Japanese gardens are renowned for their harmonious, playful blend of nature, spirituality, and artistry. They are designed to evoke tranquility, balance, and a deep connection to the natural world often in very small spaces. Although Japanese gardens are considered a
complex art form and therefore closely tied to the culture and environment of Japan, there are aesthetic elements that can be embraced to create a Japanese-style garden in the UK. Garden design in Japan is considered an art form, and components are placed to mimic how
artists will arrange scenery in a landscape painting. Therefore, a garden is viewed as a miniature landscape within a confined space, such as a small garden or a balcony. This means that objects such as rocks can represent mountains, and flowing water can represent oceans and rivers.
“One can learn the strength and firmness of mountain from a single stone.”
Japan is also where the art of bonsai originated, the creation of smaller versions of plants and trees so they can fit into smaller spaces, yet reference great trees and forests. With many people having smaller gardens these days, or gardens with views from large bi-fold doors, there is a great opportunity to use the Japanese principles of the importance of empty space, enigma and ambiguous shapes to create mystery and endless fascination.
Key Elements and Symbolism:
Japanese gardens are rich in symbolism, with each element carefully chosen to create a harmonious atmosphere. Rocks, trees, ponds, and running water are all key elements in a Japanese garden, and all carry their own meanings. For example, water represents purity and renewal. Trees and plants are selected purposefully, to hide unwanted sights, provide a background, and add depth to the scene- and importantly to create ambiguous shapes where our imagination can interact with the space. Japanese gardens are designed to capture the ideal forms of natural elements, offering safe and secure spaces for contemplation and tranquility. For example, winding and uneven
pathways encourage a slower pace, allowing visitors to slow down and become fully immersed in the landscape. Asymmetry is also an important part of Japanese garden design. It reflects the philosophy that nature is never truly symmetrical. The gardens also avoid man-made components, to exemplify natural beauty. Unlike a lot of UK contemporary gardens, they don’t have straight lines that push you from A to B- often they re design to slow you down. I remember one garden where the gap in the hedge was so low one had to stoop to go through- this was purposely designed so that people was bow to nature and remember their dependence on it!
These principles can be especially relevant for the UK as we can create miniature garden views from windows, or even inaccessible spaces in our gardens which create the ‘ unenterable space”, hiding nature to bring out its revelatory potential.
Creating a Japanese-Style Garden:
While creating an authentic Japanese garden outside of Japan is a challenge due to the complex cultural and spiritual meanings embedded in the design, there are aspects that can be adapted to UK gardens. The fusion of Japanese and Western aesthetics allows garden enthusiasts in the UK to capture the essence of Japanese gardens while respecting their origins.
Here are some elements that you can incorporate to make your garden more Japanese-style:
– Stone lanterns. These are a key feature in Japanese gardens, they can be lit to create a tranquil and calming environment. But we can make this contemporary with rustic corten steel bowls
– Running water. As explained before, running water represents purity and oceans or rivers in a larger picture. They are very peaceful and are a great opportunity to host aquatic plants and wildlife.
– Bamboo fencing. Bamboo has been used for centuries in Japanese gardens and is fast-growing, tough, and durable.
– Bonsai trees. These first appeared in Japan around 1200 years ago and are a great, traditional addition to any Japanese-style garden. We have conifers, dwarf crab apples and weeping birches in the UK, all of which crate illusions of grace and grandeur.
– Stones and rocks. Whether you choose your stones to be stepping stones, or to represent mountains, they are a great addition to a garden to bring a sense of tranquility.
– Pathways. As said before, uneven and winding pathways can cause you to slow down and appreciate the nature around you. Pathways are a great way to not only bring a Japanese style to your garden but also to make a calmer and more interactive space.
– Plant Japanese-style plants. Such as Japanese maples, bamboo, moss, and flowering cherry and azaleas. Or we can chose European and native plants and make the Japanese Garden truly our own.
By embracing the principles of simplicity, balance, and natural harmony, you can create a space that evokes a sense of peace and contemplation. Adding Japanese elements to your garden can create sanctuaries of serenity, providing a great escape to the hustle and bustle of modern life. The main principle is: can I create a garden that evokes great natural landscapes as well as making me stop and contemplate the smallest of creatures, or the delicate veins in a leaf.
February to-do List
Do a last tidy up and cut old perennials and ornamental grasses to ground level (as long as they are not the evergreen ornamental grasses!)
Now is the time to finish pruning your Roses and Wysterias
This month start to prune to the ground your deciduous ornamental grasses
Hardy shrubs like Cornus, Sambucus, Salix and Cotinus can be cut right back as well as Buddleia.
Anything that has flowered during the winter can be pruned back into shape now like Winter Jasmine and Mahonia.
After your Snowdrops have flowered you can lift them out of the ground and separate them and then replant them in different areas of the garden.
If you have a greenhouse you can start sowing leeks and onions plus a whole host of other seeds, some of which you can start off indoors.
If you build raised beds now, buy the time you have bought your soil and mixed it with any compost you have it will be ready for Spring.
What to do this February:
February is a great time to explore woodland. The bare bones of the earth are at rest and the quality of the forest is still and waiting for Spring with some small delights emerging. Also the evergreens like Ivy, Yew and Holly come into their own.
Try visiting Angmering Park Estate Trust, Burton and Chingford Pond, Petworth House Woods, Slindon and The Warrens.