Planning a Japanese-style Garden

Planning a Japanese-style Garden

For many people garden maintenance can be a bit of a nightmare.

In summer there is grass cutting and mowing, which needs to be done each week.

Weeding is never-ending, and then if you want to grow flowering annual plants, roses or flowering shrubs for colour, planting out, trimming back and pruning adds to the time you need to spend working in the garden rather than enjoying it.

Quite a few people today are thinking about a garden that is lower maintenance and doesn’t include so much grass.

Not only does that reduce time spent mowing, it can make the garden more tolerable to people with bad hay fever due to grass pollen allergies.

Elements of a Japanese garden

You can find out more about the philosophy behind a Japanese garden by reading some books written by experts or by looking at websites that detail large Japanese gardens, like the ones at Kew.  You could also gain inspiration by going to see gardens all around the country.

You can do your own thing to create the style of a Japanese garden by including key features:

  • Areas of the garden that are prepared, weeded, and then have good-looking pebbles or stone chippings put over a weed-reducing membrane.
  • Some sort of water feature, ideally with running water.
  • Interesting architectural plants in pots – these can feature an oriental design for greater effect.
  • A pagoda and seating in dark wood in a Japanese style.
  • Planting that includes maples, acers and evergreen shrubs and trees.
  • Small trees that can be trained to a standard shape and that produce blossom in spring.

Preparing your garden

You may decide that you want the hard landscaping and preparation for the garden to be done by professionals to save you time and back-breaking work.

Garden maintenance companies often have garden design experience and can advise you about what may be difficult to achieve, and contribute some ideas to your own plans.

Preparation is a key phase in any garden design, but achieving the formal but relaxed feel of a Japanese garden needs all messy areas of weeds, rubbing and old and tired plants and shrubs to be dealt with effectively.

You may want to keep some of the plants you have as features of the new garden, but these need to be tidied and trimmed and given a feed as necessary.

Planting a Japanese garden

One of the downsides to a Japanese garden is that plants such as maples and acers are trained for years, sometimes decades to be the perfect shape. It is possible to buy mature plants, but these can be very expensive.

If you are working to a budget, choose your plants carefully to give the feel of a Japanese garden and include two or three feature plants.

Conifers are good when grown in pots as this allows you to keep them small and some types respond well to regular pruning and cutting back.

Stones are an important backdrop to the feature plants and most garden centres now provide stone chippings in different colours and styles.

Plain grey works well, but you may want small areas of different sizes to add texture to the garden.

Garden ornaments can also work well, but the overall effect of the garden needs to be peaceful and relaxing, so these have to be chosen well.

Maintaining your Japanese garden

Once the hard work is done, whether by you or your garden maintenance company, you can then enjoy your new outside space.

Japanese-style gardens look better when they are very tidy, so keep debris, leaves and weeds down regularly.

Because there is no grass mowing to do, and the only weeds are ones that will seed in the gravel, this should be quite a minor job each week.

If you can incorporate a summer house or other structure, you can enjoy the peace of the garden all year round. Japanese gardens in the rain can be quite magical.

Image – Japanese Garden at Clingendael Estate, The Hague

Attribution – Goodness Shamrock (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

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