A Japanese-inspired garden is a wonderful way to create a tranquil space to encourage relaxation at home. Many Japanese garden ideas are easy to incorporate into your outdoor spaces, even if it’s already been landscaped.
These spaces are not only beautiful to immerse yourself in but also go beyond the senses to display clean lines, uniformity, and mirror symbolisms found in Japanese culture. These attributes bring pleasure to those who are perfectionists when it comes to gardening and offer a way to fully immerse yourself in practicing mindfulness when trimming, clipping back, or repositioning elements in your outdoor space.
Create a serene hideaway with these Japanese garden ideas
The Bonsai is undoubtedly an iconic symbol of Japan and its horticulture, making it one of the first items you may consider when transforming your outdoor space. Overall, to achieve this look we’d recommend you keep it minimalist with unfussy garden furniture, and use natural elements such as un-manicured stone in areas more suited to shade. The garden ideas we share below will help you quickly create a beautiful, Japanese-inspired garden without breaking the bank.
1. Include bamboo garden features
One of the most common features in a Japanese garden is bamboo. This versatile plant can be used in many ways - acting as a screen, creating a forest, providing shade, or even being part of a water feature.
Its lush green colour adds a sense of serenity to the garden space, as its delicate leaves rustle in the wind to create a peaceful atmosphere. While it is a lovely addition to your garden, be aware of its invasive roots - plant carefully and ideally not on a shared boundary.
This beautiful plant is planter box and raised bed friendly, which means that it’s possible to contain the adventurous roots and even train the bamboo into different shapes. Contrasting bamboo with rocky pavers or gravel can quickly achieve the look of a Japanese garden.
Don't forget to include bamboo in your water features too! Consider installing a Tsukubai - a traditional basin used in Japanese tea gardens, including a bamboo spout and stone bowl.
2. Use rocks and stones
You'll often find rocks and stones in a typical Japanese garden. Creating a rockery with layers of rocks and stone is a beautiful Japanese-style addition to your garden. Plant some Sedum among the stones to increase visual interest and add a splash of colour.
Alternatively, you can get this look by adding stone ornaments, pedestals, plinths, or stone lanterns to your garden. They'll add variety and contrast to the natural elements in the garden and enable you to get your personal style across too.
When placing rocks in your garden, consider arranging them in groups of three - this is the traditional Japanese practice to symbolise the Buddhist Trinity, also used in the art of Feng Shui Bagua.
Creating an area of gravel that is clearly demarcated, and features a few bigger rocks, isalso be a lovely way to add a Japanese element to your garden. Be sure to have a rake at the ready so you can find your zen while raking patterns in the stones.
If you’re looking for an easy way to start, perhaps consider creating a small Japanese rock garden in a corner of your current garden as a place to relax.
3. Showcase your bonsai trees
As a representation of harmony, balance, and, most importantly, patience, Bonsai trees can be found in most Japanese gardens and are a great way to add an oriental accent to your outdoor space.
Bonsai trees should not be too close together in the garden; disperse them evenly throughout to maintain balance and equilibrium in your outdoor space. But remember to bring them in before the frost starts, as their roots could be harmed by the frozen soil.
These beautiful miniatures have been a part of Japanese culture for over 1,200 years and have gained international popularity. Adopted by monks over the years, they were incorporated into mini landscapes where they would represent the universe. The art of bonsai has become a fundamental aspect of Japanese garden ideas, and is perfect for those practicing mindfulness in the garden.
Make each tree a feature in its own corner of your garden by placing it in a colourful or unique pot or tray. Delicate bonsai trees are best suited to circular pots, whereas their larger friends should be housed in square or rectangular vessels.
Bonsai trees can be as little or as high maintenance as you want them to be. Let them flourish into larger pieces, or regularly clip back rogue offshoots to ensure optimum equilibrium.
4. Create stark contrasts
You can add a visual representation of yin and yang in your garden by creating contrast with your paving stones and wall decor. Alternating dark and light tones within your paving and other garden decor pieces can represent the balance of life and the universe, a common theme in Japanese garden design.
When creating garden paths in a Japanese-style garden, alternate between dark and light slabs. Using the same slab material and only alternating the colours maintains harmony. Varying garden paving materials is a delicate art and, if done incorrectly, can disrupt the balance of the garden.
A different way to incorporate contrast into your Japanese garden designs is to paint a wall black (or use dark stone garden walling) and use light stone and paving nearby, as well as green plants. Add a small splash of colour to the arrangement to increase the visual impact. Paving a section with dark paving tiles can have a similar effect.
When it comes to installing furniture in oriental-inspired gardens you'll want to choose simple, minimalist items in neutral tones.
5. Learn the art of cloud pruning
A common sight in Japanese gardens is the carefully pruned trees and bushes, generally shaped into clouds or lollipops. This form of pruning bushes and trees is an ancient Japanese art that adds an authentic style to your garden without having to complete an overhaul.
This pruning creates eye-catching elements in the garden. It highlights the plant's unique characteristics while creating harmony between it and the rest of the garden. Remember that you'll need a keen eye and a pair of sharp, high-quality garden shears to maintain this look.
If you'd like to add new plants to your garden that you can prune into beautiful shapes, a box-leaved holly or Japanese privet are good options. Alternate between tightly pruning some plants and leaving others with a smooth look, achieved by a looser pruning technique. This contributes to the contrast and creates the classic balance integral to a Japanese-style garden.
These chic trees and bushes can look fantastic in pots and can make for excellent feature plants in stone and gravel gardens. However, you can also use the cloud pruning technique on borders and hedges if you'd prefer to keep your trees and larger shrubs in their more natural form.
6. Plant Japanese maples
These stunning trees are a great addition to your Japanese garden ideas - they add colour to your garden, and the larger varieties can also make for a great center point in your garden.
While Japanese Maples or Acers can be quite finicky, once you've mastered the art of growing them, they're relatively easy to maintain. These stunning trees need non-alkaline soil that is free draining, and they don't like being too exposed - be sure to find them a sheltered spot to ensure good health and prolonged life.
There are a wide variety of Acers available, from small trees that enjoy being in pots to large specimens that can reach more than eight meters in height. The smaller trees make for lovely additions to the banks of your pond, while the bigger trees work well as a feature point in the garden.
7. Install a small bridge
In a Japanese garden, the bridge represents the journey to the higher spiritual realm, which is considered to be a place of nature and purity, as well as the transition from mortal life to the afterlife. It is a great way to add movement to your garden and structure.
Adding a small, low wooden bridge to your garden is another lovely way to incorporate Japanese garden ideas into your garden space. Create a bridge alongside a pathway or pond - it doesn't have to be built over a waterway. Another option is to have a small stone bridge - if you have the space for it.
An alternative representation of the bridge could be a set of stepping stones wandering through a shallow pond or body of water. As long as you ensure that it blends well with its environment, you can’t go wrong.
When using the bridge as part of your pathway, away from water, you can increase the serene atmosphere of the installation by planting lush greenery beneath the bridge - perhaps even creating a dip beneath it to add depth.
8. Create winding garden paths
Add a sense of mystery and seclusion to your garden by creating winding paths through the garden space. Not only will this create flow through the various areas of the garden, but you'll also be able to experience more of your garden and immerse yourself in the serenity of space.
If you have a small garden, let your paths trail off into a thicket, creating the illusion of a bigger space with more to explore. The paths in a Japanese garden encourage a sense of wonder and help the body and mind wander while exploring hidden areas of the garden.
9. Add stone lanterns to light your garden
Stone lanterns, known as tōrō or ishidourou in Japanese, are an attractive feature to add to your garden - but be sure to use them sparingly. They add spots of light for when you wander the garden at night. These lanterns can also be a great addition to a zen gravel garden.
Traditionally used to light the way to a temple or shrine, these lanterns come in various styles. A tall Oribe lantern featuring a square lightbox on a raised pedestal is a great one to place in amongst the pants. In contrast, a Yukimi door lamp is an excellent addition to the pond's edge - this three-legged lamp traditionally has two feet in the water and one on land.
10. Complete the look with a small pond and water feature
Many Japanese-style gardens feature water in some form - either as a pond, stream, or gentle water feature. Often the pond will be host to water lilies and Koi Carp, and the stream will have various reeds, grasses and moss.
If you have a small garden, you can add a small trickling fountain to the space and allow it to develop lichen and moss, or you can choose another water feature to your liking. A bird bath is another way to incorporate water into a small garden and has the added benefit of increasing the bird life in the space.
The sounds associated with water features bring an added sense of peace and tranquillity to the Japanese garden. Be sure to surround the feature with lush greens, and include a tree or two with branches draping over the water.
11. Embrace moss and patina
While most British gardeners fight moss and patina with ferocity, Japanese gardens encourage them and leave them to grow and change over time. These 'nuisances' represent the wisdom that comes with age and adds softness to the harsher elements of a Japanese-style garden.
Adding a ground cover to the paved areas of the garden will also create softness and accentuate the contrast often found in a Japanese garden. Not only does the Japanese garden create a space of peace and serenity, but it also reduces the maintenance load!
12. Make an entrance
Add a sense of awe to your garden with a Japanese arch or moon gate at the entrance.
Gates are not seen as a physical barrier in Japanese gardens but as an invitation to explore and discover. They can also help create the illusion of a more extensive garden when placed strategically.
13. Create a small zen garden with sand or gravel
One of the best ways to create a minimalist meditation garden is to create a gravel or sand zen garden. These gardens can be completely dry, free of plants, and decorated with stone, rocks, and other hard landscaping.
When installing this garden, be sure to add a rake so that you can create patterns in the sand while calming your body and mind. Changing the patterns in the sand is a fun way to switch up your garden in an easy and simple way.
To achieve sharp lines, you'll want to use decomposed granite. However, any gravel or sand will work, so choose what suits your Japanese garden best.
There are many Japanese garden ideas that utilise gravel and stone, and they can be a fantastic way to use a spot that is too sunny for regular planting. They're also a great feature to install in a small cosy nook.
Add a variety of larger rocks and stone features to add interest to the space, and be sure to add a raked gravel design around them. The feature pieces should be arranged in odd numbers in a set of three, five or seven.
14. Avoid overcrowding
A key aspect of the Japanese garden is peace and serenity, and this is achieved through simplistic design and ensuring each focal point is given space rather than being crowded.
The creation of balance with both movement and stillness is known by the Japanese as Ma. This concept is a crucial element in Japanese gardens. Having an area of interest surrounded by peaceful, open spaces gives the visitor the space to pause and absorb the beauty and stillness of their surroundings.
When creating Japanese gardens, an unfinished garden is not a negative thing; it is important not to overcrowd your space by adding too many plants or decorative features. There is no need to fill every nook and cranny with a plant or feature.
15. Sit back and relax
A patio is an important element to any garden. If you’re creating a Japanese style garden, you should consider creating a serene spot that is used for relaxing and unwinding.
Known as engawa in Japanese architecture, this is a type of matted flooring that is very common in an asain-style garden and is usually made of wood or bamboo. Consider using engawa to create an elegant patio space which can home comfy seating to put your feet up after a long day.
It is essential to create an area that mirrors the energy of the rest of the outdoors while also reflecting your personal style; after all, you might spend the majority of your time in this nook of the garden.
What are the three essential elements of a Japanese garden?
The three essential elements of a Japanese garden are the following:
- Stone represents and forms the garden's structure
- Water represents the life-giving force of nature
- Plants represent the changing of the seasons
How do you make a simple Japanese garden?
The easiest way to create a simple Japanese garden is to build a gravel or stone zen garden. These gardens don't need plants and require little maintenance. Place large rocks or stone ornaments among the gravel in groups of three, five, or seven, and play with different raked gravel design ideas in the open spaces.
How do I make my backyard a Japanese garden?
Implementing Japanese garden ideas in your backyard does not have to be an intimidating task. By adding minimalist garden furniture, featuring trees such as cherry trees, and utilising natural stone and wooden elements to create movement and flow through the space, you'll soon have a wonderful, Japanese-inspired backyard space.
What is a zen garden?
Traditional zen gardens are dry landscapes decorated with natural elements such as rock, sand, wood, and gravel. Known as karesansui, these Japanese gardens often include hand-crafted objects such as wooden benches, stone lanterns, or small bridges and are used as mediation spaces.
They are often enclosed to maintain an aura of peace and serenity, and visitors will often rake the gravel or sand as they clear their minds and meditate.
Create the perfect garden with Marshalls
Whether you’re fascinated by Asian culture, or you’re simply looking to build a zen hideaway, personalising your outdoor space is guaranteed to bring you some peace and withdrawal from everyday life.
When designing your Japanese style garden, why not consider using Marshalls high-quality paving solutions to take care of any hard landscaping elements. Check out our selection of garden paving, kerbs and edging, natural stone walling and artificial grass.