Introduction to Making a Japanese Garden:
The first thing you will need to do in the creation of your Japanese garden is to choose a site. The location you pick is one of the most important aspects of the garden itself because it will determine how much sunlight the garden will get, which affects the type of plants that go into it. It will in many cases determine the size of the garden because you are more than likely working with a space that has defined borders. It will also determine the orientation of the garden.
It's very important to try to visualize your garden completed, as much as possible, before you start digging or committing to a design. The reason is actually a simple one; how will the garden be viewed? Most Japanese gardens are designed to be viewed from a certain vantage point so that all the elements come together for a complete representation. Try to put this into practice yourself when choosing a location for making a Japanese garden.
Choose a Size Before Making a Japanese Garden:
Japanese gardens can be made extremely large and expansive, or quite small and cozy, depending on your ambitions and skill level. There are a lot of different elements that go into a Japanese garden and while you probably shouldn't try to incorporate all of them, I would highly recommend that you take the time to browse a few of our other articles so that you can learn what those elements are and what they traditionally represent within the garden.
Understanding the different elements when making a Japanese garden will help you make a more informed decision on if and when to use them. If your goal is just to create a small garden with hints of Japanese styling, then your task is far easier than if you want to create an authentic Japanese garden in your own backyard. You have to remember the art of Japanese garden design was for centuries a secret that was handed down from Sensai to apprentice, and outsiders were never allowed to learn the techniques. Only in recent times has this changed so this is not something you can expect to master on the first try. It takes years of experience to design a truly stunning Japanese garden.
Elements to Making a Japanese Garden:
As you are trying to decide what elements to use when making a Japanese garden, there are some that are typically found in most gardens of this style and you should probably start there.
Traditionally you find Japanese gardens incorporate a sandy gravel mixture in the planters. You will often find that the gardener will rake the gravel to form ripples in various patterns around the garden. This technique is more than just an aesthetic touch. In Japanese garden design, the sand or gravel will typically be used to represent water be it an ocean, a lake, or even a river. The ripples are intentionally raked into the gravel to simulate the ripples you might see on the water. If you are simulating a river the ripples might be raked to indicate the flow of the water. If you are creating a lake then the ripples would be circular working out from the center.
While this might seem like a painstaking process, which it is, it is also a crucial aspect to the overall Japanese garden design. Whether or not you choose to adopt this particular element in your design is entirely up to you. It's all about the image you want to present to the viewer.
Rock Elements in Making a Japanese Garden:
Large stones and rocks are also found in just about every Japanese garden that you will find. When making a Japanese garden, keep them in mind. The rocks and stones, like everything else in the garden, have their own symbolic meaning. If the sand and gravel is to represent bodies of water, the rocks and stones most certainly will represent mountain ranges and the like. If you look around at pictures of ancient Japanese gardens that were created centuries ago and are still maintained today, you will see very detailed and intricate designs. It is believed the stones and boulders in these designs were intended to represent famous mountains from Japanese mythology.
Obviously everyone doesn't have the ability to bring in massive rocks and boulders to create a representation of ancient Japan, but that doesn't mean you can't create your own version on a much smaller scale. You don't even need to create something that represents a real place. You can easily come up with your own image and build your garden around that. Gardens are a subjective concept anyway, each person that looks at them can and will see something a little different than the last.
Making a Japanese Garden with Pathways:
One last thing to consider before making a Japanese garden are pathways. One key element of this garden style is foot traffic outside of the gardeners themselves is generally not allowed within the garden area. This is especially important if you intend on raking designs into a gravel section as you don't want guests messing up your work.
Give careful thought and planning to where the paths and walkways are going to be. This is a good time to think about how you want the garden to be seen also. As we said in the opening, most Japanese gardens are designed to be viewed from a particular vantage point. You can control the viewers path through the garden by giving them well-defined walkways that offer little to no option of veering off the path to an area you really don't want them.
This is another instance where being able to visualize the garden as a whole comes in handy before you start building. Japanese gardens are works of art, just like any other garden you might build. Taking the time to plan out the design in advance will save you a lot of headaches down the line.
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