How to Create an Oriental, Chinese, Japanese Garden

Created by Nathan James Dodd on Tuesday, 29th of January, 2013. Updated on Thursday, 21st of August, 2014.

How to Create an Oriental, Chinese, Japanese Garden

Your guide to creating a Chinese or Japanese styled garden. We give you ideas and inspiration for ornaments, structures and plants that give you that oriental feel.

Calmness and serenity, many people seek those attributes when planning a garden that will provide an escape from the stress of modern life. A piece of quietness and beauty that gives you space for relaxation and contemplation. An oriental garden is designed to provide this refuge tinged with eastern mysticism. 

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Oriental gardening at its simpliest can be divided in two: tsukiyami, which is a hill garden and mainly composed of hills and ponds. The other is hiraniwa, which is basically the exact opposite of tsukiyami: a flat garden without any hills or ponds.

Water Features

There’s nothing quite as calming as the shimmering sound of flowing water. Oriental ornaments, fountains and water features come in many guises, some in the shape of Buddhas or pagodas, or they may be just pleasing sculptural forms. All of them will offer the ethereal trickling of water reflecting eternal values.

The picture above was taken by myself last summer, in our Japanese garden, at our Sutton Coldfield garden centre in Birmingham. Although a lot smaller than when it was originally built it still contains at its heart a pond and waterfall feature.

Buddha Statues

Buddhism and gardening have an intertwined history. The patience and hard work demanded in fashioning a garden resulting in paradise. Constructing a rock garden would follow ancient Japanese tradition together with a lantern lined gravel path leading to enlightenment. An image of Buddha is also entirely appropriate and can provide a focal point for the garden if placed in a respectful position.

Traditionally the Buddha should look to the north, preferably on a plinth away from the ground and in a particularly serene location. As the Buddha is often depicted sitting on a lotus flower this could be near a water lily covered pond populated with koi carp. These fish are ornamental varieties of the common carp bred in a multitude of virtually limitless colours and patterns with Ghost koi becoming very popular in the United Kingdom over recent years.

If you do build a rock garden there are numerous rules and guidelines to follow. The selection and placement of rocks is most important, one theory is that there should be more horizontal than vertical stones, do not place them in straight lines or symmetrical patterns as randomly placed rocks produce spontaneity.  Other principles cover colour, shape and size and you realise that this is an extraordinary subject that deserves greater research.

Pagodas and Lanterns

Pagodas are another icon from the East that can be readily incorporated into an oriental garden. They are simply tiered towers with multiple eves, traditionally with an odd number of levels. Most had a religious function and were built near Buddhist temples. There are now more manageably sized stone cast replicas available that do not require planning permission. Or you could choose a larger wooden version as a centrepiece to the garden that would be perfect for dining or entertaining.

Other structures that add to the authenticity of your garden might be Chinese Tea House to relax in during a sunny afternoon or a pergola, free standing or adjoining your house, that acts as an effective frame for flower displays or climbers. Hanging baskets and lanterns may be suspended from the roof enabling your garden to be filled with light and colour.

Japanese style garden benches may be placed around the garden with tetsubachi water basins and why not protect your tranquil setting from bad khama with a Foo Dog or Chinese guardian lion. These have traditionally stood in pairs in front of Chinese Imperial palaces, tombs and temples are believed to be powerful protectors.

Correct Planting is Essential

In Buddhism planting represents fertile and blossoming ideas and the overriding consideration is that of harmony and simplicity. The garden must have hidden places to explore perhaps by gracefully arched bridges that are such an important element and careful planting creates a backdrop to garden features or forms an individual scene. Formal flower beds were uncommon but are now accepted while topiary and the shaping of plants and trees has always been important in creating an idealised natural panorama.

Japanese Cherries will offer colour and fragrance in abundance; acers and azaleas contribute stunning red, purple, orange and yellows that can be balanced by cool grasses and bamboos; magnificent wisterias, magnolias and hydrangeas contrast with evergreen pines and junipers to produce an amazing choice of flower and foliage.

Landscape gardener Seyemon Kusumoto wrote that the Japanese generate ‘the best of nature's handiwork in a limited space.’ And that will be your fascinating task.

You can view a huge range of oriental garden ornaments for home delivery on the GardenSite website.

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