Whether you’ve been lucky enough to travel to Japan and witness their breathtaking garden landscapes with your very own eyes or you simply admire their unique and historical design style from afar, it is safe to say that the Japanese take a lot of pride in the construction, appearance and maintenance of their outdoor spaces.

Renowned for their magnificent beauty, intricacy and symbolism, typical Japanese gardens often follow the concept of ‘Ma’ which roughly translates to ‘negative space’ and is mainly observed in architectural forms. ‘Ma’ is described by many as an ‘interval’ or ‘pause in time’ and promotes a sense of balance and movement that is backed up by energy and feeling.

So, what does it take to re-create an authentic Japanese zen garden in your own home? Not only will you need a basic understanding of the history of this cultural art form, but you’ll also require a variety of unique garden products to tie everything together harmoniously.

It is important to keep in mind that everything you choose should echo nature and its natural forces. Therefore, the main basic elements to consider are structures, water, plants and ornaments. Keep reading to find out our choice of products that will greatly assist you in achieving an oriental-themed outdoor haven.

Gaby Hall, customer service team leader at GardenSite visiting Japan.
Gaby Hall, customer service team leader at GardenSite visiting Japan.

Structures - how to use them as focal points and pathways to create fluidity

Going back to the concept of ‘Ma’, a huge faux pas in Japanese culture is overcrowding spaces for the sake of it. Instead, the Japanese will often focus their landscape around one or two main garden structures that will act as either focal points and/or pathways to create a sense of fluidity and movement. Our product choices to achieve this would have to be the moon gate arch and cherry blossom arch.

The moon gate arch is a wide circular wooden structure that is perfect for creating a grand entrance or passageway. Made up of two timber circles that are connected using the smaller overhanging wooden slatted bars, it provides a traditional oriental aesthetic that will bring your Japanese-inspired garden to life.

The cherry blossom arch is slightly less subtle in its design but equally as striking, boasting iconic outstretched beams and a pagoda-style top. The sides are made up of delicate square trellis that can be adorned with climbing plants to add colour and fragrance that will come and go with the seasons.

The cherry blossom arch and the moon gate arch, both available at GardenSite.co.uk
The cherry blossom arch and the moon gate arch, both available at GardenSite.co.uk

The power of water and how to use its soothing sound to create a serene ambience

Water is a very symbolic element in Japan, often considered a symbol of the inextinguishable flow of ‘being’ and representative of the ebb and flow of life. Therefore, it is absolutely essential to include some form of water in your garden, and what better (or easier) way to do so than by installing a water feature? Not only will the sound of running water add an extra dimension to the landscape that appeals to the senses, but it will also attract wildlife to the area which will contribute to the overall goal of creating an authentic, natural and untouched environment.

Most water features will help to generate a serene and peaceful atmosphere, but, if you really want to step it up and truly keep in line with traditional Japanese culture, we recommend choosing a feature that is constructed from natural materials, particularly ones that are native to Asia.

Waterfalls in Osaka, Japanese island of Honshu.
Waterfalls in Osaka, Japanese island of Honshu.

Given the above, our product of choice would have to be the oasis large bamboo waterfall cascade. Made purely from bamboo, a material that is regarded a symbol of longevity and prosperity due to its strong root structure and ability to re-generate after being harvested, this feature will certainly hold its own whilst positively contributing to the overall feeling of zen and tranquility.

A close second is the tranquil spills water feature which is named appropriately after the beautiful sound of flowing water that it provides thanks to its unique design. This circular-shaped feature is representative of the continuous cycle of life and channels water from the base through the internal arms to make your eyes dance.

If you’re not a fan of water features, why not consider adding a pond? The fish inside it will undoubtedly bring it to life, but you can further add movement with a pond spitter. Our Japanese koi pond spitter statue would be the perfect choice given the creature’s Japanese origins. We would recommend positioning it on the edge of the pond and angled strategically so that the moving water can be observed from all angles.

The oasis bamboo waterfall cascade and the Japanese koi spitter, both available at GardenSite.co.uk
The oasis bamboo waterfall cascade and the Japanese koi spitter, both available at GardenSite.co.uk

How to use plants, including their colours and fragrance, to add to the landscape without overpowering it

Japanese garden designs tend to feature green trees and shrubs, however, these are often sparsely planted as to not overshadow the space around them, essentially saying that the plants and the space are equally as important. This minimalistic design technique can also help to create the effect of a bigger garden.

Delicate spring blossoms are also a firm favourite, especially cherry varieties. Colour is essential to keep the landscape interesting and a fantastic way to subtly incorporate colour (especially if you don’t have a lot of space to play with) is through the use of climbing plants that can be grown up and along any of your main structures. As mentioned earlier, both the Freestanding Moon Gate Arch and the Zest Cherry Blossom Arch are ideal for supporting training plants thanks to their strategic design and sturdy construction.

Our plant of choice has to be the Prunus Incisa Kojo-No-Mai Fuji miniature cherry tree, a small shrub that develops a vast collection of beautiful white flowers in the spring and flushes of red and gold leaves in the autumn.

The Kojo-no-mai fuji cherry tree available at GardenSite.co.uk
The Kojo-no-mai fuji cherry tree available at GardenSite.co.uk

The importance of ornaments and their placement to create a subtle and understated presence

Arguably more of a secondary consideration after the main elements (structure, water and plants) have been decided upon, ornaments, especially those made from stone, can be incorporated to add subtle accents of symbolism and intrigue.

Keeping in line with the Japanese tradition of historical ancient architecture, you won’t be surprised to learn that our ornaments of choice are typically oriental in look and feel. Our selection includes the 5-tier pagoda ornament, and the fan buddha garden ornament.

The Pagoda is crafted from cast stone and finished by hand with considered detailing and decoration on the base and top. The 5 tiers represent the elements of the universe, including earth, water, fire, wind and space, as listed in the Buddhist religion. This tiered structure would look fantastic in a Japanese-inspired garden, adding height and dimension that will certainly catch people’s eye.

The Buddha statue offers a serene and meditative aesthetic that will add to the overall sense of calm and tranquility, welcoming visitors with its peaceful demeanour. The perfect reminder of reflection and introspection, this ornate statue will certainly make a lasting impression wherever you decide to place it.

The fan buddha garden ornament and 5-tier pagoda ornament, both available at GardenSite.co.uk
The fan buddha garden ornament and 5-tier pagoda ornament, both available at GardenSite.co.uk


Creating a typical traditional Japanese garden requires a lot of thought and planning, however, if executed properly, the end result will be simply stunning.

Keeping in mind the end goal of achieving a minimalistic natural setting that is redolent of nature, remember to keep things simple and never to overcrowd or clutter the environment. Think about how you want people to experience your garden and then start designing with that in mind. How will people get from one point to another? How will they be guided around the landscape? Pathways, water, structures and ornaments make a great combination that will come together and contribute wonderfully to achieve this fluidity, creating a breathtaking Japanese-inspired garden to enjoy for many years to come.