The Internet has changed how the world does almost everything and as a result, the world seems a whole lot smaller. We can now easily learn about other cultures and as a result interest in Japanese garden design has increased dramatically in the past few years. This interest could be driven by our desire to learn about a garden style that is totally different in structure and appearance than our own gardens. It could also be that our hectic lifestyles are pushing us to seek relatively low maintenance yards; one of the hallmarks of an established Japanese garden. Perhaps, these same busy schedules are guiding us to seek an atmosphere of harmony and tranquility which is also associated with Japanese gardening. Whatever the motivation if you are interested in learning more about Japanese garden design there are four essential elements that you will need to acquaint yourself with.

  • Water - A key element found in a Japanese garden is water. Water is usually found in the form of a pond, stream or waterfall. According to Japanese beliefs, the water should flow either east to west to carry away evil and bring good health and a long life or from north to south with north representing water and south representing fire. These opposites, the concept of ying-yang, are considered to be good luck.
  • Rocks and Sand - Another essential feature of a Japanese garden is the use of rocks and sand. Rocks represent the earth with rough rocks being used to symbolize mountains and smooth rocks being used for stepping stones. Sand can represent a beach or a flowing river.
  • Plants - Each plant in a Japanese garden is selected for a specific purpose. Trees are arranged to showcase their spring flowers or the color of their fall foliage. They are also pruned to be sure they don’t block other views of the garden. Moss is used to imply that the garden is very old and flowers are chosen based upon their blooming season. For example, Azaleas are a popular choice for Japanese garden design for their spring blooms. Other common plants that are found in Japanese garden design include Camellias, Cherry trees, Maple trees, Pine trees, shrubs, and bamboo.
  • Garden Architecture - Along with these natural elements garden architecture also plays a significant role in a Japanese garden. Bridges symbolize the pathway to paradise and immortality while stone lanterns and water basins serve more utilitarian purposes such as lighting paths or collecting drinking water. Fences are used as barriers for privacy purposes and gates symbolize family solidarity and can be compared to a front door.

Due to their growing popularity, many cities have Japanese gardens that you can visit and enjoy or if you are adventurous, maybe you’ll design your own!

Photos Courtesy of Jill Mazur

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