Small spaces can sometimes be difficult to create a garden theme or style.
Japanese gardens are well suited to confined spaces, but are also ideal for large gardens.
To understand the basis of a Japanese garden, one must aim to reflect the reverence of nature. This means the key elements are simplicity and the use of natural materials.
For this reason Japanese garden style gardens are well suited to the busy hectic life of modern day as it can provide a place for escape and meditation.
Large gardens tend to have a strategically placed ‘viewing platform’ from which the vantage point overlooks a water pond, or a focal point like a stone spirit house. This may be a specialised constructed ‘temple’ or may be as simple as a garden seat.
Small courtyards and narrow sides of the garden are ideal areas to create small Japanese gardens. Even modern homes with windows that look out into garden bays are ideal. By adopting some the concepts, one can create a symbolic garden of natural beauty.
As an initial step, defining the space may involve attaching a bamboo screen fencing to a side fence. Incorporation of a water feature, some Japanese inspired plants, stones and a spirit house may be sufficient. Care however is needed to maximise space design remembering that simplicity is a key element.
As natural materials are one of the key elements to the design it is important to maintain integrity. Although more expensive solid stone spirit houses should be used, however avoid concrete figurines.
If the garden is large enough, include a timber seat or walkway... this brings in elements of nature into the design.
Water should be present either as a pond with fish and aquatic plants, or as a stone bowl filled with water. This latter feature both invites visitors and birdlife to the garden.
Traditional to many Japanese gardens is the use of bamboo structures with water. By adding a pump one can make the water feature more of a focal point. Alternatively the water can be circulated through a rock crevice to splash into a pond beneath. The effect of moving water is important in creating sound and activity to the garden.
Alternatively a large garden’s water feature should reflect natural water courses.
Remembering the key elements mentioned above, all water features need to be designed to represent simplicity of nature.
Stones are best incorporated directly into pathways. As the concrete is being laid, ask the landscape contractor to have large smoothed stones added into the top surface of the concrete. When this is all finished the stones will provide a textured pathway that will be relaxing to walk on barefoot, plus will add texture and interest to the garden.
The dry Japanese garden style is a unique feature in itself and will be discussed in a lter article.
Great plants for a Japanese Garden
Japanese gardens emphasise garden structure and plant form as more important than flowers and mass borders of colour. In fact there is a principle of ‘less is more’
Individual trees or shrubs pruned can therefore become the dominant features of a garden.
Himilayan magnolia (Michelia champaca)
Bamboos (see below)
Japanese maples (Acer palmatum ... best effects are created in cooler areas of Australia)
Conifers (care is needed in selection for local climate)
Sacred Bamboo (Nandina domestica)
Good Clumping Bamboos
Timor Black (Bambusa lako)
Slender Weavers’ Bamboo (Bambusa textiles var. ‘Gracilis’)
Buddha’s Belly (Bambusa ventricosa)
Himalayan Weeping Bamboo (Drepanostachyum falcatum)
Murray Island Bamboo (Schizostachyum sp. ‘Murray Island’)
Article by Paul Plant, Horticulturist and freelance writer