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Simple Style: The Subtle Appeal of Japanese Gardens

If you think less is more, a Japanese-style garden may be for you. Renowned for their calm and contemplative properties, Japanese gardens are actually a diverse lot unified by a couple of key characteristics.

Excerpted from Garden Design

The Japanese garden is often perceived in the West as a single garden style, when in fact there are many different approaches, some of which are based on tradition or have spiritual meaning. although the diversity of Japanese gardens' makes precise import challenging, you can easily interpret some of your favorite elements with just a little bit of knowledge of the style.

At their heart, most Japanese gardens share some key characteristics. Balanced asymmetry is favored over perfect symmetry, for example. Layouts achieve harmony through careful, contrasting placement of objects and plants of various sizes, forms and textures - rough with smooth, vertical with horizontal and hard with soft. Minimalism is key here; even the smallest garden area is left uncrowded, and the space between objects is considered essential to the overall design.

Planting in Japanese gardens is restrained, with bamboo, grasses and irises providing verticals, and plants such as camellias, peonies and rhododendrons used for flower and form. As seen here, cherry trees, with their sprightly blossoms, have been celebrated for centuries. A subtle geometry underlies the layout and planting, and is complemented by paths made from rectangular blocks, informal stepping stones or meandering pathways.

Japanese gardens provide visual compositions for contemplation, rather than spaces to be cultivated or enjoyed for leisure. Traditionally, natural stone was used, although many modern gardens feature concrete or stone with different finishes. Bamboo and wood are also popular materials.

The famous dry Zen gardens use fine gravel raked into fluid patterns, with minimal planting, often limited to mosses and lichens around the base of a group of rocks. Water is seen as a purifying element; small pools, often in stone containers, or streams, provide reflective details.

Excerpted from Garden Design

©Dorling Kindersley Limited 2009

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