Elements of Japanese Garden design, how to make your garden more zen

Japanese garden with pond and shrine

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A Japanese garden is an oasis of peace and tranquillity, where the sounds of busy life are replaced by a gentle trickling of water. It’s a place to escape into yourself and ponder life.

The beauty of the Japanese garden has been admired for centuries because it takes such care with every detail- from the placement of the stones in the gravel garden, to how trees frame your view as you walk through.

Designed to mimic nature with sporadic variety and an ebb and flow to the design, many find them to be spiritual places.

But what makes this style so special? What separates it from other forms of landscape design? And why should you make an effort to incorporate these elements into your own back garden?

Let’s take a closer look at how Japanese gardens are designed.


Japanese garden waterfalls

Water is one of the most important elements of a Japanese garden. Japanese garden designers often use reflection ponds that mirror the sky in order to give the visitor an experience of infinity.

Water can be used to create gentle sounds which break up the quiet.

Water is used to create soothing, natural sounds and views that are often missing from urban life. It’s one of the reasons why people love Japanese gardens so much: it gives them a chance to slow down and appreciate every little thing around them.

Stone streambeds

Japanese garden stone streambed

Japanese gardens often have stone streambeds, which add dimension and interest to the design. They also give visitors a break from walking on flat surfaces and provide a place to sit and enjoy the scenery.


Japanese garden fish

Fish are often used in traditional Japanese-style ponds as a symbol for good luck or happiness. You can find this in many gardens, both modern and traditional styled , and these aren’t always real fish they can also be colourful ceramic sculptures.


Japanese garden design spacious layout

Japanese gardens are often designed with areas of spaciousness and areas of closeness. They’re created not just for sitting in, but to explore by walking around, perhaps stopping to gaze into the water or admire the flowers on each side of the path.

To create a spacious feel you should have some areas where most elements are low or ground level. This could include things like raked gravel, a stone stream or even small stepping stones

You should also have some areas that are higher than the rest where you can sit or stand and look out over the rest of your garden. In Japanese tradition it’s best to make these areas fairly close together so they all offer different views yet still feel like part of one big plan, as you would in a forest or the country side.


Japanese garden design secluded bridge

A Japanese garden is a place to escape from the worries of everyday life. It should some secluded and hidden areas, as though it’s hidden away from all the hustle and bustle of the world beyond its gates.

These can be very small spaces amongst trees or in corners. These secluded spaces can be fantastic for meditation and quiet contemplation.


Japanese garden design artificially stacked stones

Japanese gardens also incorporate elements that evoke feelings of grandeur, such as old-fashioned bridges with stone railings and lanterns that hang over the entrance path.

The neatly shaped trees classic to Japanese gardens are a sign of order and our integration with nature.

Add ornaments and other features in natural places around the garden to give it a timeless feeling.


Japanese garden design antique shrine in secluded spot

Japanese gardens are intended to be historical in appearance as well as peaceful.

They frequently include elements like shrines or temples to achieve this effect. Aged materials can also be used to achieve a sense of antiquity, such as raked pieces of gravel or stones that have been smoothed over the years.

These elements are often placed in the background to give visitors a feeling of mystery.


Japanese garden design small area of bamboo

Most famously, they feature an abundance of bamboo, which is technically a poisonous plant. Bamboo symbolizes long life, as well as wealth and prosperity.

Small bamboo forests are great for keeping away mosquitoes or other biting insects, and bringing home the idea of tranquillity.


Japanese garden design gravel raking area

Japanese garden designers use raked pieces of gravel to achieve a feeling of antiquity and order.

You should include some shaped areas of 6mm gravel which can be raked into lines and patterns to create something truly special in your garden.

Gravel areas are best used to frame other features such as a pond or stone sculpture.


The Japanese have a history of creating gardens around their houses for centuries. These gardens were used for meditation and spiritual reflection, an escape from the worries of city life.

In time these things became increasingly important in their culture- with the art becoming known as “Zen” which literally translates to mean “meditation.”

Japanese gardens are meant to be designed with a sense of tranquillity in mind.

To achieve this, garden designers use water features like ponds and streambeds that incorporate both natural and artificial elements.

A Japanese garden is also spacious; it has areas for sitting as well as walking around or exploring the scenery.

It’s important to include secluded spaces where visitors can meditate on their thoughts away from distractions so they feel at peace when spending time outside in the garden.

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