How To Make Your Own Japanese Water Garden

Japanese gardens maintain respect for nature and an appreciation for everyday objects.

The fundamental purpose of any Japanese garden is to create harmony and balance in order to produce a calming effect. Japanese water gardens are based on natural renderings of nature. They are intended to express spiritual values and philosophies of Japanese principles by integrating essential elements. These customary elements include stones, water, plants, bridges, and ornaments. Each one of these particular elements is placed in the garden for a reason and each has a specific meaning.

Stones are used to symbolize mountains and islands. They express the human emotions of strength and endurance. The stones are generally the first element with which you will place in your garden. Most are positioned in odd numbers (3, 5, 7, etc.) and are grouped together in a triangular arrangement. You will want to use at least two similar rocks along with other smaller sized stones in your assemblage. How the stones are portrayed in your garden is entirely up to you. They can be used as sculptures or given a function such as stepping stones for paths and walkways. Pathways are typically designed to guide others through the garden and are symbolic of a person's journey through life. Most are made up of either groupings of stones, gravel, or sand. These can be set in raked gravels or a mossy surrounding. Stones will give your garden a lasting quality.

Water plays a significant part and is actually going to be the heart of your garden. It entices the feeling of serenity and symbolizes purity. The water source should appear as part of the natural setting. For instance, ponds should have a natural shape, waterfalls should depict those seen in nature (not fountains), and even streams should twist and turn in a natural way. Water symbols can either be actual water or gravel representations. Dry ponds are every bit as important as the actual features with which they resemble. You can tightly pack flat river rocks together for a rushing stream or use raked gravel or sand to represent water. Water basins may be placed throughout the garden or you might simply wish to invoke a piece of hollow bamboo from which water can drip into a basin or pond below. The use of Japanese koi (fish) makes an attractive decorative element in an actual pond as well.



Plants are another element of a Japanese garden. Nearly any type of plant can be used as long as it agrees with the basic design of your garden. However, you should be aware of their growing conditions beforehand. Typically, plants are chosen for their short bloom time and how they appear throughout the year. You will, of course, want to remove any out of place plants and restrict your color palette. Minimal color and soft leaf tones are preferred. A single floral effect at a time usually works best with at least three times the foliage to balance it out. The key element in your Japanese garden is going to be emptiness. There is no need to fill up every space or to see everything at once. Flowers in a Japanese garden are used sparingly and are associated with their place in the calendar. A true Japanese garden should display the passing of al the seasons. For example, spring should be full of vivid greens, developing buds, and blossoms of such flora as crab apples and azaleas. Summer holds contrasts of abundant foliage, and plants such as Japanese iris or cattails. Fall maintains the beauty of bush clover, chrysanthemums, and brilliantly colored leaves of trees and shrubs. During winter the interest is focused on snow-piled creeping juniper and tree branches as well as intriguing shadow displays of various trees. It is generally recommended that only native plants be used in a Japanese garden. Some of the more popular varieties not mentioned include asters, morning glories, dahlias, camellias, bellflower, ferns, hosta, rhododendrons, and hydrangeas. Trees placed into your Japanese garden might include pine, conifers, bamboo, cherry, and maple. Most plants in a Japanese garden are skillfully pruned. The shape of the plant is important in maintaining a clean garden. The Japanese art of dwarfing trees and shrubs, known as bonsai, is commonly used to create replicas of their matured counterparts in nature. This does not mean, however, that you should practice this art in your own garden unless you fully understand how it is done. Generally, you should prune your shrubs every few weeks while trees can be pruned around three times yearly.

Bridges symbolize a journey. They represent the movement from one world into another and are a common Japanese theme. A cedar bridge can make an exceptional accent either crossing a small stream or a gravel river. Bridges can also be placed as a path through a deep bed of plants.

Ornaments should be passive in your garden. These can include the use of lanterns, basins, statues, or religious artifacts. Generally, ornaments are used for architectural emphasis and only when the point of interest is necessary to the overall design of your garden. The less formal the design, the less formal the placement of ornaments. A Japanese garden is a place of subtleness. Lanterns are the most common ornaments and should be located where a path turns or near an entrance or gate. Another element to include in your garden is some type of enclosure. The purpose for this is to remove any outside distractions. Reed fencing or hedge type plants can be used to achieve this effect and provide a harmonious background.

The formality of your garden may fall into one of three styles: formal, intermediate, or informal. The intermediate style is normally more appropriate for use in residential areas. There are basically five types of Japanese garden to choose from. A Flat garden consists of sand that is raked in a circular shape to symbolize happiness. Rocks are usually set up in a creative manner in a mix of evergreen plantings, moss, flowering plants, and grass. Natural gardens are similar to the Flat gardens but may include wildlife, waterfalls, and/or ponds. Sand and Stone gardens are generally rectangular in shape with white sand that is carefully raked and is enclosed by a wall of some sort. Stones are arranged in clusters of twos, threes, and fives. These gardens give off a sense of emptiness and space. Strolling gardens provide views from different angles and various elements are used with numerous symbolism. Tea gardens can have both inner and outer sections. The inner space is a more private area surrounding the Tea House. The outer section is a waiting area for invited guests.

Japanese gardens maintain respect for nature and an appreciation for everyday objects. There is great attention to detail and they can be enjoyed at all times of the year. How you create your own garden and what you wish to symbolize is entirely up to you. However, there are numerous books and resource materials on creating Japanese style gardens that can be helpful in your undertakings.

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