When my wife and I were house hunting, for myself, it was not the great neighborhood, yard or even the house itself that had me sold. They were all wonderful, but it was the courtyard in the center of the home that sealed the deal. When we bought the house the courtyard held a fish pond, but I knew it would only be a matter of time before the pond became a garden. It was the perfect space to bring the outdoors in and was destined to become a place to enjoy a moment of peace and quiet. In fact, I am enjoying the courtyard as I write this.
The most important point to take away from this article is not how to create a garden with an Asian theme, but rather to inspire you to build your own relaxation space. Japanese gardens speak to me the most, so our space would incorporate those aesthetics. Your relaxation garden should also be personal and may be completely different – a shady spot in the backyard, an ivy covered alcove between buildings or a rustic bench by a lazy river. What matters most is that it is a space where you can get away to enjoy some personal time. We all need to recharge and what better place than in your own garden.
Designing Your Relaxation Garden
Since our goal is to create a space to relax in, the following are suggestions to keep it that way.
Create a Simple Garden
Regardless of the type of garden you design, my first suggestion is to keep it simple. The Asian garden would draw from nature and use subtle tones for a calming feel. Incorporate a natural color palette and pay attention to the textures you plan to include. You do not want it to be too busy. For example, I love variegated plants, but an entire garden of them would be distracting. Instead, use them sparingly as accent plantings.
Keep it Low Maintenance
While I find gardening therapeutic, this space is meant for relaxation. Select plants that are hardy, easy to grow and that do not require a lot of special attention. Our garden is shady, so we included hosta, ferns and Solomon’s Seal. You may prefer grasses for sunny spots or cacti for areas where water is an issue. I recommend perennials that return year after year, but it helps to “grow what you know.” You do not want to be worrying about whether your plants will do well. Plan the garden and consult a nursery if you have questions.
Since this article touches on Asian gardens, I feel compelled to steer you away from planting bamboo. And that is coming from a self-confessed bamboo addict! Unless you keep it in pots or really understand what you are planting, it is best to use the canes as decoration or to stay away from it entirely. Other potentially invasive plants to avoid would include aggressive vines and groundcovers like Vinca.
Mulch and rocks are useful in low maintenance gardens. Mulch helps control weeds, keeps the soil moist and adds nutrients. This means you will be spending less time weeding, watering, and your plants will be healthier. Rocks are virtually maintenance-free, so think about incorporating a nice specimen or decorative gravel.
Develop the Mood
Consider all your senses to help enhance the mood of your garden. Ours has a stone lantern that is nice during the day, but adds something special to the garden at night when lit. We also have a moss-covered pathway in our courtyard that we use to get from our living room to the kitchen. Moss between rocks feels great on bare feet, or substitute with Corsican mint that gives off a minty fragrance when you walk on it. Flowering plants offer an unlimited variety of smells to work with. Plant something that only blooms during a particular time of the day, like a Moonflower, for a special treat during your time off. Water features are great as well. Even a simple fountain, like a boulder or pot that recirculates water, can add a very soothing touch. If you want something really unique, build a suikinkutsu. Choose bells or chimes if you prefer those sounds.
My final suggestion is to remember that your garden will change throughout the seasons, so keep that in mind when you are planning it. Pay attention to which plants will be seen during each season and their colors, as they may change. Use evergreens for consistent color and texture. Flowers, trees and shrubs can all be used for seasonal color. Select plants that bloom at different intervals to have something blooming throughout the season. Also, try to think past blooms and foliage – specimens with interesting bark can add color and interest even in the dead of winter.
Under the Asian Influence
If you are truly interested in designing an Asian garden, I suggest starting your research with the image search on Google. Save images you like in a folder to refer to later. Keep an eye out for features that make a garden distinctly Asian and learn more about them. A few of my favorites include:
- Asymmetry – Asymmetrical balance is a core tenet of Japanese art and culture.
- Shakkei – Concept of “borrowing” scenery to make your garden appear larger than it really is.
- Wabi-sabi – Incorporate weathered objects to give your garden an ancient feel. Paint moss on lanterns and rocks to simulate aging.
- Yūgen – Partially obscuring objects to suggest their beauty. This leaves something for the imagination.
Regardless of the type of relaxation garden you design, keep it simple and personal. The most important thing to remember is to enjoy it. Visit your garden often and experience the changes throughout the year.
Happy gardening relaxing!