Japanese Gardens 101

Melissa Bjerke

Want to learn more about Japanese Gardens?

Here is a quick overveiw on some of the basic elements and concepts that make them different from any other gardening style......

Japanese Gardens have intrigued people for centuries. Throughout the years they have remained true to their style of simplicity and reverance as the French dominated the landscape with extreme geometric order over vast areas of land around a monstrous palace and while the English developed a lack-a-dazical kind of design with curving walks and a very naturalistic, low maintenance type of landscape.

Japanese Gardens are simple. However, that does not mean that they are easy to understand and construct. A tremendous amount of thought goes into the design, placement of symbolic structures and overall effect of the garden. A Japanese Garden is not just about looking pretty. They bring out the true beauty of nature and are designed in such a manner as to make the observer look around and notice the details. A design concept utilized by the Japanese is incorporating the extended views into their design. The garden views may look on towards mountians in the distance or simply wooded rolling lands. Japanese Gardens embody everything of value such as religion and cultural beliefs. If you get an opportunity to visit a Japanese Garden you will find harmony, order, simplicity, unity, and variety and many other elements within it that arouse the intellect as well as the senses.

There are several elements that are used in Japanese Gardens that have symbolic meanings or create a desired effect and are typically constructed of natural materials. These may be ponds, stones, bridges, lanterns, water basins, fences, and obviously the plant material.

Ponds symbolize the ocean or a lake. Water is found in many Japanese gardens as it is a fundamental element in human existence. They are assymmetrical, as they would be in nature. Sounds of water splashing from a waterfall or the trickling of a stream provides extra sensory interests. Water can also be symbolized by an area of fine sand. This is used in "dry" Japanese Gardens, also known as Zen Gardens.

Bridges, lanterns and fences are all architectural features incorporated beautifully into the landscape. As they are constructed of natural materials, they symbolize an intrinsic connection between architecture and the landscape. Water basins are made of stone and are usually accompanied by a stone lantern. Lanterns provide a dim light that softly luminates the water basin and elements in the garden. Fences have three types. Short fences that extend from the house into the garden, inner fences and outer fences. Materials often used for these fences are bamboo, wood or twigs of bamboo or tree.

Stones are another fundamental element within the Japanese Garden. Some stones are used as stepping stones while others may be just to look at. These often symbolize mountains. Stones are rarely used alone, but are found in groups, with each placed in a very particular position. The orders of these stones usually possess balance and visual interest.

Overall, there are many aspects of a Japanese Garden that are meant to be contemplated and understood before the garden as a whole can be fully appreciated. But as these things are to be understood, the purpose of a garden is to provide the visitor with the resources and opportunity to walk through and learn to appreciate all that nature and life has to enjoy.

"A Japanese Garden is not complete until it is understood."

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