5 Key Principles of Japanese Garden Design – And How to Replicate Them

Japanese gardens offer a wonderfully serene, natural and simple ambience that instantly makes you feel relaxed and calm. And while the landscape design and layout may look effortless and minimal, there is definitely more to it than meets the eye – as we’ll be showing you in this post.

From minimalist plants to water features and more, we’ll be delving into the nuances of Japanese garden design, giving you plenty of tips along the way to replicate this look in your own home, whatever size garden you have.


white cherry blossom tree over Asian-style roof


Keep it neutral

To capture the true essence of Japanese garden design, the key is to stick with a neutral colour palette that emphasises the organic elements in the surrounding space. You very rarely see brightly coloured flowers and shrubs in this style of garden, so save your pretty pink geraniums and brightly coloured benches for another area.

Instead, add colour and interest with more subtle options – think quintessential bonsais, cherry trees (you can’t beat the pretty blossom in the spring), Japanese maples (the red leaves are stunning when the seasons change) and azaleas and lilies to add some floral flourish. Teamed with natural stone and distressed wooden accents, you’ll feel like you’ve mastered Japanese garden style in no time. 

Another typical feature in Asian-inspired gardens is bamboo, but be warned it grows like wildfire and is hard to eradicate once it’s taken hold. So, unless you don’t mind it taking over the entire landscape project, we’d recommend avoiding planting this in the ground – opt for potted bamboo shoots instead if you can’t resist their bright green hue!

Less is more

With most western garden design there’s a temptation to maximise use of the space by cramming every nook and cranny with plant life or decorative elements of some kind, but with Japanese garden design, less is definitely more.

Don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll be left with a sparse, barren-looking space with just a few plants here and there – far from it. With Japanese gardens, the key is to enhance well-chosen shrubbery and trees by filling the surrounding area with other natural elements to depict different topography similar to the wild. Think raised mounds of rock, mossy banks, pebbled pathways dotted with natural stone slabs and more – all combining to create a lush mixture of earthy tones and textures.

Mix soft and hard landscapes

As we touched on above, the beauty of Japanese gardens is their wonderful blend of textures that seamlessly marries together hard and soft landscapes. When it comes to your own garden, this is easy to achieve with the right mix of materials.

Typical Japanese garden design uses hardscaped pathways that are softened by surrounding greenery to guide you through the changing natural landscape – even in smaller areas. To mimic this style, combine gravel and natural stone-look outdoor tiles for walkways and seating areas – laying them sporadically to project a more authentic style. Offset the hard surfaces with softer textures using low-lying greenery like the Japanese woodland plant, Pachysandra terminalis and you’ll have truly mastered the art of soft and hardscaping.

Keep it random

With the emphasis on natural landscapes, it’s time to leave behind your preconceived ideas of symmetry to pull off an authentic looking Japanese garden – embracing odd numbers and random formations instead. Whether you’re creating a focal feature with rocks or a pathway, style the space using asymmetrical concepts to emulate a natural feel.

It also goes without saying that plant life should look natural too. While pruning is essential to promote new growth and keep your garden looking neat, avoid over-pruning where possible and shelve any grand plans for topiary shrubs to maintain the organic look.

Wow with water

To fully encapsulate Japanese garden ideas, you may want to finish your space with a water feature and you don’t have to have a large garden to fit one in. Japanese garden ideas for small spaces can easily incorporate a compact water feature – whether it’s a freestanding birdbath or a modest-sized fountain. The key here is to mask any man-made elements like plastic bases and metalwork with organic touches like pebbles and moss to conceal them from the naked eye. For larger gardens, why not install a fishpond? Topped with lily pads and encased in natural stone and plant life, you’ll have a striking feature that will instantly evoke a feeling of serenity.


Japanese garden with bamboo fences and bonsai trees


With a winning combination of simplicity and nature, it’s easy to fulfil your dreams for serene Japanese garden design and we hope these key design principles will help you on your way. If you’re already feeling inspired, take a look at our brilliant selection of outdoor patio tiles that will help you bring your Japanese garden ideas to life.

Comments are closed here.