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Creating a Japanese Garden and Landscape

Designing a Japanese or Oriental-style garden means blending simple design elements with an aesthetic principle that seeks to replicate nature. While many Western gardens seek to tame nature by organizing it to fit in a prefigured design, Japanese gardens try to emulate what actually occurs in the natural world. The following article discusses how you can transform your setting into a Japanese-style garden complete with Japanese design elements, structures, and ornaments reflective of the Far East.

First, assess your garden or landscape space. Japanese gardens will work for large settings just as well as very small areas that perhaps constitute the size of an average garden shed. However, a small garden space means approaching the overall design with a minimalist view and choosing only a few simple and sparse objects. If your space is large than there are many avenues to consider, but a few main elements that occur in traditional Japanese gardens would include rock or stone features, water features, and Oriental plants. Optional elements might be decks, fencing, walls, bridges, statues, wildlife, etc…

There are many ways to incorporate stone and rock into your Japanese garden; while these may be aesthetic reflections, they may also be quite useful in the garden. Placing a rock in the middle of a garden pond may serve no other purpose than to reflect the idea of an island in the middle of the sea—a lovely touch for any Oriental garden. However, placing large flat river stones at a shallow spot in your pond could almost constitute a bridge if it allows visitors a passage from one section of garden to another. Of course, a true bridge made of stone to span any part of the garden is an excellent way to bring Japan to your landscape as the Japanese are quite famous for their stone and lacquered wood bridges.

Stone is used in many ways. It may even be needed to represent the role of water in nature. Consider a gravel stream for a border or a pool of stones around an ornamental cherry tree. Groupings of large stones might even be thought to represent the mountains of Japan. When water is not easily incorporated, stone makes a wonderful choice for a traditional Japanese garden. Stone may also be used for garden paths, basins, and even rustic benches placed throughout the garden where scenery may be best enjoyed.

Water is a basic component of a Japanese garden. From very plain stone basins to large ponds that are home to goldfish or koi, the role of water is important to bring a sense of natural balance to your garden. Waterfalls that tumble over stone or very simple fountains that trickle from a bamboo shaft—consider a water feature that is appropriate for your space but also one that you will be able to maintain. Garden ponds require significant maintenance, but they are truly beautiful in any setting when properly cared for and will doubtless become the focal point of any garden setting.

You will also want to consider any structures for your garden in the design stage. A garden pond will not only be enhanced by a bridge, but even simple decking that zigzags a side of the pond will greatly reflect the Japanese style. It will also allow you to keep some of your pond plants contained; many water garden plants are very invasive and require lots of maintenance, but if contained near your pond, you will still maintain the look you want with far less work. Other structures to consider may be pagoda like gazebos, small pavilions and stone towers.

Plantings will go far to suggest a Japanese style. From bonsai to water lilies, there are many plants that are great choices for any Oriental garden. Consider trees, shrubs and low-growing plants for a good balance. Rather than many trees, consider only one tree as a focal point, or strategically planted trees. Shrubs make great borders and provide a bit of height to the area when trees are few. Flowers and lush green plants certainly have their place in a Japanese garden; consider moss, chrysanthemum, azaleas, weeping forsythia, funkia, cape jasmine, plantain lily and many more depending on your own taste and garden climate.

Finally, consider other ornamental Japanese features that will also provide important functions. If privacy is an issue, incorporate bamboo fencing. Few other features will so predominantly reflect the Japanese aesthetic in the garden as bamboo. Japanese stone lanterns or lighting fixtures of an Oriental nature are also useful garden elements. There are many Japanese garden ornaments available online or from local garden centers. Items like stone containers and lacquered pots make fine choices. When choosing garden props, opt for simplicity and always remember that less is more in a Japanese garden.

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