Our lives may be chaotic, but our gardens can be a place of rest and rejuvenation by adding a touch of the Orient to the landscape. Oriental design focuses on peace, tranquility, and the ease of meditation.
It is important to incorporate the elements found in traditional oriental gardens. The oriental garden is all about subtlety and graceful form. No one part of the garden should overpower any other part. Each element should flow into the rest of the landscape, offering a place to think and be at peace with the world.
Nothing should distract you from your thoughts. Everything should encourage contemplation and rest. Here are a few of the elements that can help transform your property into a peaceful and exotic Oriental getaway.
TIP: Our expert gardening advisor Karen Thurber adds, "Both Chinese and Japanese gardens reflect nature. They do so on a small scale; rocks represent mountains or islands, sand or gravel can represent water, and paths represent your journey through life. Symbolism in the garden is an important part of design."
This is perhaps the most important feature in the garden. No truly Oriental garden is found without some type of water feature, whether in the form of fountains, water bowls, ponds, or waterfalls. The water is used to soothe the soul and quiet the mind, offering a subtle background sound with which to meditate. Unlike the high shooting fountains found in other garden styles, oriental fountains are typically made of bamboo. Instead of shooting sprays of water into the air, they gently dribble water into a pond or water basin.
Water bowls are a classic addition to the oriental garden, especially in areas where larger water features will not fit. Water bowls offer the same soothing sounds of running water, but can easily be tucked into even the smallest areas.
Ponds are by far the most popular Oriental water feature, often found filled with koi and goldfish. Ponds offer the soothing aspects of water, while incorporating the natural beauty of fish. Meditate away the cares of the day while resting beside the banks of a beautiful fish pond.
Waterfalls are also very popular in the oriental garden because they offer a tranquil spot to rest, as well as offering a transition from one elevation to another. Few yards are perfectly level. Most have dips or slopes that make landscaping troublesome. Adding a waterfall makes grading unnecessary, adding beauty while simplifying the process of creating a beautiful oriental garden.
There is a gracefulness to the gentle curve of an oriental bridge, whether crossing a pond or stream, or cleverly created dry river bed. They can be made of stone, wood, or bamboo. Be creative in your placement; bridges are meant to be a focal point as well as a means to admire the chosen water feature. Some oriental bridges have been created by placing granite slabs on supports, offering the illusion that they are floating on the surface of the water.
Bridges are meant to be enjoyed, so make sure that their location maximizes their benefits.
Seen as bringers of good fortune and protection, or merely used as a decoration, statues are found throughout traditional Oriental gardens. Some classic representations are animals, like herons and oriental style dogs; mythical creatures, like dragons; and human forms, like buddas and warrior guardians. Statues can be used as a focal point, as a monument or reminder, or simply to add a bit of interest to lush garden areas. Statues can be small or large, depending upon the size of the property, but should be appropriate to the scale of the garden.
Placing stones is considered an art form in Asia. Stones can be used to outline a plant bed or to accent and give height to a water feature. Stones often direct the eye to various places throughout the garden, so are therefore very important. Using a mixture of large, medium, and small stones, you can lend the appearance of a natural setting, created with peace and tranquility in mind. When properly placed, stones can actually soften the landscape and enrich the oriental garden itself.
TIP: Karen suggests, "When placing stones in the garden, think in groups of threes, fives or sevens; odd numbers bring harmony and movement to the garden."
Bamboo is not only an essential building material in Asia, it is one of the key materials used in oriental gardens. Bamboo is used for fencing and enclosures, as well water wheels and fountains. No garden would be complete without bamboo structures sprinkled throughout. Consider planting a stand of bamboo in your garden.
There are varieties on the market that are not as invasive as Asian bamboo, but still offer the beauty and grace that a bamboo stand gives to the landscape.
TIP: Karen advises, "Look for bamboo that is described as "clump-forming", this bamboo will not be invasive. If you choose to plant a running bamboo, be sure to use a root barrier to keep it contained."
Like the pathway of life, dry pathways are sprinkled throughout the Oriental garden. They help separate areas of the garden while offering easy passage from one point to another. Pathways can be formed with pebbles, sand, or even large slabs of granite. Whatever material you choose, allow the paths to meander through your garden.
Paths are meant to inspire contemplation, so allow the pathways to roam, the way our minds should as we walk through the garden.
Light is a very important element in the Oriental garden. It offers balance and harmony while it lights the path. There are two styles of lantern that can be added to a path. One is the ancient style of stone lantern and the other is the rice paper lantern. The stone lanterns resemble small oriental houses or temples, offering a number of "windows" for the glow of light to pass through.
Use a traditional oil lantern or use some of the newer solar powered ones. Rice paper lanterns offer a peaceful glow on clear nights. There is nothing more romantic or more beautiful than a rice paper lantern burning through the darkness of a clear evening.
Similar to a gazebo, teahouses are open structures designed to protect the garden lover from the whether during the heat of the day, or during an unexpected rain storm. Traditional teahouses take the graceful form of ancient oriental buildings, with pointed, upturned roofs.
TIP: Karen adds, "Traditionally, a tea house was used to preform the tea ceremony. The garden leading to the tea house would have a winding path and a rustic feeling. The walk through the garden allows the guests to leave their worries behind, arriving at the tea house relaxed and ready to enjoy the ceremony."
Trees are especially important because they provide the shade and height so important to the oriental garden. Flowering cherries, Japanese maples, and magnolia trees are just a few of the favorites found in the traditional oriental garden. The tree choices all center around color, fragrance, and texture. The same can be said about the plants used to under-plant the trees.
Hostas, lilies, peonies, nandina, summersweet, and cotoneaster are just a few of the popular plants that can be used throughout the landscape. Don’t forget to add a stand of bamboo or a few well placed cycads, in honor of the ancient varieties that are still present in the modern day Orient.
TIP: Karen says, "Fences play an important roll in both Japanese and Chinese gardens. They are used to secluded the garden from the life outside. Leave your worries at the gate and find peace, rest, and renewal in the garden. Fences add a sense of security and enclosure. Fences are also used to define space in the garden and create an intimate feeling. Small breaks in the fence or the addition of a window will allow the garden to be revealed to you slowly, enticing you to look around the next corner."
Whether transforming your entire property or merely creating a small space to reflect an Oriental style, adding a few of these elements can quickly send you on your way to a beautiful Oriental oasis.