Japanese garden styles are instantly recognisable for their less-is-more approach and emphasis on the natural landscape. There are many different styles of gardening that fall under the Japanese gardening umbrella – including barakura, one of my favourite container planting styles – but all of them share characteristics, including the type of plants used (usually Japanese natives; go figure!).
Here are some basic tips to help you begin creating your Japanese garden:
- As mentioned above, less is more! When thinking about plants, ornaments and other elements (such as structural aspects), opt for a minimalist approach. For example, instead of filling your borders with a myriad of different plant species, focus on just five or six different plants across your garden.
- Make a focal point of the landscape. Whether you’ve got a sloped garden, a beautiful pond area or a wonderful view of the countryside, form your garden – or at least part of it – to draw attention to the beauty of the landscape.
- Use natural materials for structural aspects. Bamboo is ideal for privacy screening, while stone or gravel (rather than concrete) are great for creating pathways.
Japanese gardening styles became popular in the UK in the 19th century. With a similar climate, it’s actually very easy to grow most Japanese natives in the UK, including Acers, cherry trees and clematis.
Talking about clematis, here is a variety that will work beautifully in a Japanese-style garden.
Clematis Taiga: A pop of purple on a canvas of green
Many Japanese gardens feature evergreen plants to maintain lushness and colour all year round, but some of these plants will be evergreen perennials that produce a show of colour when in season.
Clematis Taiga comes from Japanese breeding, and so suits this aesthetic well. The plant creates vertical beauty with rich green vines and, in the summer, showy purple blooms with white tips that almost resemble a passion flower. How romantic!
It blooms profusely despite its compact size (200cm height and 100cm spread), and suits pots well. In fact, this Clematis Taiga, when purchased from QVC, comes with a tower pot that accommodates its creeping vines particularly well.
Don’t worry about bringing it inside in winter. You’ll be pleased to know that this Clematis is ideal for low-maintenance gardens, as it’s completely hardy and just needs cutting back at the end of the season.
Available from QVC now.
What else should you include in a Japanese garden?
Minimalism is the name of the game when it comes to Japanese garden styles, so this list isn’t going to be long. In addition, not all elements of this list need to be included in your Japanese garden, and it is also not an extensive list – when it comes to your garden, it’s important to choose plants and other components that bring you joy, while considering the guidelines of minimalism and accentuating the natural landscape.
Here are a few things that you might like to include in your Japanese garden:
Moss is something we usually try and get rid of in contemporary gardens. However, in cottage gardens and Japanese gardens, moss is kept in place and sometimes used to fill in gaps in walls or cover large rocks, replace areas of lawn that may not receive enough light, and generally helps the garden to look established – as if it’s been there for centuries.
Many Japanese gardens are marked at the entrance by a large rock as a sign of welcome, and they can also be placed throughout the garden to represent strength (as they look like very small mountains). If you have a gravelled area, try placing rocks in groups on the surface, and raking the gravel into swirling lines that flow around the rocks.
Water is a common sight in a Japanese garden, and it can symbolise the everlasting flow of time. If your garden has a pond, make more of a feature of it using rocks, pond plants and over hanging trees. You could also purchase a water feature, such as a traditional sōzu (above), to bring the water element into your garden artificially.
If your garden is large enough, you could separate different areas with the use of gates and hedging or stone walls. Gates aren’t actually meant to be a physical barrier – much of the time, they’re left open or do not have a door. Their purpose is to create a sense of discovery and orientation.
Other plants to use in your Japanese garden
With clusters of extra large flowers that bloom throughout July and August, this hydrangea remains neat and compact, making it ideal for your favourite pots, containers and borders.
Buy it here.
Wisteria on bamboo cane
A gorgeous wisteria bamboo cane from Hayloft Plants, boasting highly fragrant purple and lilac pea-like panicles during spring and early summer. Grow in a pot or on your patio for a burst of vibrant colour you’ll love.
Buy it here.
Dutch Iris Beauty Collection
It won’t just be the bees this Dutch Iris Beauty Collection attracts, we bet you won’t be able to keep away from it either! Plant these Iris Apollo, Iris Blue Magic and Iris Discovery bulbs in beds or borders to witness the beautiful white and yellow, violet-purple and purple-blue blooms that emerge during springtime. An enchanting mix, you’ll be looking forward to their appearance every season and not just for looking at in your garden, but for enjoying as cut flowers indoors too.
Buy it here.
This Acer Moonrise from Thompson & Morgan is a decorative plant featuring bright red foliage when it first emerges that turns to a fresh yellow-green as it matures, and takes on a spectacular autumn colour, turning orange and then red shades before it falls. Producing winged red fruits in late summer, this beautiful plant will bring a wonderful variety of colour to your outdoor space.
Buy it here.
Besides the above, what would you include in your Japanese garden? Let me know in the comments section below.
Michael has been involved with gardening and plants since he was just five years old. He is a self-professed Plant Geek, and was listed in the Sunday Times top 20 most influential people in the gardening world, thanks to his plant hunter role at Thompson & Morgan.
Michael was responsible for new plant introductions such as the Egg and Chips plant and the FuchsiaBerry and keeps busy travelling the world in search of new plants as well as lecturing worldwide, including stints in Japan. He is very active on social media – so why not give him a follow at @mr_plantgeek or Facebook. You can also listen to The Plant Based Podcast with Michael and co-host Ellen-Mary on iTunes, Spotify and Google.