Japanese garden designs to bring "zen" to your outdoor space
Bring tranquillity and peace into your life with elements of a Japanese garden, as part of the health and wellbeing theme of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. We will be exhibiting at the event from May 24-28.
Japanese gardens are the envy of green-fingered types the world over. Restrained and elegant with immaculately selected plants, clean lines and symbolism held in every detail, they’re an exercise in tradition, philosophy and refinement. To create your own, or at least to introduce Japanese elements to your garden, it’s important to understand that the spaces you don’t fill are as important as the ones you do. The Japanese garden should be somewhere that encourages quiet contemplation and provides a secluded sanctuary from all external demands. To get started on yours, consider these five elements of Japanese garden design:
Sand, gravel and stones
In a traditional Japanese garden, large stones or pebbles are sometimes used to represent specific mountains and hills. Smaller pebbles, stones and gravel meanwhile, are placed to symbolise sacred ground. So important are stones to Japanese gardens that some can be comprised entirely of them; you can use small, part-worn boulders or beautiful purple-hued slate rockery to great effect in a Japanese garden.
Water is never just water in a Japanese garden; it is always a tribute to a larger body of water – a mythical lake or a vast ocean, for example. Of course, ponds in domestic Japanese gardens are often home to wonderful coral and black streaked koi carp. To introduce the element of water to your outdoor space in Japanese style, build a miniature waterfall, a sweetly meandering stream or, if space is very tight, try a simple but stylish water feature.
Bridges and islands
All that water means bridges and islands feature heavily in the most traditional and ornate of Japanese gardens. Like other aspects of these carefully-tended areas, bridges tend to carry symbolism. The islands in ponds are representative of real islands and have religious overtones, or pay tribute to specific animals and the qualities they’re said to embody. Bridges may be entirely decorative, and just the size of models, or large enough to actually use. Either way, they’re built from natural materials – stone or wood being the most commonly used.
The fencing that encloses a Japanese garden is delicate in structure, often made of bamboo and, like other elements of the space, plays with scale. Think of it as screening off areas rather than prohibiting entry to them and you’ll have the right idea.
Some plants are more commonly thought of as Japanese – these will always lend your outdoor space a taste of the Far East. Take for example the glorious and understandably ubiquitous cherry tree with its various pink and white blossoms. The vibrant orange maple, waving bamboo and hardy plum are also quintessentially Japanese. Less well known are the extremely varied number of mosses Japanese gardeners use. These provide great ground coverage, spreading out in a thick, deep green carpet underfoot.
Whether you’re looking to fully commit to the Japanese aesthetic across your garden, or you simply want to add touches that lift the overall design, any or all of these elements will be useful in creating the desired effect. Just remember, think like the Japanese: choose quality details, pay attention to line and composition, and remember that true tranquillity comes from knowing that less is more.