The Plant Professionals
16886 Turner Street
Lansing, MI 48906
(517) 327-1059
Fax: (517) 327-0299
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The Japanese Garden Style
According to garden historians David and Michigo Young, at the heart of the Japanese garden is the principal that the garden is a work of art. “Though inspired by nature, it is an interpretation rather than a copy; it should appear to be natural, but it is not wild.”
The Japanese style of gardening has always interested me, but after I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Japan in 2014, my interest turned into a passion. The city of Kyoto is a garden-lover’s paradise, and is the best place in all of Japan to immerse yourself in the wonders and awe of the Japanese garden. It almost boggles the mind to think about standing in a garden begun in 1339.
Designed for peaceful contemplation, the Japanese garden is soothing, has a serene ambiance, and strives to provide a spiritual haven.  The elements mimic or symbolize natural elements. The four essential elements are rocks, water, plants, and ornaments.
In Japan, placing rocks is considered to be a spiritual and artistic process. Rocks anchor the garden. They are commonly placed in odd numbered groupings, in varied sizes and shapes, but similar in color and texture to create a focal point. Rocks can represent landscapes in miniature, paying homage to the mountain vistas, symbolizing the Buddhist trinity when placed in groups of three, or used as stepping stones. Stepping stones placed in an irregular pattern slow you down, and help to calm the mind and feet.  In Zen gardens, rocks represent islands and are surrounded by raked gravel, which represents water.
Water is a source of life and an important element in the garden. A water fountain is often placed in front of a home or temple. It symbolizes the passage of time or a physical and spiritual cleansing before entering the home or temple. Water can be suggested with “rivers” of stone or raked gravel. It is very common to use streams, ponds, or waterfalls in a Japanese garden. Meandering natural shapes are created for streams or ponds, and koi or goldfish keep it natural looking.
Japanese gardens are known for lush, green plants. My favorite garden in Kyoto was a moss garden. It was so vibrantly green and soft-looking. Moss gardens create deep tranquility and transcendent beauty. Evergreens are commonly used in plantings, but if you want a bit color, azaleas, ferns, hostas, Japanese maples, barberry, flowering dogwood, and cherry trees are also used.
Ornaments are important in the Japanese garden and are often symbolic. Bridges, usually simple in construction, whether decorative or functional, represent the journey of life and the passage from the worldly realm to the spiritual realm.  Stone lanterns are an important element, most often placed on a flat rock next to a pond or water basin. Statues are usually made of weathered stone or aged bronze, and are often of a religious figure.
The distinctive look of the Japanese garden is easy to recognize, but can be difficult to achieve. I had the opportunity to create a Japanese garden for a client last year, and while it is still a work in progress, I am so proud of how it is coming together, and am looking forward to seeing it evolve. We do have some excellent Japanese gardens in Michigan that we can visit and draw inspiration from. The Fredrick Meijer Garden in Grand Rapids has a newly-completed Japanese garden that is amazing! Closer to home, Lansing Community College also has a stunning garden that is open to the public.


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