There are three types of Japanese gardens you can build at home, all of which have distinct styles. There is the tsukiyama or the hill garden. The tsukiyama generally include a hill (usually constructed) combined with some form of water, like a pond or stream, and various plants, shrubs and trees. There is the karesansui, or the dry landscape garden. This is also sometimes called the rock garden. The karesansui are typically associated with Zen Buddhism. Large prominent rocks stand in a sea of sand; there are no plants. The sand is raked in circles or curved lines to evoke the movement of water. Lastly, there is the chaniwa, the tea garden. The chaniwa is used for the introductory portion of the Japanese tea ceremony, when participants wait outside and then purify themselves. A tea garden is always located outside the tea house or room where the ceremony will take place. All three are gardens that with skill and attention to detail you can create in your own yard, and all three kinds of Japanese gardens emphasize natural beauty and reflection.
A true tsukiyama would take acres of land to create. Users are meant to stroll the grounds and enjoy the views and natural beauty. However, you can aspire to the same principles in your own yard. Include a source of water for natural beauty, like a koi pond filled with Japanese carp. You could also buy a small fountain or automatic waterfall. Plant smaller shrubs and plants in front of larger ones. Use plants that native to Japan or others with a similar feel. Use evergreens for year-round beauty. Try cedar, Japanese black pine, Himalayan white pine or Canadian hemlock trees. Deciduous trees that lose their leaves like the maple, willow and tulip are seasonal choices. Get a flowering cherry tree for pink blossoms in spring. Grow hedges like Japanese barberry or yew along a path. Bring color in with flowers like Japanese irises, Japanese peonies or azaleas. For groundcover, use moss, Japanese Sweet Flag or spurge.
The rock garden is meant to be a place for quiet reflection and meditation. You are meant to think about the ways of the world as you gaze on the sturdy rock islands sitting in the turbulent “waters” of the rippling sand. To build your own, you will need a flat area in a suitable size. Measure off the area and then buy appropriate lengths of wood to frame the garden. Nail plywood to the bottom of the frame – you are basically making a large shallow tray to hold the rocks and gravel. Place large rocks in the boxed garden area. There is no right way or wrong way to do it – it’s your own tastes that matter. The placement should spur on a feeling of serenity and meditative thoughts. The traditional gravel is actually crushed granite. You can use sand or other less costly gravel to fill in the rest of the space in the boxed area. Lastly, rake the gravel or sand in wavy lines or circles.
A chaniwa, or tea garden, is really little more than a path and a seating area outside the tea house. The elements in the garden are meant to evoke the ritual and principles of the chado ceremony. These principles are harmony, respect, purity and tranquility. The tea garden is where the ceremony begins as the participants wait and then purify themselves. Chado is a chance for relaxation and reflection. It is a meditative affair with a set procession of movements and actions. This complex ceremony begins with the guests walking along a path of stepping stones through the garden and then sitting on the machiai, a bench, until the host appears. Then they purify themselves from a stone basin filled with water, washing their hands and mouths. Guests remove their shoes and enter the chashitsu, or tea room, through a small door.
The crucial elements in the tea garden include the path of stepping stones, stone lanterns and the tsukubai, or stone basin where the ritual cleansing occurs. According to Japan National Tourist Organization, the goal of the tea garden is “to create a feeling of solitude and detachment from the world.” The garden should be private and tranquil, a refuge from the world. It is intended to make you feel as though you are leaving the worries of everyday life behind as you take part in the ceremony. As to the plants and flowers, the goal is simplicity. You want to evoke natural beauty. Even the color of flowers is not necessary. Fresh green natural plants and trees (like moss, ferns and Japanese maples) are the ideal plantings for the tea garden.