Japanese Gardening

The basics of a Japanese Garden

Most of us have a pre-determined notion of what a Japanese garden looks like. We think of certain details which come to mind, things like the ever popular Japanese maples giving off their fiery glow in the fall. Or expanses of Kurume azaleas or rhododendrons with their fine spring colors. Or perhaps it is the rustling of a slender bamboo in the breeze.

Whatever it is, there is always something soothing about the typical Japanese garden. But is there, in fact, such a thing as a typical Japanese garden?

There are different kinds of Japanese gardens, each having their very own personality, if you will.

Some of the best known gardens in Japan, have almost no plantings at all, but are comprised of carefully tended “seas” of fine gravel surrounding rock groupings. Perhaps there is no better example of this than the world renowned garden at Ryoan-ji.

Ryoan-ji is undoubtedly the finest example of a Zen type garden and receives tens of thousands of visitors every year. In fact, it is so popular, that one side of it is lined with a large seating area to accommodate tour groups. It is considered de rigeur for all school children in the area to visit Ryoan-ji as part of their education.

While such a garden may appear to be very simple in both its’ design and construction, it is accepted that much thought went into this magical place to reach this level of perceived simplicity.

Japanese gardens span the full spectrum of garden types, from the dry garden as at Ryoan-ji, to large pond type gardens with their lazily swimming and brightly colored koi. And everything in between.

One of the favorite tricks of Japanese garden designers in the past has been to use borrowed scenery to enhance their appearance. What this does, is to make the garden appear to blend in with, and take advantage of, the immediate surroundings. It gives the impression of much greater overall size.

Whether or not these surroundings are very close, or consist of distant mountain views, every effort is made to incorporate such views by carefully designing viewing areas to take full advantage of the natural surroundings.

Perhaps one of the most loved is the Japanese tea garden, with its’ own tea house. These gardens are usually quite small, and are sometimes included as a distinct part of a larger garden. The Nitobe Gardens in Vancouver are an example of such a tea garden. The garden itself is fairly large and contains most of the elements you would expect to find in an authentic garden of this type.

Should you find yourself interested in the fascinating subject of how to build your own Japanese style garden, an excellent place to begin is to study those gardens in existence already. Whether or not you have the ability to travel to Japan and visit some of these gardens first hand should not deter you. Fortunately for us, the internet has given us access to the best of the best.

Secondly, and by no means an inferior resource, their exists a wonderful variety of top notch books, almost all of which are available in the English language. Over the years I have been able to accumulate a substantial library by many of the finest authors on the subject.