Harmonic balance is the aim to strive for when creating your own Japanese garden. These types of gardens focus on attention to detail and include a profound respect for everyday objects that are found in nature. In a Japanese garden, the key is self-control as well as discovery. The ultimate goal in designing this type of garden is to mimic nature.
Common features found in a Japanese-style garden include groups of stones and specific plants, raked gravel or sand, still or trickling water, lanterns, and wooden or bamboo structures (such as fences or bridges). Paths which are made from stone as well as stepping stones are also quite common. The element of surprise is achieved by tucking interesting plants or objects behind other features, away from viewing. Each object placed within the Japanese garden is done so for a reason, and each has a specific meaning associated with it. For instance, stones are used to symbolize mountains and express strength. These are usually the first elements that will be placed in the garden. Whether these come in the form of a sculpture, a gravel walkway, or a grouping of stones is entirely up to you. Water is an important feature as well. Water may be represented in the form of subtle features or merely suggested by raked sand. This is often the heart of a Japanese garden, symbolizing purity. However you choose to incorporate it, water features should always take on a natural appearance. For example, give ponds or streams natural shapes, allowing them to twist and turn as they would in nature. If preferred, you can simply place water basins throughout the garden, hiding them behind plants or around corners.
Flowers and color are used sparingly as this type of garden relies mainly on foliage. Plants are typically focused on native species, but some of the ones commonly found in Japanese gardens include Japanese iris, fern, Japanese maple, weeping cherry, yew, Indian grass, Prairie dropseed, azalea, camellia, creeping juniper, hosta, and hydrangea. Generally, plants are chosen not for their flowers but for their short blooming times and how they appear seasonally. For instance, spring focuses on blossoms while summer creates foliage contrast. Fall maintains the beauty of changing leaf color while winter focuses on shapes and shadows. Plant shape is extremely important; and oftentimes plants will be skillfully pruned. Trees and shrubs in a Japanese garden are either dwarf varieties or artistically trimmed to create perfect replicas of the ones found in nature. This popular technique is known as bonsai. Unlike most other gardens, emphasis is placed more on emptiness rather than filling it up with an abundance of plant life. Therefore, you should limit yourself in plant selection and placement.
As with plants, don’t overload the garden with ornamental objects. Keep it simple. Lanterns are the most commonly found object placed in the garden; however, you can also implement statues or religious artifacts as well. Generally, these objects will be placed in sites along walkways and normally at points where these paths curve, just out of viewing. They can also be found near an entrance. Structures such as fencing or bridges have a purpose as well. Bamboo fences are often used to maintain privacy, removing any outside distractions. Remember, the goal is to create a peaceful retreat away from outside interferences. The use of a bridge symbolizes one’s journey from this world to another. These can look quite pleasing over small streams, gravel rivers, or even a bed of plants.
Japanese gardens can be designed formally or informally depending on individual preferences. There are numerous resources available for designing Japanese gardens; but overall, how you create it and what you want to symbolize is your choice. Maybe your desire is to incorporate a full-blown Japanese-style garden throughout your landscape, or perhaps you want only a small taste of the Orient in your backyard, whatever the case, these gardens are easy to create and maintain as long as you practice restraint.