How to Turn Your Backyard into a Japanese Style Garden

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Japan is a dream destination infused with rich culture and tradition, dating back centuries. With its interesting blend of ancient traditions and Western modernity, the mystical country offers a perfect backyard design idea to create a Japanese experience. So why not Bring Japan home for the holidays by giving your backyard a Zen Garden makeover.

One of the most important elements of Japanese art is a traditional Japanese Garden. Each type of traditional Japanese Garden has its own style of beauty but there are consistent elements across each. Symbolic elements include water, rocks, trees and flowers. Bridges and fences, stone lanterns and water basins create a serene place for reflection and meditation.

Nowadays, Japanese Garden designs are gradually being adapted to the needs of modern society and have a significant influence on gardens in other countries within Asia, as well as around the world.

Discover how you can bring this exotic yet tranquil garden style into your backyard.

General aesthetics

Originating from Buddhist, Shinto, and Taoist philosophies, Japanese Gardens are pieces of art and represent Zen and relaxation. Zen Gardens were deeply rooted in the Japanese culture for thousands of centuries – a place created for Buddhist monks to meditate on the Buddha’s teachings. Today, Zen Gardens serve a purpose for meditation, taking you on a road of self-discovery and placing you a state of tranquility.

Japanese Zen Garden

Due to its simplicity, this style of garden can be replicated in your own backyard and offers a profound way to better connect with nature. Japanese Gardens are not traditionally symmetrical in design, so your outdoor living space should therefore flow and feel less structured and ‘zoned’. Blending natural elements throughout your landscape will help create a calm, tranquil atmosphere in your outdoor space.

Material selection

To capture the feeling of a traditional Japanese Garden, it’s important to incorporate natural materials. In Japanese Garden designs, materials such as sand, gravel and stone are used to portray the natural scenery, while also represents water, clouds, and purity in the Japanese culture. In today’s gardens, large rocks are used as decorative accents to represent mountains and hills. Smaller rocks and gravel are used to outline ponds and streams.

Materials for Japanese Gardens

Wood is another key material to add a touch of warmth and contrast. Garden structures like wooden benches, fences and arbors are ways to effectively utilise wood material. Dark timber decking in shade Merbau paired with a timber pergola are great inclusions to your outdoor space. Or opt for a grey shade timber to tie in with the natural tones. If you have large a backyard, you can also build an exotic zig zag bridge, following on from a traditional Japanese themed garden.

Timber decking

Bamboo is another ornamental element you can incorporate in your outdoor space. Simple additions such as a decorative fence or a privacy screen are easy ways to utilise this material. Line your fence with bamboo plants to create a stunning green wall; these dense, bushy plants are fast growing and will look impressive with little maintenance.

Colour choices

Colours that reflect nature are key as a base for your Japanese-inspired outdoor living space. If you’ve ever walked through a Japanese Garden, you may have noticed soothing shades like greys, browns and greens are the primary palette.

Japanese particularly value green for its tranquillity, more so than colourful tones as unlike green, they can be seasonal. Evergreens won’t lose their colour throughout the year, keeping your garden looking lush and inviting all year round. However, subtle colours from flowers and trees can be added sparingly for textural contrast, as long as the colours don’t overpower the natural tones or disrupt the flow of your landscape.

Key pieces

To achieve a complete look for your Zen Garden, there are key pieces that you need to consider:

Water

Water is a central element, symbolising renewal and purity. Water features such as a koi pond with lily pads is a popular and consistent element of this style. For a more sophisticated oriental design, you can opt for a Tsukubai water fountain that features a bamboo spout where water pours through into a carved stone basin nestled amongst other rocks.

Koi pond

Adding any type of water feature will bring a sense of peacefulness and natural elegance to your Japanese Garden. Plus, the sound of the trickling water will also help you relax while you meditate or reflect.

Rocks or stones

Rocks and stone additions are essential for creating this style of garden and can be used in many forms. Design an enchanting natural stone pathway that leads from your back door to your water feature – adding a mysterious charm to your backyard. Small pebbles and rocks are also great additions for creating stone arrangements or a simple border to separate your plants and foliage from gravel or sand.

Bamboo features

Bamboo is an iconic design element in an authentic Japanese Garden. The ornamental, fast-growing plant is extremely versatile; a bamboo fence is a simple and attractive way to bring more privacy to your backyard with its contrasting vertical lines and lush foliage. Bamboo can also make a beautiful addition to your Rock Garden or can act as a hedge, as often seen in this garden style. Any type of bamboo feature will not only enhance your garden design but will also create a peaceful and relaxing atmosphere from the calming sound of the rustling leaves.

Relaxation nooks

Basic open-air outdoor structures are also commonly featured in Japanese backyards, such as pergolas and gazebos giving you a designated spot for a sheltered sitting area. This will create a harmonious place where you can relax, meditate, and rebalance your Zen, but is also great for entertaining and viewing your tranquil landscape.

Japanese style backyard

Plants

Plants are also essential additions to your Japanese Garden. Plants, such as pine, hinoki false cypress, camellia, and evergreen azalea are popular choices to add a splash of colour. Grass or moss can also be planted alongside pathways or ponds, creating a natural green carpet, welcoming anyone who walks in.

Japanese flowers

Greenery gives a luxurious feeling to the space while keeping a tranquil and calm atmosphere, bringing you closer to nature. You can always add a seasonal touch to your green canvas by putting in maple and cherry trees, both very traditional choices in a Japanese garden and helping to create either a spring or autumn atmosphere.

Finishing touches

To evoke the feeling of sitting in a traditional Japanese Zen Garden, there are a few small touches that you can consider. These design accents suit a variety of backyard shapes and sizes; the key is to keep your additions simple, natural and low-maintenance as possible.

Arrange some stone lights in a few positions to create visual accents for the garden. Not only do they look effective, they add shimmer to the space, especially at night – perfect for entertaining family and friends.

Small statues are a very popular addition to Japanese gardens, as they are a decorative nod to the spiritual history of Japan. Some popular statues include kitsune (foxes), jizō (guardians of travelers), neko (cats), and tanuki (raccoon dogs). Add different kinds of statues dotting your garden’s landscape.

When selecting furniture, keep it low level and minimalistic. A wooden garden bench and setting are great for creating a relaxed seating area and will blend seamlessly with the natural tones featured in your garden. For a more formal dining set you can opt for a modern style, while keeping it minimal, with some subtle coloured cushions for added comfort.

If you want to create Japanese-style retreat in your own backyard to enjoy the tranquillity of nature, we can help you. Fill out the free measure and quote form at the top of this article to get started.

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