Japanese gardens are picturesque, ordered spaces that capture the beauty of wild nature in miniature form. Elements including moss, rocks and water are used harmoniously to inspire peace and serenity, embodying the theories of Japanese Buddhist and Shinto philosophy.
There are three central principles behind Japanese gardens: reduced scale, symbolisation and borrowed view. Large boulders carefully placed on a bed of gravel, for example, capture the significance of a vast mountain range in miniature form. Choose craggy, characterful stones of different sizes, then strategically place them in a dedicated space, where a ground-level view gives the illusion of mountains or cliffs soaring above the land. The surrounding gravel can then be raked into concentric circles rippling outwards from the stones to give the impression of a river or stream. Spend time contemplating your garden at sunrise or sunset, when shadows will present each pattern in high relief.
Lush moss is an atmospheric addition to any Japanese garden. It may be used as a soft carpet in place of grass, or around stone bridges, sculptures and lanterns to create the illusion of ancient ruins slowly being reclaimed by the natural world. Moss is resilient and takes very little effort to maintain, though it flourishes best in densely shaded, humid areas. This versatile plant even cleanses the air around it by absorbing pollutants like nitrates and ammonia, making it an ideal choice for a city garden.
As Japan is a country of islands, water is a prevalent feature of its larger gardens. Streams, scaled-down waterfalls and ponds teeming with colourful Koi carp create a relaxing natural soundscape, perfect for meditation. Wooden or stone bridges can be installed to allow free movement across the water features, varying in complexity from flat rocks laid across brooks, to carved wooden footbridges leading onto an island in the centre of a pond. They also represent the metaphorical bridge between the spiritual and physical worlds and, in Buddhist temple gardens, are known as tsūtenkyō, literally meaning ‘pathway to heaven bridge’. If you have a small space but love the idea of running water, consider a shishi-odoshi. In this traditional fountain, water flows down into a bamboo tube balanced on an axis, which will overbalance and tip down to discard the water. The crashing noise this makes also serves to frighten away birds who may disrupt the garden.
Your choice of plants should align with your overall aesthetic. If you’ve chosen a central water feature, for example, you might select floating pink-tinged lotuses, a symbol of Buddhism, or line the banks of the water with cheerful purple irises. Other plants that will instantly evoke Japanese iconography include the famous blossom of cherry trees, the fiery red leaves of the Japanese maple, and the cascading blooms of wisteria. Bamboo can create neat, striking borders but beware; without regular attention it can spread easily and is notoriously difficult to remove. Plan out your garden design in its entirety before planting.
If you’re looking for a new property with a garden that you can reinvent, contact Engel & Völkers. Our friendly agents are based all over the world, so whether you’re hoping to buy at home or abroad, we’re always here to help.