When Dan and I purchased a home in Peachtree City in 2004, we were entranced by the lovely Japanese-inspired Koi pond in our new, back yard that featured a lantern sculpture, stone pathways and Asian plants like Japanese maple, nandina, azaleas and conifers. While I did not know anything about the philosophy of Asian gardens at the time, I realized my backyard pond provided a place of tranquility, reflection and relaxation. I decided to learn more about the design principles that inspired this serene space.
Based on 7th century Shinto, Buddhism and Taoism design aesthetics, an Asian garden creates a sense of simplicity and meditation through symbolism. Gardens are asymmetrical and combine elements of nature– rocks, pebbles, sand, water, and plants. Focal points include stone lanterns, water basins, pagodas, arched bridges, tea houses and arbors.
A dry rock garden symbolizes mountains and rivers. Sand represents the flow of streams and boulders and rocks are used to portray mountains. Pebbles can represent the shoreline or, when placed in the sand, can portray a frog jumping into the water!
A water garden highlights the movement, sound and serenity of water. Japanese garden designers, living in a nation of islands, often utilized water in their gardens to represent their love of the sea.
A moss garden (which needs high humidity, so it works well in Georgia) features monochromatic green – the primary palette in an Asian-inspired garden. Green gardens give a sense of softness and calmness that encourages reflection and relaxation. Colorful blooms are only used sparingly to enhance the green and not distract from it.
If you are interested in creating a soothing, traditional Asian garden, take inspiration from these tips to get you started.
Keep it Simple – To achieve “maximum effect with minimum means” use simple, natural materials like boulders, sand, pebbles and green plants. The boulders provide the structure (“bones”) of the space.
- Keep it Subtle – Evergreens are the primary plants used because monochromatic green gives a sense of peace and serenity. Utilize pines, ferns, moss, bamboo, Japanese aralia (Fatsia japonica) and hardy banana in your design scheme. Japanese maples and conifers will display subtle changes of color over the seasons and add interesting texture and structure to the garden.
- Keep it Secret – Add some mystery, by drawing people into the garden with a winding pathway. A key design element in an Asian garden is to fashion scenes that cannot be viewed all at once. To see the whole vignette, you must continue to travel down a pathway further into the garden. Various focal points will draw you in including lanterns or stone pagodas. There is a sense of anticipation to explore the next turn.
- Keep it Singing – The sound and movement of water is an integral component of this garden style. You can go “big” by designing a pond with islands and a waterfall, or just add a simple water basin. Koi fish add an additional splash of sparkle, color and movement. An arched bridge is a charming addition over a stream or dry creek bed. Build a pavilion, tea house or pagoda to give family and friends a place to rest, reflect and relax.
- Keep it Serene – Design a raked sand and pebble garden for contemplation. The sand represents the sea, the raking represents the waves and rocks and pebbles represent the shoreline. Learn the steps and patterns to raking a dry, Zen garden and you can calm your mind, slow your breathing and rake away any anxiety or worry! Find raking techniques