If you are looking for calm and order in your garden, you can do a lot worse than bring in a few subtle Japanese influences. While the traditional Japanese garden is something more akin to a temple of serenity rather than a traditional western living space, there is much to be admired in their simplicity and attention to detail.

While we bring our own interpretation to Japanese gardens in the West, they do contain some standard structures that are easily recognisable:

While we bring our own interpretation to Japanese gardens in the West, they do contain some standard structures that are easily recognisable:

  • Water: A pond or running water is important in the overall design and signifies not only renewal but is a central expression of nature and calm reflection.
  • The Red Bridge: Most gardens in Japan will only have the iconic bridge in a relatively large plot but that doesn’t seem to matter in the UK. You are just as likely to find a bridge of some kind in a small garden. Choose an appropriately sized structure for your plot or be a little more abstract in your thinking using a series of red flowers or garden art instead.
  • Stepping Stones: Part of the Zen of Japanese gardens is a series of stepping stones. These are meant to lead somewhere though again it depends on the size of the plot. In Japan they are used for contemplation and are suited to both large and small gardens.
  • Tea Houses: The traditional tea house is often more a focal point in the UK rather than part of the landscape as it is in Japan. We also tend to favour taller and more obvious structures. The tea ceremony is a big part of Japanese culture and many houses have a lantern that can be lit in the early evening and signifies light banishing the darkness of ignorance. Remember you don’t have to replicate a tea house structure you can simply take inspiration and create a lovely seated area with Japanese influences, where you can sit, drink tea and admire your garden.

Plants in a Japanese Garden

If you are expecting blooms all over the place, then you may be disappointed with a Japanese garden. There should be plenty of ‘empty’ space, parts of the garden with neatly laid gravel or stone. The range of colours for plants is also more muted than in modern Western gardens. These include plants like the Japanese Apricot, Azaleas and Cydonia. While a complete Japanese style garden may be difficult to construct in many back gardens in the UK, taking some of these plant ideas and using them is a great idea.

There’s no reason whatsoever why you shouldn’t introduce more colourful plants such as roses if you want to. Where you plant though is another key part of the oriental ethos. The garden should be a place of discovery with plants and architecture discovered by standing at different points or, if you have a big enough plot, as you walk through. Areas of quiet where there are no plants at all are also very important if you want to get the right look and feel.

Japanese Garden Inspiration

To truly immerse yourself in a Japanese garden you could visit one of the many dotted around the UK. From traditional teahouses to cherry blossoms and quiet spaces for reflection and meditation, these spaces have it all. Simply wander, admire and relax or spend time delving into how the garden was created so you can plan for your own piece of Japan. For more information and lists of gardens visit the Japanese Garden Society.

A Place for Contemplation

As with many things to do with the Japanese lifestyle, much is concerned with order and contemplation. The cutting and pruning of plants is undertaken with care and attention and the quiet simplicity is a reflection of the need for calm and order. If you want a garden that you can sit in and tend with a certain degree of Zen, then this is the style for you. It’s clean, natural lines and elegant features make a great place for social gatherings as well as quiet moments of relaxation and thought.

Planning and planting a Japanese Garden does take time and skill, for help with the design of your garden contact North Leeds Garden Design to find out how your space can be transformed Japanese style.