The Principles And Elements In Making A Japanese Garden

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Making a traditional Japanese garden is no easy feat and requires lots of planning.  There is not one part of a Japanese garden left to chance and every little plant and rock is placed there for a reason.  Trying to make your own garden can be quite intimidating at first.  When I searched for “Japanese Garden” there were dry gardens, strolling gardens, tea garden, Zen gardens, and many others.  You can see there is no typical Japanese garden and many different types to choose from.  So how do you choose what to do and where to start?

There are four basic principles when planning on how to make a Japanese garden.

Simplicity is the first and most important principle going into any garden you make.  You want the maximum effect with minimum effort.  You want to make your garden engaging and full of interesting features and elements taking your viewers imagination out of the physical garden.  Too many things create clutter both in the garden and in your mind.  Finding the perfect balance can bring peace of mind and countless hours of relaxation.

The second principle in Japanese gardening is rather obvious.  It is the miniaturization of all the physical elements so they can fit into your designated area.  Most of us don’t have huge areas to plan gardens and even if we did big gardens require lots of time and maintenance.  You want to make your garden so that it replicates natural scenery on a smaller scale.

Leading us to the third principle of making a traditional Japanese garden called “borrowed scenery” or including whatever is around your garden to compliment the garden itself.  This practice can include incorporating mountains, nearby trees or water sources, or even a nice building to add to your garden.

The next principle is concealment.  And this is very important for the state of mind you are putting your viewer in.  You want features halfway hidden or concealed to peak your viewers interest and provoke contemplation drawing them further into your garden.  You should show just enough to let your imagination take you the rest of the way.

These four principles should go into every decision you make when planning and making your own Japanese garden.

Make sure you know your garden limitations and expectation before planning.  Some limitations include garden size, materials available and future garden maintenance.  Also you should know what you want out of the garden.  For example, the primary purpose of Zen gardens is to provide a calm atmosphere to meditate, but your garden should meet your personal expectations. Are you trying to hear water sounds, walk around, host parties, or meditate?  All of these things require different physical elements.  These gardens are meant to get better with age so thorough planning and thinking ahead is key to a successful Japanese garden.

After you have fully thought through what you want from your garden its time to choose the physical elements.


Some common Japanese garden elements include, water, rocks, sand, bridges, bamboo, moss, water basins, various decorations like lanterns, and a handful of different plants and trees. Most elements are placed in these gardens for symbolic reasons.  Each representing something different.  For example, water can represent actual lakes or rivers.  Rocks can symbolize hills or mountains and sand can represent sacred land.  Lots of Japanese gardens are reproducing a natural setting like Mt. Fujior a beautiful lake or river.  So once you have chosen the elements that fit your space, purpose, and budget the design phase comes.  This crucial step determines the future look of your garden. So play around with it and move the elements around like a jigsaw puzzle until you have your finished work of art.  Then comes the fun part!  Constructing your very own Japanese garden!

If done correctly, Japanese gardens can bring a peaceful oasis right to your backyard.  Remember Japanese gardens come in all shapes and sizes.  Each is unique in its own way so don’t worry there is NO wrong garden!  Remember start with the purpose of your garden and choose a few physical elements you like.  Then use the four principles to guide your planning and design to make your Japanese garden a masterpiece.  Once finished, your garden should bring you peace of mind and inspire your viewers for years to come.

Good luck!

The Benefits of Starting Plants From Seed

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I plan on starting my whole garden from seed this year.  My new addition of the small greenhouse will play a vital role in providing a nurturing atmosphere for those small seedlings and ultimately the outcome of my garden.  Due to the weather here in Gujo the snow pack doesn’t melt off my garden until late April. Making my gardening season that much shorter.  That is where my greenhouse and starting from seed gives me my first benefit of getting a headstart on the growing season.  I have also chosen a few of my favorite varieties of seeds that I know will do well in this area.  When starting from seed you don’t have to depend on commercial greenhouse plantings that only give you a limited selection of varieties and you are free to choose your favorites.  Also you want to choose heirloom varieties so that you can save your seeds for the next season and years to come.  Obviously the biggest benefit of starting plants from seed is saving money.

I always told my wife that we were saving money by gardening.  But she pointed out that during the gardening season I would be at the nursery and plant stores every other day spending money on something. Plantings and fertilizers are a big cost but if you can minizmize or even completely take away these cost your savings will skyrocket.  This year my goal is to spend 0/NO money for the garden besides the seeds.  I have quite abit of stuff laying around the garden at my disposal that I should be perfectly OK.

I guess to summarize my paragraph above about starting from seed and spending NO money will cut my dependence on commercial greenhouses and stores for basic needs.  Giving me the satisfaction of enjoying all my plants from start to finish knowing I did it myself.

Another benefit that I really like is minimizing the spread of different disease brought in by commercial plantings.  For me this can be dangerous because of the humid temperatures and ease of spreading to my other plants in the garden.  And lastly, when starting from seed the plants have a continuous, uninterrupted life in a constant environment that doesn’t involve the shock when commercial plantings are brought home to be planted.  Timing and environment have to perfect for your seeds to succeed. There will always be loss but how much loss depends on how well you take care of your babies.

If you aren’t starting your plans from seed already why don’t you try just a few seeds this year and see how you do.  Starting plants from seed but ultimately the path to self sufficiency offers many benefits.

Good luck and may mother nature be nice to all!