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Japanese garden: how to create it

Today's Japanese garden is the result of a long tradition and development. Concentrating on the essentials and integrating the garden into its surroundings play an important role. Here you can find out what the teaching of Zen has to do with it and what other rules you should follow when investing.

Japanese garden: how to create it
Japanese garden: how to create it

What makes a Japanese garden?

A Japanese garden combines aesthetics, the art of cutting and patience. The aim is to create a harmonious and self-contained landscape in mostly the smallest of spaces. So you should concentrate on the essentials in the design, but at the same time set stylish accents that harmonize with each other.

The history of Japanese gardens

Japanese gardens are inextricably linked with the teaching of Zen. Influenced by Daoism, the Buddhist teaching of meditation has its origins in China and reached Japan in the 12th century. There, Chinese Zen Buddhism soon took center stage and gave rise to a new religiosity that also flowed into the garden design: the beauty of the simple and the simple beauty were declared to be ideal, so that the Japanese garden became a place of retreat and relaxation .

Zen or meditation gardens

The Buddhist teaching of Zen aims at enlightenment through meditation and the liberation from fears and desires. By detaching from worldly goods and ties, a liberation, a not-being-self should arise. These ideals also influenced Japanese garden design: Since Zen is looking for hidden, inner and higher-level truths beyond matter, you will usually come across simple and barren sand or gravel areas in the Zen garden.

You are probably familiar with mini meditation gardens or mini zen gardens, in which certain patterns are drawn with a rake. The order and discipline in it immediately captivates the viewer and lets him calm down. Even in their larger counterparts, only a few, neatly trimmed trees or bushes can be found. There are also rock formations that take on completely new meanings through the smallest changes in their arrangement. The garden should be perceived as limitless and the viewer should feel the big in the small.

Although meditation gardens are not intended for meditation or entry, they serve as a spiritual land dedicated to concentration, calm and reflection.

Create a Japanese garden

Basically, you should integrate a Japanese garden into the respective landscape so that it can accommodate or reinforce it. It doesn't matter whether there are high-rise buildings or mountains on the horizon. A successful Japanese garden integrates everything.

Lay out the garden in such a way that nature and culture coincide, complement and inspire each other. It is neither necessary nor desirable to copy existing Japanese gardens. You can lean on old masterpieces, but you should always use your own creativity. You can also create beautiful Japanese gardens with the native flora.

Important elements in the Japanese garden: stones

The sand and rock gardens of Zen are special forms of the Japanese garden and are also called "kare-san-sui", which means "dry mountain water gardens". Pebbles and sand symbolize water, rivers and seas. The importance of the stones was subject to constant change. Very early on, they were regarded as the dwelling places of the gods, then as nodes of the chi energy and finally only as decorative objects since the late Middle Ages. Nevertheless, there is always a certain message associated with the arrangement of the stones - a complex topic that requires both time, experience and intuition. For the beginner, it is advisable to give structure to your own Japanese garden using the stones. Vary small stones, boulders and boulders to suit your taste.

  • Imitate nature
    Avoid geometric figures and orientate yourself on the natural shape: large, angular or eroded stones symbolize mountains, small, round and smooth stones imitate bodies of water. The aim of your Japanese garden should be to recreate a miniature landscape. You should therefore generally avoid proportions that are too different.
  • Paths and lines made of stones
    Another important element of Japanese gardens are stepping stones, which are often laid out particularly uneven and difficult to walk on. The aim is to concentrate on the path and on yourself. Garden paths with a practical use should, however, be laid out normally or like rivers. On the gravel surface of the Zen garden, the curved lines symbolize streams or bodies of water. Make sure that the lines merge and that no beginning or end can be seen. In addition, the stones should be placed first and only then can the line patterns be drawn.
  • Laying example "Sanzon-seki"
    "Sanzon-seki" means "stones of the three saints" and is one of the dynamic and powerful elements of Japanese gardens. Three vertical stones are used, of which the middle one should be the largest. The arrangement of the stones runs from northeast to southwest and, according to old belief, is supposed to keep evil spirits away from the house.

Water should not be missing in the Japanese garden

Water belongs in every Japanese garden. It does not matter whether you create ponds, waterfalls or dry water from pebbles. Waterfalls are the central element. With their dominance and dynamism, they cast a spell on every visitor.

  • Create with waterfalls
    Waterfalls can be designed in different ways: whether in steps, with one or two streams, falling steeply or more like a canyon - always build them from the bottom up. The color and size of the rocks depends on the environment. It is usually worth choosing stones from the region, as they best match the native flora. If you want to incorporate this powerful element into your Japanese garden, make sure that the harmony is still maintained.
  • Create ponds
    Thanks to their smooth surface, ponds give your Japanese garden a contour and convey a sense of space and depth. The pond serves as a benchmark and reference size for the rest of the garden. Ideally, the watering point should be in the middle of a small river that flows through the garden in order to guarantee the removal of nutrients. You should seal the excavated pit with clay and gravel or use known pond liners. Since heavy stones are used, ask your specialist dealer about the resistance of the tarpaulin used. If you don't have a natural stream on your property, you can think of closed water cycles with pump systems.

Planting a Japanese garden

The planting of Japanese gardens went through a similar change as the meaning of the stones: from symbol to pure aesthetics. Plants are omnipresent in the lives of the Japanese and shape everyday life and language to this day. In the simple Zen gardens, few, but perfectly placed and arranged plants are used. In other Japanese gardens, trees such as pine, maple, plum and cherry trees, as well as azaleas, camellias and bamboo, are in demand.

Many plants have retained a deeper level of meaning to this day. For example, the pine stands for longevity, while the cherry tree represents transience. As a gardener, you should find out beforehand which Japanese plants grow in our country - unfortunately most of them do not find perfect conditions in this country. But there are alternatives: For small Japanese topiary trees, for example, hedge myrtle or Japanese pods are available as substitutes.

Typical decorative elements of a Japanese garden

Like most other garden styles, the Japanese garden cannot do without atmospheric decorations that emphasize the special features of the style. It is almost unthinkable without the following elements:

  • Stone lanterns
    A popular and well-known motif in Japanese gardens are the stone lanterns. Originally, the lanterns stood in front of temples or cemeteries and were used to worship ancestors or to point the way to the nearest tea house. The rather subdued light creates a mysterious atmosphere. Over time, different versions were created, such as pagoda or shaft lanterns.
  • Pagodas
    The typical shape of Japanese pagodas is also available in this country. Manufacturers of garden sheds, for example, offer a number of variants: from covered seating to closed pavilions, every individual wish can be realized - including the obligatory decorations.
  • bridges
    If you have a lot of space and maybe even a watercourse on your property, you could consider building a bridge. A decorative gain that is also spiritually charged: The bridges are considered to be a connection between worlds, for example that of the gods and humans. They also symbolize the ascent to a higher level of consciousness.

Small alternatives for Japanese gardens

Contemplative Zen gardens can be made as small as you want, which is a nice option for people in the city. Many owners rave about the balancing effect of creating the most harmonious composition possible and always raking new, creative patterns into the white background. If the Zen garden is still too big for you, space-limited Japan offers related small solutions. One possibility would be the so-called Tsubo Gardens. These are very small and enclosed garden courtyards. Usually there is only the bare essentials: stepping stones, a water trough and an evergreen plant. Further reductions are quasi the bonsai tree or the already mentioned mini zen garden - ideal for the office desk.