One of the most wonderful aspects of gardens is how they set a mood of their own. Our gardens can be every bit as fun, quirky or energetic as we are! But gardens can also be meditative places that allow us to disconnect from the world and soak in some needed calm and peace. This is why today I wanted to take a closer look at gardens that bring these feelings to mind, and that’s when Japanese Gardens popped into my mind.
I think all of us can agree that Japanese Gardens have a unique appeal. The moment we see one of them we feel transported to a brand new world where nature invites us to join a calm experience unlike any other. But why is this? Japanese gardens are lovely of course! But what is the secret to this unique appeal and magic they seem to have?
The secret to Japanese Gardens is at its core the secret to everything the country has to offer. Japan is a wonderful country where each action and even design has a reason to be, meaning, and intent and their gardens are not the exceptions. Japanese garden design relies on 3 main pillars: Stone, Water, and Plants. These are 3 simple elements we can find in most gardens, but when we use them thoughtfully they elegantly showcase everything we can find in nature; that’s what makes Japanese gardens so unique!
So today I want to share some Japanese Garden design ideas to help you build one of your own. Some are larger, some are smaller, but all of them are meaningful and have that delightful Japanese aesthetic that never fails to soothe guests.
The Reflecting Pool Garden
Water is essential to Japanese design, so if there’s a pool in your garden already half the work is done, if not there’s no reason to worry they are surprisingly easy to build. All that needs to be done to install a reflecting pool is to dig out a shallow pond and level it. Then the bottom must be covered with underlayment and then pond liner. It won’t take more than an afternoon and the pond will immediately change the look of your garden.
Of course, a pond on its own isn’t the entire garden, but designing around it is both fun and rewarding. Rocks are always a perfect way to surround a pond and they are a key focus of Japanese design so go bold and pick some large ones. Lining up the pond is important, but don’t be afraid to mix up sizes and textures, the idea is to make the garden look as natural as possible.
Now that we’ve covered water and rocks it’s time to bring some plants to the mix. Bamboo is a lovely and popular pick for ponds, but those looking for a more authentic design should look into Japanese blood grass. It’s easy to maintain, has a vibrant color, and adds an autumn flavor to your garden no matter the season. Do keep in mind however that blood grass is known for its expansive growth, so make sure to pot it so it doesn’t grow beyond its intended area. It’s better to be careful than sorry!
The Momijigari Aesthetic
Tradition is a cornerstone of Japanese culture, and they provide a lovely opportunity to integrate their customs into our design ideas. “Momijigari” or “Autumn-leaf Hunting” is one of Japan’s dearest traditions, and it brings together thousands of Japanese citizens every year.
In short, Momijigari just means going out with your friends and family to see the red leaves during Autumn, but in its simplicity, it’s one of Japan’s most beloved customs. Momijigari is also a wonderful design idea that we can use to add a Japanese flair to a garden that is mostly complete or with an array we can’t modify. It simply comes down to bringing that autumn color to our garden.
We already covered Japanese blood grass but there are countless other trees and plants with a red tint that we can add to our garden. The Japanese Maple is the main icon of Momijigari and can make a wonderful corner plantation for your garden, but the Forest Pansy has the advantage of starting red from spring and being suited for most soils. So as long as your garden has good natural light the Forest Pansy is quite simply perfect.
Smaller plants are perfect to add that autumn tint as well, with Poinsettias being one of the all-time favorites. But roses can also be added without breaking immersion, after all these iconic flowers are abundant in Japanese summers!
Flowing Bamboo Garden
Bamboo is a mainstay in a lot of garden designs and with good reason, bamboo is resilient, sturdy, and incredibly aesthetic all on its own. The best part is that with the proper design a bamboo garden can fulfill all Japanese garden design ideas on its own.
To design a bamboo garden around Japanese sensibilities glowing water is essential. As we saw before Japanese gardens center around the harmony of Stones, Water, and Plants; and all of these can be found on a bamboo fountain if done correctly. A simple bamboo water feature is affordable and very easy to install, just set it up and place the water on a small pond.
This bamboo fountain will be the main element of the design, providing a visually striking centerpiece as well as the soothing sound of flowing water. But how can we design around it? It honestly doesn’t take much. Stones can make for a uniform pattern on the soil, and more bamboo plants will complete the look in a snap. Bamboo is also very undemanding, so as long as the soil is moist and the hole is twice as large as their rootball your bamboo should grow marvelously.
Feel free to experiment, but don’t forget Ma.
Japanese gardens don’t need to be constrictive or to follow strict guidelines at all. In fact, since the basic principles of Japanese garden design are so straightforward feel free to experiment away! Stones, Water, and Plants can be found in most gardens, but how can we reinvent these ideas? Feel free to let your designer out and try new ideas that both fit the Japanese aesthetic and that let the world know what you love in a garden.
However to make sure that the Japanese sensibilities aren’t lost just keep in mind the concept of “Ma”. Ma is a complex term to explain, and it’s deeply rooted in Japanese culture, but when it comes to design it can be understood as “Empty Space”. The Japanese deeply believe that pauses and empty spaces have meaning, so an authentic Japanese garden won’t be overcrowded. Embrace empty space and consider it in your designs, that way your new creation will be as authentic and soothing as any garden from Japan!
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