Japanese gardens have developed over centuries out of Asian cultural, traditional and religious beliefs. Their popularity in the western world is largely due to the elements of nature, beauty, and simplicity which contribute to their tranquil atmospheres. With the busy lives we lead today, they are the perfect place in which to relax and retreat from the outside world.

Common plants found in Japanese gardens include magnolia, acers, rhododendrons and azaleas, all of which thrive in the British climate. Rocks and water are both essential design elements for the Japanese garden, while ornaments such as lanterns, bridges and pagodas bring aesthetic value. Remember, Japanese gardens are meant to be viewed as works of art, so make sure you include places where you can stop and admire the scenery, even if this is simply from your kitchen window!

There are three main types of Japanese garden that you can use as inspiration for your own design.

Karesansui garden (rock garden)

Japanese rock garden

Image provided by Pamla J. Eisenberg

Rock gardens came about at the end of the 11th century and were influenced by Zen Buddhism. They can mainly be found in monasteries and temples, and are used by monks as a place for reflection and meditation. The Karesansui garden is typically created from a combination of rock, sand and gravel, with little organic plantation. Gravel and sand are used to represent water and the rocks represent mountains, hills and islands. The raking of the gravel, which represents ripples and waves in the ‘water’ is a process used by Zen monks to improve concentration.

The selection and placement of rocks in a Japanese garden is highly important, as it is considered unlucky for the owner of the garden if they are placed incorrectly. Rock gardens are always intended to be viewed from a single perspective; historically this would be from the front of temples and monasteries. As rock gardens are designed to imitate nature; symmetry and straight lines are not present as they fail to represent a natural look.

Things to remember:
If using large rocks, be sure to dig a hole in the ground first so they look natural rather than ‘placed.’
To avoid ruin by rain and wind, choose gravel over sand as gravel is denser and will be better able to withstand the British climate.
Rock gardens without plants are less time consuming to maintain. Remove any stray weeds which appear in your garden.
Japanese gardens are a work of art and meant to be ‘viewed.’ Make sure your garden has a viewing point, whether this is from your kitchen, lounge or patio.

Tsukiyama garden (stroll garden)

Japanese stroll garden

Stroll and pond gardens focus on the process of ‘borrowed scenery’ – taking the natural landscape and scaling it down to recreate the views of hillsides, rivers and lakes in your own garden. They were created more for their aesthetic value in the gardens of Emperors and Lords. By using elements from nature like water, stone, moss and plants, we can create artificial landscapes. This helps to make the garden look larger than it actually is.

Symbolic features such as paths, bridges, flowing water and lanterns are often present in stroll gardens as they symbolise harmony, renewal, peace and continuity. Visitors to the garden can follow the path around the garden to see every aspect and are able to view the garden from various perspectives.

Things to remember:
Rocks, water and plants are all essential features of a Tsukiyama garden. Ornaments such as pagodas, lanterns and bridges can also be used for additional aesthetic value. These features are thoughtfully arranged in the garden, but are still made to look natural.
Common plants found in Japanese gardens which thrive well in a British climate are acers, magnolias, azaleas, bamboo, moss and ferns. Plant your flowering plant seeds in autumn so they bloom in the spring.

Chaniwa garden (tea garden)

Japanese tea garden

The Chaniwa garden is a place in which the Japanese Tea Ceremony can take place. Symbolic and peaceful, it is a place for guests to leave their thoughts and troubles behind. Guests enter the outer garden and wait for the host to invite them into the inner garden. They then cross the stepping stones to the tea house which symbolises the leaving of the everyday world and entrance into a realm of relaxation, tranquility and serenity.

On entry to the tea house, the visitors purify themselves by washing their hands in a stone basin (Tsukubai). They then enter the tea house itself, where the ceremony of serving tea takes place. Guests are offered green tea (Matcha) and Japanese sweets; the bitter and sweet tastes are complimentary and represent the perfect harmony of yin and yang. It’s important for the host to create a perfect atmosphere for their guests, who can relax and admire the host’s artwork and tea accessories. Relaxation, friendship and beauty are all central elements of the ceremony, and the garden helps to encourage these feelings.

Things to remember:
Opposites complement each other such as the bitter tea and sweets. Use water and stone to reflect these values in your garden.
Use rustic and natural looking materials to reflect the historic and cultural values of Japan, and to encourage the feeling of age. Adding moss to ornaments such as lanterns and stone basins can help you to achieve this look in your garden.
Colour is also an important element of the Chaniwa style. Red, yellow, black and green are all prominent in Japanese gardens.

Japanese gardens to visit in the UK

Below is a list of Japanese gardens you can visit in the UK for inspiration and ideas:

Tatton Park’s Japanese garden

Where? Tatton Park, Knutsford, Cheshire.
Look out for: The Tea House, Shinto Shrine and other artefacts scattered around the garden.

Kew Garden’s Japanese Landscape

Where? Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey
Look out for: The Japanese Gateway and separate bamboo garden.

Compton Acres

Where? Poole Dorset
Look out for: Stepping stones across the water to the Tea House which are covered in Japanese Wisteria.

Pure Land Japanese and Meditation Garden

Where? Pure Land, North Clifton, Nr Newark, Nottinghamshire
Interesting fact: Pure Land is believed to feature one of the world’s first crystal gardens. It features around 20,000 crystals, each of which was placed individually.

National Botanic Garden of Wales

Where? National Botanic Garden of Wales, Llanarthne, Carmarthenshire
Interesting fact: This garden was originally featured at the Chelsea Flower show in 2001 where it won a gold medal and ‘Best of Show’ award.

Irish National Stud Japanese Gardens

Where? Irish National Stud, Tully, Kildare, Ireland
Look out for: The Bridge of Life and the Tea House. 

Want to create your own Japanese garden? We’ve got all you need to get started at Wilko’s, from plant and flower seeds to gravelrocks and ornaments. And the best time to start your Japanese garden is now, coming into the autumn, so that you can get all the landscaping and planting in place, ready for it to flower in the spring!

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