Japanese Gardening: Techniques to Apply at Home

The Japanese gardening tradition was historically approved under the instruction of a sensei to his apprentice. The main words that are mentioned to promote the design of landscapes of water, mountains, and hills in the field are: "If you have not received the oral teachings, do not proceed to make a garden". As a warning for the closure they indicate that at no time these writings should be shown to outsiders, the secret must be kept. But it does not mean that these techniques cannot be applied at home.

Japanese gardening is based on the cult of nature for what cannot be imitated and how to perfect it. This Japanese garden tradition has always been about a nature that is created, and at the same time devised by people. Therefore, it is not strange that a tradition like this appears alongside the main palaces and urban centers.

Japanese style discovers and, at the same time, achieves beauty. On the one hand, it is casual and natural; and on the other, it is a relatively perfect image that has been created by people. Due to this, the gardens that come from this style cannot be studied, following the architectural margin that corresponds to the time in which they were created.

Japanese Gardens

Japanese gardens
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Japan is a country known for its many islands, where 70% of the territory is covered with mountains, which consist of valleys, volcanoes, and what is called the seismic belt. But in addition to that, there is a possibility of predicting when it will go from one season to another.

In Japan, there is a great fascination for plants in gardens or making cutouts to create miniature landscapes. These are cultural gardening techniques that have been practiced in Japan for many centuries.

Among the most striking features of Japanese gardening techniques is the appreciation of any natural element, no matter how small. That is why, for this country, there is great beauty even in a simple natural stone.

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So much so, that the stones at all times were part of the compositions in the gardens. Within the Shinto religion, when stones were considered worthy of being venerated, they were marked as sacred elements and were placed in a single place that was considered sacred. It can be said that a Japanese garden is not representative if it does not have a rock or does not have a combination of them.

Japanese garden
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Aesthetics of a Japanese Garden

As history progressed, the gardens of Japan began to take references from the Chinese models. Later, they were forging their own aesthetics and principles. Each of these principles was explained through gardening manuals, starting from what Sakuteiki is in the years of the Heian period.

The beginnings that formed the sacred gardens, as in the case of the Zen gardens in Buddhist temples, are totally different from the walk or recreational gardens. However, Japanese gardens have certain elements in common and the same gardening techniques are used.

Miniaturization: the view of nature is appreciated in miniature and also idealized. Rocks are often used to represent mountains, and ponds to represent seas.

Concealment: Zen gardens belonging to Buddhism are designed to be observed at the same time. The promenade gardens are to be seen from landscape to landscape as if it were a scroll with many landscapes. All the functions remain hidden behind other elements, to later be discovered while advancing along a winding road.

Shakkei or borrowed landscape: when the gardens are small, their design has the purpose of including the observation of the functions on the outside of the garden, such as the trees, hills, or temples, being part of that general view, and making space look much bigger.

Asymmetry: no Japanese garden should follow straight axes, nor should it be governed by only one characteristic that dominates the view.


Japanese garden
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Japanese garden must carry water at all times. It does not matter if it is a stream, a pond, or that the water is represented by movements in white sand. There are also other important elements, such as rocks and sand. These are essential in any garden of this style and that the techniques are taken into account.

Japanese stone lanterns are used very often in the elaboration of these gardens. Generally, they are observed in Buddhist temples, arranged aligned in all the routes and the vicinity of the temple. Although in the Heian period, lanterns were used for Shinto shrines.

Then there are flowers and trees, which are placed in a specific way and following aesthetic patterns. Either to hide unwanted views, to serve as a backdrop for some garden features, or to make the scene a true landscape.

These trees go through a fairly rigorous selection process and are specifically arranged to appreciate autumn colors. Moss is used very often to give the garden an older look. There are even plants that are chosen according to their religious symbol, such as the lotus. This plant is considered a valuable symbol of Buddhist teaching.

To complement the nature, beauty, and harmony of a Japanese garden, fish are included in the ponds. Koi fish are generally used, but goldfish or Nishiki-goi are also used. Despite the fact that this is one of the adopted characteristics of the Chinese style, it became known to western countries through its use in Japan.

Japanese garden
Image source: Reproduction/Internet

Japanese Gardening Tips To Apply at Home

There is a lot of scientific evidence that indicates that gardening is capable of offering many benefits to human health. They are not only benefits in psychological well-being. Those people who practice any gardening technique have a higher rate of muscle mass in the body. In addition, it reduces the probability of suffering from diabetes, diseases that affect the heart and help to lead a better lifestyle, being accompanied by a higher sense of community.

It's important to keep in mind that many people consider plants to be therapeutic. This is because through various disciplines they are cultivated, cared for and their fruits are harvested both in orchards and gardens.

However, for those who have many limitations when growing plants, the techniques used in Japanese gardening are ideal to learn. They don't need a lot of space and can be put into practice no matter what the season.


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Following the aesthetics of miniaturization, the cultivation of bonsai, more than a technique, is an art. This technique is intended to recreate the appearance of a life-size adult tree, on a much smaller scale, and in a decorative pot.

Of all the techniques that exist within Japanese gardening, this is the most complicated. Its origin comes from the techniques used to elaborate on the Zen gardens of Buddhism. Clearly, a technique like this is not easy to master. It takes constant practice to get the expected results.

The ideal way to start the practice of bonsai is to buy the plant directly from a nursery. If desired, you can start sowing the tree from seed. Among the species that are most used to apply the practice of bonsai, are the focus with small leaves, maples, shrubs such as camellia and pines. This plant will look beautiful at home.


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Kokedamas is another technique used in Japanese gardens, in which the plants do not require a pot. Only moss or coconut fiber is required to protect the roots from the flat from the outside. Applying this Japanese technique is quite simple, it does not require much experience in the field of gardening, and it is also great for getting started in horticulture.

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For the elaboration of a kokedamas, there is the option of using plants that are already at home, and that perhaps need a change of environment or to be revitalized. This technique is used especially to enhance the most common plants, as well as those that are simple to get, such as ivy, ferns, or bamboo.

It offers the opportunity to represent something that is very traditional but in a totally new way. This is because kokedamas do not require a pot, and their spherical base made of moss or coconut fiber, allows them to be held by a thread to be hung from a ceiling, or to be placed on any surface. So, they can perfectly be placed at home.

Bottom Line

Japanese gardens are eye-catching and create peace and beauty to any space. With these techniques, we can bring those sensations directly home.

Translated and adapted by The Cop Cart Staff

Sources: Bioguia