and are made to look like miniature landscapes in an attempt to balance natural and man-made elements. There are three traditional styles of Japanese landscape and garden design: Karesansui (dry gardens), Tsukiyama (hill gardens) and Chaniwa (tea gardens). Keep classic design ideas in mind when you want to create a traditional Japanese garden.

Stone Lanterns

Put stone lanterns adorned with Buddhist images or Sanskrit letters near the pond, stream or other source of water in your Japanese garden to keep with tradition. Lanterns made of stone, called "ishidoro," were introduced to Japan during the 6th century AD, and their role in garden design stemmed from their practical use as votive lighting in Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines and later the grounds of private homes and tea houses. The three classic styles of stone lanterns you should consider for your Japanese garden are the Taima-ji, the oldest style which often stands more than 2 meters in height; Korean temple lights, which appears squat in comparison; and "creative style" lanterns, which are specially designed for gardens and are made in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Empty Pond

Consider adding an empty pond or stream to your Japanese garden design rather than one that requires fresh water every day. Water, whether real or symbolically suggested, is an essential element in the traditional Japanese garden, and it is not uncommon to find dry ponds, streams or other receptacles which should otherwise be filled with water. Another option would be to fill your pond with rocks rather than water, as rocks, both large and small, are another way to imply the image of water in Japanese garden design.

Ornamental Plants

While Japanese gardens typically feature green plants that maintain a single colour throughout the year, such as spruce trees, pines or bamboo, adding a few ornamental plants is not an unwelcome design idea. Single varieties of flowers such as asters, lilies, water lilies, peonies and irises are often used as ground cover over an open area or nestled among evergreen plants for a splash of colour. Flowering trees, such as magnolias, cherry trees and Japanese maples, often serve as grand focal points in Japanese gardens during their seasonal bloom. Keep your particular climate in mind when choosing ornamental plants for your Japanese garden to ensure you get the desired effect at the right time of year.

Tea House

Add a tea house to your Japanese garden to create a private sanctuary in which you can enjoy a hot beverage, your favourite snack and a view of your miniature landscape. The tea ceremony, known in Japan as sado, has been practised for centuries as a way for participants to appreciate the similarities in how the earth's elements coexist in a natural balance, as do the mind and body. Chaniwa gardens are specifically designed to mirror this aesthetic and material simplicity of the tea ceremony, but adding a tea house to any outdoor space is an appropriate idea for those who want to incorporate this important piece of Japanese culture in their garden.

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About the Author

Melissa Sherrard acquired her Bachelor of Science in public relations from the University of Florida in 2007 and has been writing professionally ever since. She also has extensive hands-on experience planning weddings and other private functions. She has created original print materials including announcements, invitations and programs for weddings, corporate events and private functions.