Japanese Gardens II

There are several basic styles of Japanese Gardens and many variations on those styles. If you are planning a Japanese garden base your design on one of the following styles, but don’t be afraid to cross over a little and incorporate aspects of other styles.


Hill and Pond Garden

Here, nature is represented by mounds (artificially created hills) and a pond (representing mountains and ocean). Scale needs to be maintained, so trees and shrubs should be small in a small hill and pond garden, and bigger in a bigger hill and pond garden. Plants are pruned both to maintain scale and to keep a wind swept appearance in the shape of the plants (just as plants in coastal areas are affected by wind).


Dry Landscape

Usually a small space, landscaped in a very simple style to aid meditation, This style is frequently used in the courtyards of Zen Buddhist temples. It often consists on no more than raked gravel and rocks or stones. Planting is minimal (maybe one tree and one ground cover species at the edge). There may be an unusual rock or specimen tree or shrub that serves as a vista or natural focal point The boundary may be the walls of a building, a fence or shrubs; but whatever it is, it will be simple, so as not to interfere with the overall ambience of tranquillity. This type of garden should be observed but not entered, usually from a deck, or perhaps through a window from indoors.

Tea Garden

The core of this garden is a stepping stone path, leading to a Tea house (ie. outdoor pavilion). There should always be a stone lantern beside the path (lit to provide light when the pavilion is used at night); and a stone basin (for rinsing the hands and mouth: symbolically purifying the body before entering the tea house). Plantings are mostly evergreens (eg. Azaleas and rhododendrons) to help create a subdued atmosphere, needed to properly appreciate the tea ceremony.


“Stroll” Garden

This is a more complex and larger garden. It can be created in a normal backyard (quarter acre block); but is more commonly suited to gardens of half an acre to several acres. Traditionally these are large gardens built around a lake or pond by wealthy classes in Japan.

They incorporate a tea garden and include a meandering path around a lake or pond. Sometimes they incorporate crossings to and from islands. The paths are never straight and do not follow the water’s edge even when they are close to the water. In places, farther away from the water the view of the water is often obscured or even blocked completely. The aim is to be continually hiding then revealing features as you move around the path. There should be no place in the garden where it is possible to see everything.


Courtyard Garden

This garden type is popular in modern Japan where space is limited. It aims to reproduce the composition (partially or fully) of a tea garden and/or dry landscape, but in a small courtyard. Compromises are often required in what can be included and how the garden can be put together.



Always include rocks in a Japanese garden. Rocks of all types can be used: big, small, flat, round, smooth, jagged. They can be arranged together to create a stone lantern, a bridge, or stepping stones. They may be carved to form a water basin or sculpture. In Japan, rocks have a special status and require special attention. The Japanese respect rocks, and consider them as natural works of art, to be given serious consideration. It takes a lot of forethought when positioning them in the landscape so that they can be viewed at their best. They must also be in harmony with the rest of the garden.

In Japanese gardens rocks are considered in terms of their aspect, colour, grains, texture and even their force and energy. Only when all these factors have been weighed up, can they be sited in the landscape.

Common ways of using rock in the Japanese landscape include:

  • A rocky waters edge
  • Rocks in a dry river bed
  • A rock as an island
    (in the middle of a lawn, a sheet of ground cover plants or a sand or gravel mulch)
  • Rocks grouped as a “sacred” area/building/structure
    A carefully arranged and located grouping of rocks perceived by the Japanese as a “sacred” place in the garden may only be perceived by westerners as a natural feature or sculpture. In either case it serves as a focal point, or a place where the eyes are drawn to rest.
  • Functional sculptures
    Either cut or uncut rock arranged to serve a purpose (e.g. seat, steps, small pond or bird bath, lantern, etc)



Tori (Traditional Timber arch)
These are often used to introduce different areas of the garden.Traditionally it is considered good luck to walk through a tori gate.

Bamboo Fence
Bamboo is used to construct intricate fences and garden furniture.

Moss Garden
Mosses are used to give a natural effect to stone. They are also grown individually to form mounds resembling rolling hills.

Shishi-odoshi (Deer Scarer)
Water spills over into a pivoted hollow bamboo tube which catches the water. The bamboo then tilts down and the water spills out. The noise is intended to scare animals.

These are often arched in shape and can be painted or natural. They may be constructed from stone slabs or planks.


Learn more about Japanese and other garden types by taking a garden design course with ACS.

Study for pleasure or for career development. With over 170 horticultural courses to choose from, you are sure to find something of interest. For further information or a free course handbook www.acseduonline.com


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