The Essential Elements of an Oriental Garden

bridge over water

Your garden is your own personal respite from the world outside. And oriental gardens are becoming increasingly popular because they are designed to highlight peace and tranquillity. They encourage contemplation, rest, and meditation.

Oriental garden designs focus on equilibrium with nature. You won’t see geometric shapes or plastic products here. Every element of the garden is supposed to symbolise a form of nature. As DoItYourself.com’s gardening advisor Kate Thurber says:

“Both Chinese and Japanese gardens reflect nature. They do so on a small scale; rocks represent mountains or islands, sand or gravel can represent water, and paths represent your journey through life. Symbolism in the garden is an important part of design.”

The flexibility and subtlety of Asian gardens means they work brilliantly in an urban space where you may have less room available for an extravagant garden design. Plus the simplicity of design and minimal planting means your garden can be lower maintenance.

Here are some of the main elements your oriental garden can’t go without:

Water

Water – whether it’s a fountain, pond, waterfall, or even a water bowl – is perhaps the most important feature of your Japanese or Chinese garden.

If you have plenty of space, install a pond and populate it with koi and goldfish. Make the most of any slope in your backyard to create a gentle waterfall.

If you’re limited by size, a water bowl or fountain is a great addition to your backyard; they offer the calming sounds of running water but can be squeezed into any bit of space.

And what if you prefer to economise your water for necessities only? Sand is a perfectly acceptable replacement for water – you can mimic a stream through your garden with a simple sand path.

sand Japanese garden

Stone

Don’t forget that a Japanese or Chinese garden is all about natural elements – so no skimping on the material!

Stone statues are a popular addition to any oriental-styled backyard. They can represent animals, human figures (commonly Buddha or warriors), or mythical creatures (think DRAGONS!). You can use them as a point of interest in your garden, whether they are large or small.

stone oriental garden

If statues aren’t really your thing – or it’s just too hard to come across a natural stone Buddha statue at your local hardware store – you can just incorporate natural stones and pebbles in your garden design. They can outline a plant bed or accentuate a water feature.

Bamboo

An oriental garden without bamboo? Inconceivable!

Bamboo is one of the most important plants in Asia, and since they’re so beautiful (and useful!) there’s no reason not to include them in your oriental garden.

Bamboo is a pretty versatile element in an Asian garden. You can use it as a fence or enclosure to give a sense of safety and exclusivity to your garden.

But you could also use it as a centrepiece: a water wheel, or even a fountain. We love this gorgeous idea below:

bamboo oriental garden

But take care! Some varieties of Asian bamboo can be pests in our natural Aussie environment. Clump-forming species of bamboo are the best, non-invasive option.

Pathways

Pathways are an essential part of your oriental garden, especially if you don’t want to be using your sand stream as a common pedestrian artery!

Your garden path can comprise any variety of natural materials, whether it’s sand (if you have a real water element), pebbles, granite, or a combination of materials.

There’s only one important feature your path must have: it needs to meander. Pathways are a symbolic way to help your mind roam, leaving your worries behind.

Japanese garden path

Teahouse or Pagoda

If you’re going to have a meandering path, why not give it a final destination? With a backyard big enough, you can install a gazebo or pergola hidden in your own oriental jungle, with the path eventually leading to it.

In Japan, pathways traditionally lead to a teahouse with pointed, upturned roofs. Visitors leave their concerns behind on the way to the teahouse, so they can sip their tea in peace.

Since we’re in Australia, it might be difficult to come across a Japanese styled teahouse to build in your own backyard, but a simple pergola or gazebo will do the trick just as easily.

Plants

Finally, any garden would be incomplete without some natural greenery. Asian gardens favour plants that exude a delicious aroma and produce charming blossoms. Magnolia trees, flowering cherry trees, and Japanese maples are all excellent choices (and let’s not forget the bamboo!).

cherry tree

For a full selection of Asian-inspired plants, check out Lifestyle’s oriental flora guide. If you’d prefer to keep it native, this list of Australian native plants may help.

Ready to Renovate?

Are you tempted to refashion your backyard so you’re transported to Asia every time you venture outside? If you’re looking for more ideas on introducing serenity into your backyard, check out our other resources:

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About Alex Kuchel

This is Alex. Alex is the National Brand Manager at Australian Outdoor Living (AOL). By day, she’s a member of AOL’s marketing team. She helps to conjure up ideas on how best to promote Australian Outdoor Living and enjoys working with a pretty awesome team of clever cookies. By night (and weekends), she enjoys the company of her family and friends. She’s a big believer in sun shine and does her best to enjoy it with those she loves most.”