Japanese gardens are designed to create landscapes which resembles nature through the careful placement of trees, shrubs, rocks, sand, artificial hills, ponds, and water. Zen and Shinto traditions have greatly influenced Japanese gardening and as a result the gardens are contemplative and serene spaces. It is essential that all the elements work well together within the garden and that the relationship between rocks, plants and water is well thought out.
The basic landscape elements found in most Japanese gardens include trees, shrubs, rocks, gravel, water, moss, stones and fences. Boulders are often used as centerpieces and provide the garden with a feeling of stability. Gravel is used to imitate the flow of water and other small stones are used to create boundaries and are turned into sculptural lanterns. Water, whether it be in the form of a pond, stream, or waterfall, is an essential part of a Japanese garden. It can be actual water or a symbolic representation, either way, it is vital to the Japanese garden.
In Japanese gardening there are three basic ways to create a landscape scene. The first of these is reduced scale. Reduced scale is the art of taking an actual scene from nature, mountains, rivers, trees, and all, and reproducing it on a smaller scale. Symbolization is abstract and could include using white sand to symbolize water and boulders to symbolize islands. Borrowed views refers to the use of distant a landscapes, such as a mountain, and incorporating it into the garden.
There are several types of Japanese gardens. Zen gardens are meant to be viewed rather than entered. They are comprised of a mix of boulders, gravel or sand, moss and a limited number of trees and shrubs. Carefully placed stones symbolize islands while the gravel or sand, raked into interesting patterns, symbolizes water. Zen gardens help clear the mind and aid in contemplation.
Another type of Japanese garden is the tea garden. The tea garden is considered a ceremonial space which consists of an outer garden and an inner garden. Tea gardens are small and are ideal for those gardens with limited space. The outer garden is informal and consists of an entry gate to and a stone path leading toward the inner garden. Another stone path flows through the inner garden, whose plants are more formally placed. The inner path leads to a small building where the actual tea ceremony is performed.
Another garden appropriate for a small space or patio is the courtyard garden. The design of the Japanese courtyard garden is kept simple and is usually built to be observed from inside the house. It could, however, be planned so it is a useable outdoor space. Consisting of a few plants, a small water feature, a dry stream, or other simple elements, the Japanese courtyard garden allows nature and light to flow into your home through large windows and patio doors.
The above examples are just a few Japanese garden styles. Before designing and planting your own garden, look through some garden books and search for photos of Japanese gardens online. Japanese gardens are intended to create a meditative and relaxing experience. A little planning and research will help you design a serene and beautiful landscape which will delight all who visit your garden.