Want to create a relaxing spot in your garden but need some inspiration to get going? Find out the 10 must-have elements of a zen Japanese garden.
Zen Japanese Garden
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For quite some time, I have been wanting to do something in the back corner of my yard. It is about the only space I have left that doesn’t have much in the way of a garden, so this would give me an excuse to buy some plants (and make the space look better than it does right now).
I would really like to create a relaxing, zen garden space where I could go to read a book or just watch the birds and butterflies. And to me, nothing feels more zen than a Japanese garden…
Since I don’t know that much about what goes into making a Japanese garden (and I always like to look for inspiration before I start a new project), I went hunting for some ideas that will help me create a little bit of zen in my yard.
Keep reading to see what I found…the 10 elements required for a really peaceful and zen Japanese garden.
1 | Make An Entrance
By Wkatsuhiro (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Japanese gardens are all about creating an element of mystery by not allowing the whole garden to be seen at once.
Japanese inspired garden entrance, via zeterre.com
An entry way with a large (but see-through) gate creates that sense of wanting to see more in this garden created by Zeterre Landscape Architects.
2 | Use Water
Water is a central element of many Japanese gardens (and it definitely helps with the zen feeling!). Fountains made of wood leading into a koi pond with lily pads are one way of adding this element.
Large gardens often have well-manicured landscaping around very large ponds.
Large rocks and waterfalls are also part of the traditional Japanese garden landscaping.
But a basin with a bamboo dipper also works for smaller areas.
3 | Or Create The Illusion of Water
In places where water is not practical (or just not wanted), dry river beds can be made out of sand (or crushed white granite). The sand is often raked to make it look like waves. In this picture, it almost creates the illusion of movement.
This is likely what I’ll do in my garden…with all the trees at the back of my yard, I’d be cleaning leaves and algae out of a real pond all day long!
4 | Add An Island
Japanese garden island, via zen-garden.org
Landscaped islands in the middle of the pond (or sand as the case may be) are another common design element of Japanese gardens. According to the Japanese Garden site, islands figure prominently in Japanese myths, so many people believe they were included in ancient Japanese gardens because of their symbolic meaning.
5 | Build a Bridge
Japanese Garden stone bridge, via Adobe Stock Photos
With all of that water, it makes sense that bridges are also a featured element in Japanese gardens. They are usually made of natural materials like this curved stone bridge crossing a dry river.
Wood plank bridge, via Adobe Stock Photos
A wooden plank bridge is another option that is a little easier to build if you are spanning a wider distance.
6 | Add a Japanese Tea House
The Japanese tea house adds some architecture to the garden, and gives some shelter from the elements. It doesn’t have to be a large space, but should have a beautiful view of the garden.
7 | Install Paths
Japanese garden path, via insidekyoto.com
Winding garden paths help to draw you into the garden, and lead you to the next “room”. Using large stepping stones in a sand or gravel path is a common way of creating walk ways.
Those same large stepping stones can also be used to make stairs to make hills easier to climb.
8 | Plant Evergreens
By Fg2 (Self-published work by Fg2) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Japanese gardens make use of clipped pine trees (like the ones shown above in Nijojo gardens) to add structure and year-round interest.
Evergreens create structure in a Japanese garden, via bhg.com
However, standard evergreens will add the same effect even without all of the effort of clipping them.
Azaleas are another evergreen that is used extensively in Japanese gardens. They are also usually clipped, and they have the added benefit of beautiful spring flowers.
9 | Add Interest With Plants
Japanese Maples are a commonly used plant in Japanese gardens.
They have an interesting shape and delicate leaves that look beautiful in the garden.
Japanese garden irises, via Adobe Stock Photos
For flowering plants, soothing purple and white irises suit the zen feeling of a Japanese garden.
Weeping Japanese cherry tree, via Adobe Stock Photos
And the flowing branches of weeping Japanese cherry trees and Wisteria also fit right in. (Although wisteria is very pretty, it can be quite invasive, so be careful where you plant it).
10 | Install A Stone Lantern
Japanese garden stone lantern, via Adobe Stock Photos
Finally, traditional Japanese stone lanterns can add light to your garden, or just look beautiful.
A stone lantern near the tea house, via Adobe Stock Photos
Just like regular landscape lighting, the stone lanterns are often placed in strategic locations like close to the tea house or in dimly-lit areas of a path.
Japanese garden stone lantern, via Adobe Stock Photos
Now that I have some zen Japanese garden inspiration, I’m off to start planning the version I’ll do in my own garden.