Aesthetic Elements of the Japanese Garden

Japanese-style gardens honour our relationship with the essential elements of nature.

Credit: GardenWise

The tranquility of the Japanese garden aesthetic stems from Zen philosophy

At their heart, Japanese gardens honour our relationship with the elements of nature. Trees and shrubs are chosen carefully, for texture and colour, though mainly subdued. Maintenance is meticulous.

Any added ornaments are essential, rather than trivial. Every detail counts. Whether used firsthand in the graceful landscapes of Japan, or added to a garden elsewhere, the Japanese aesthetic brings elegance and serenity to any outdoor setting.


Wabi-sabi: Finding beauty in imperfection

Wabi or wabi-sabi is a Japanese concept that celebrates poetic imperfection. In the garden, think of the simple beauty that natural wear brings to inanimate objects due to use and age.

From rustic stone lanterns to moss-covered rocks, wabi-sabi is very much at home in a Japanese garden and a sense of it is also worth cultivating in any outdoor living space, from traditional to bohemian to modern.

When an object or artifact is cherished over time outdoors, it shows. Moss-covered objects, old weathered ornaments, the patina of worn copper and metal – each tell a story unique to the time and space. A gnarled lichen-covered tree or mature mass of native grasses provide a similar sense of a landscape’s history.

Feel free to embellish new garden objects if necessary (making them mossy, for example) to add a sense of permanence, but remember that an authentic sense of wabi-sabi is about simplicity and acceptance of things as they truly are.

Water feature in Japanese gardens

Lesson 1: Water Features

An essential element, water is a signature feature of almost any Japanese garden, be it a pond, basin, waterfall, or even just the 
suggestion of fluidity.

Zen in Japanese Gardens

Lesson 2: Zen Philosophy

A sense of Zen is philosophically simple yet challenging to achieve. Zen garden spaces often have no plants or water, with carefully set stones and sand as stand-ins.

Japanese Maple Tree

Lesson 3: Trees for structure and seasonal colour

Signifying strength and longevity and providing structure, trees such as Japanese maple supply essential shapes and seasonal colour and are carefully placed and trimmed. 

Understatement in Japanese Gardens

Lesson 4: Subtle blossoms

Japanese style is about subtleties and restfulness. A single bloom presented minimally is all that is needed to grace a place setting, or an entire room.

Bamboo in Japanese Gardens

Lesson 5: Bamboo symbolizes strength

Bamboo is strong, prolific and easy to maintain, making it a popular plant for Asian 
gardens. If you don’t have room for bamboo to spread, restrict it to a distinctive pot.

Japanese anemone flower

Lesson 6: Delicate flowers

Blooms are traditionally limited to trees or shrubs in blossom. However, delicate flowers such as Japanese anemones are 
welcome to sway quietly.

Lanterns and ornaments in the Japanese garden

Lesson 7: Ornamental structures

Traditional structures and such ornaments as rustic stone or modern lanterns, bridges, water basins, pagodas and the teahouse are classic man-made additions signifying a Japanese-style garden. 


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