Japanese Garden Design Notes


Delicate branches

Roots caress a simple stone

White blossoms shimmer

The essence of the natural world

Lives here in one small garden.

Overiding Principals


If the basic rules are adhered to things should go well.

• To mimic nature and become a microcosm of nature

• Less is more

• Design must suit the site

• Place stones correctly, then trees, then shrubs

• Subdued taste (austere rather than flamboyant)

• Rustic simplicity (mellowed rather than too modern)

• Controlled or shaped by man / Things in their natural state / The blending of the two

Space & Time


• Emptiness gives balance to form

• Appreciate garden in all seasons

• Acceptance of death



The garden is a separate world in which there are no worries or concerns.

To view the garden as a whole you must enter into it and become a ‘player’ in it. 

  • Sealed away from outside world

  • Fences are both functional and symbolic meaning

  • Gates are important thresholds to discard worldly cares when entering and prepare for them when leaving.

  • Fence both hide and reveal elements in the garden

  • Can offer small glimpses into parts of the garden

  • Sleeve fences screen views from the house



  • Hill and Pond - form over function. The form is most important. Strolling gardens are usually of this style.

  • Flat Gardens - once garden the form is more important than the function and contemplative gardens are often designed using very flat surfaces with little mounding.

  • Tea Gardens - function over form. The ceremonial making and pouring of the tea takes precedence over the form of the garden.




  • Rocks are the bones of the Japanese garden

  • Tall vertical, low vertical, arched, reclining, horizontal are main rock shapes used

  • When they are in groups of 3,5,7 they suit better than as 2,4,6

  • Rocks can be used as symbolic sculptures or as functional paths ofr stepping stones/bridges.


Water represents the relentless passage of time. The sight sound and flow are important. Bridges move us from one world to the next or one emotional state to another.


Plants display the passage of the seasons. Aim not to use anything too showy or exotic. However allow the latitude to use plants that help us feel calm and content.


Scenery can be borrowed depending on the situation. Generally there are 4 types: Far, near, High, Low