Elements of a Japanese Garden

by Rachel Laurendeau on June 22, 2012

A Japanese garden is a wonderful place to sit quietly and contemplate nature or meditate. Most public botanical gardens include Japanese style gardens but more and more home gardeners are trying their hands at advanced landscaping to create these types of gardens as well.

The main elements of a Japanese garden are water, plants, rocks, lanterns, fish and bridges.

Water is central to the design of a Japanese garden. It contributes to the natural setting and symbolizes calm, renewal, wonder and continuity. It can be found in many forms such as ponds, waterfalls, streams and even fountains throughout the garden. If you are putting a great deal of effort into your Japanese garden, you can go so far as to orient your water features with respect to the sun and how it will be reflected in the water.

Plants symbolize moving thought and the universal forms of life. In Japanese gardening, great care is given to tending the plants which are often shaped to the exact form that is needed (think of bonsai trees).

Unlike English gardens, Japanese gardens do not rely on flowering plants and rather showcase various shades of green. Plants are chosen for their range of tones, textures and heights and a variety of plants, shrubs and trees are used. Evergreens and flowering trees and shrubs do play an integral role in these gardens.

Stones are a symbol of time, endurance and the forces of nature. They anchor the garden and play a central role in giving the garden its particular “personality”. If you are following strict rules of Japanese gardening, the stones must be laid out in a particular way depending on their shapes and sizes. They are often placed in pairs or by style contrast.

In a less traditional backyard garden, stones of varying sizes are typically placed together in a sculptural manner to create a natural focal point.

In addition to the large sculptural stones, stone paths lead you through the Japanese garden. They should look natural and weathered. This is not the garden style in which you would use interlocking patio stones. Finally, pebbles and small river stone are used in contrast with the plant materials and are also commonly placed in or near the water features.

Ornamental stone lantern sculptures are a cornerstone to the Japanese garden which provide an architectural element in contrast with all of the natural components of the garden.

The lanterns originated with tea ceremonies and were originally meant to guide visitors. When you are enjoying your garden in the evening, you can place tea light candles inside to enjoy the soft glow.

Koi Fish
Colored carps, or koi, are known as “living flowers” as they bring flashes of color to the shallow waters of the pond. They are a symbol of strength and perseverance – they can live up to 50 years! In a smaller backyard pond, you could use other types of fish, such as goldfish.

Bridges provide a place to linger and take in the beauty of the garden. They are generally built of wood, bamboo, earth or stone and their shape should remain in harmony with the other elements of the garden.

In most backyards today, the garden must play several roles. If your Japanese garden has to play double duty, you will likely want to set aside a small, meditative corner for quiet contemplation. Comfortable seating or possibly a small pergola or gazebo will invite you to sit a while and unwind in your garden.

If you would like to create a Japanese garden, talk to your landscaping contractor or home improvement expert for more information.

Reference: Montreal Botanical Garden

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