Asian gardens are all about peace and tranquility. This garden style focuses on creating a meditative space through natural materials and minimalistic design.
In Asian gardens, plants with soft, fine features are arranged to frame views and create small enclosures within the garden. There are often winding footpaths leading one small space to the next. Stone and water features make up the décor. This blends the garden with the surrounding landscape and gives a sense of harmony and balance.
Asian gardens are simple – less is more in this style.
Japanese, Chinese & Korean gardens make up the Asian garden style. But, in recent years this garden style has gone global! Gardeners in many western countries including Britain and the US have found inspiration in the Asian garden philosophy.
In this article, I’ll describe Asian gardens (and all of its different types, based on the country of origin). Then, I’ll provide a complete guide for getting this garden style in your space!
And remember, Asian style is just ONE of many different garden styles that you can use to create your dream garden.
History of Asian Gardens
The very first gardens of Asia date back to China’s Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BCE). These gardens were symbols of wealth and status. It wasn’t until the Six Dynasties Period (220-589 CE) that gardens became more common in lower-class properties.
Japan began adopting Chinese gardening practices during the Heian Period (794-1185 CE). At this time, religion played a big part in the function of gardens in Asia. Taoism and Zen Buddhism influenced the practice of using the garden as a place for meditation and prayer.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, European visitors brought ideas of Asian garden design back home with them. Then when trade routes opened up in the 19th century, the influence boomed!
Today, the rich history and cultural influence of Asian gardens continue to inspire gardeners all over the world.
Types of Asian Gardens (Japanese, Chinese, Korean)
I’m “generalizing” Asian gardens here. There are quite a few differences, though.
Each country provides its own unique inspiration to this overall style.
Isn’t that cool?!
Let’s learn how they all contribute in their own way!
|Country of Origin||Design Style||Function||Symbolism||Water Feature||Layout of Space|
|Japanese Gardens||Minimalistic||Meditation||Shinto & Zen Buddhism||Irregularly shaped & contained||Several small garden spaces with pathways leading one to the next|
|Chinese Gardens||Stylized & contemporary||Entertaining & socializing||Confucianism & Buddhism||Large||A large, opened space|
|Korean Gardens||Naturalistic||Harmony with nature||Taoism, Buddhism & Confucianism||Serves as the focal point||Reflects the surrounding landscape|
I’ll expand on this table a little here in this next section!
Japanese gardens are the most minimalistic in design.
These gardens have a more irregular/natural shape with hills and wandering paths. In fact, it’s believed that a straight path could lead a malevolent spirit directly to the house, while a zigzagging path would confuse and trap them.
I don’t know about you, but I’d definitely want to confuse evil spirits, not welcome them. So that makes sense to me.
Spiritual beliefs of the Japanese also extend to their rock gardens.
Japanese rock gardens are basically several large rocks in a bed of gravel or sand. This is another space that is useful for meditation.
Japanese gardens often feature tea houses and small retreats for meditation and rest. They are usually made from wood or composite decking.
Plant variety is more limited and plants are tightly clipped and pruned. Water features are irregularly shaped and contained, like a trickling stream or pond. There is often lots of Shinto and Zen Buddhist symbolism and decor in Japanese gardens.
Here are a few examples of Japanese gardens:
Chinese gardens are not as minimalistic.
The Chinese garden design is more for entertaining and socializing. The shape is usually more opened up, maybe square or rectangular. Water features are usually larger than the small streams and ponds of Japanese gardens.
Hardscaping and architecture play a bigger role in Chinese gardens than in Japanese or Korean, and plant variety is usually much wider.
The religious symbolism usually aligns more with Taoism, Confucianism or Buddhism. The idea of Chinese gardens is to create a “mini Oriental landscape” that reflects their philosophical and spiritual beliefs.
Here are a few examples of Chinese gardens:
The main difference in Korean gardens is the planting style.
Korean gardens take on a naturalistic approach by reflecting and incorporating the surrounding landscape. Plants are selected for their beauty as well as their ability to thrive in the local climate.
Aside from pagodas or lanterns, decor is very minimal.
Religious symbolism is usually naturalistic. Boulders and rocks represent stability and strength, while water symbolizes vitality. The water feature in a Korean garden usually serves as the focal point.
The common theme of all of these garden styles is to create a peaceful, relaxing space. Whether it’s to meditate or to entertain, the specifics are up to you!
An Overview of Asian Gardens
These are the main characteristics of Asian style gardens:
- Plants with finely textured foliage
- Winding pathways
- Natural decor like rocks/boulders
- A water feature of some kind – whether it’s a large pond, a trickling stream or a bubbling fountain
- Architectural elements like bridges, pergolas and arbors
- Asian-style plants that will work well in your climate (see more in the “plants” section below!)
- Art and/or symbolism to represent Asian culture and beliefs
Maintenance Needs of Asian Gardens
The level of maintenance for an Asian style garden depends a lot on the features of the garden itself. But, in general this garden style is medium-level maintenance.
In clean-clipped Japanese gardens, plant pruning and clearing pathways can be especially labor-some. The serene Japanese rock gardens with carefully combed gravel/sand also require extra care.
Water features will add a level of maintenance, though again how much maintenance depends mostly on the feature itself.
There’s no such thing as a “no maintenance” garden. However, it’s definitely possible to design your Asian style garden to be more low maintenance!
Incorporating the naturalistic planting style of Korean gardens can alleviate some maintenance.
The easiest plants to maintain are ones that are well suited for the conditions of your garden (whether that’s sun, soil type or geographical location). So, make sure you do your research before planting!
You can also incorporate natural elements like rocks and sand to take the place of some plants.
Quick Tip: There are so many ways to create a low maintenance landscape, no matter what style of garden you have!
Color Palette for Asian Gardens
Whether you’re looking at the gardens of Japan, Korea or China – these gardens all lean toward the modern style end of the spectrum. This means a pretty limited color palette.
The main color you’ll see is green, from foliage of course – with the occasional pop of red from a Japanese Maple tree or an architectural structure.
Did you know that in Chinese cultures, red is believed to bring good fortune?
Gold is another “lucky” color, and also adds a touch of elegance to the garden.
When adding accent colors, choose one or two complementing colors. Repeat the same colors many times throughout the garden to add more interest while keeping the palette minimalistic.
Just don’t use white. Many Asian cultures associate white flowers with funerals.
What to Plant in an Asian Style Garden
Now that you know all about how to make your garden peaceful and meditative, let’s talk plants!
Before going to the nursery and adding all these plants to your cart, it’s important to know the condition of your garden. You’ll want to know:
- Your planting zone
- How much sun your yard gets (are there some spots that get more sun and some spots that stay mostly shady?)
- How well your soil drains
- The type of soil you have – clay, sandy or somewhere in-between
Don’t know the answers to these questions? Don’t freak out, I got you covered! I have a whole beginners article to help with this stuff if you’re just getting started.
If you know your conditions and you’re ready to pick out some botanicals – here are the most iconic plants and trees featured in the Asian gardens!
Quick Tip: Miniature trees are VERY common in Asian style gardens!
Note: The following plants have MANY invasive varieties.
While these plants ARE quintessential to Asian gardens, I think it’s important to note these particular plants are native to Asia. So, many species of these plants are NOT recommended for the US or other regions:
Bamboo (Bambusa spp., zones 4-9) is a fast-growing, low-maintenance plant that can be used to create screens or as a background plant.
Many varieties of bamboo are invasive in the US. There are some forms of clumping bamboo that are easier to manage, although the clumps will still spread. I do not really recommend this for new/amateur gardeners.
You can also consider bamboo decor or hardscaping as a way to incorporate this quintessential Asian plant.
Wisteria (Wisteria spp., zones 5-8) is a flowering vine that is often trained to grow over arbors or trellises in Chinese garden design.
Chinese Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) is an invasive species in the US. It is widely used in the gardens of Asia, because that’s where it’s native to.
You can swap this for American Wisteria (Wisteria frutescens, zones 5-9). This species is still very vigorous-growing and high maintenance but doesn’t have the invasive qualities of Chinese wisteria.
If planting this, it should be away from structures (like homes and garages). Wisteria is a very thick and vigorous vine that can pull down structures.
Hardscaping for Asian Gardens
Plants aren’t the only way to solidify your garden style! Hardscaping is a very important aspect of landscape design.
“Hardscaping” refers to the permanent features of your garden. This means things like the pathways, arbors, fences and bridges.
These are the most characteristic hardscaping elements of Asian gardens:
- Pathways made of gravel or stepping stones
- Water features – anything from streams to waterfalls to fountains – adds to the tranquility and the meditative atmosphere of Asian gardens
- Bridges are often featured in Asian style gardens, especially alongside a water feature.
- Tea houses – especially in Japanese gardens, small retreats for tea and meditation are common.
Furniture & Décor for Asian Gardens
Check out some gorgeous Asian garden decor!
Tips for Creating an Asian Garden at Home
Here’s a handy bullet-list of Asian garden ideas!
- Look for plants that are soft and finely textured
- Use natural materials like rocks/stones as decor
- Add a water feature – bonus points if it makes relaxing, ambient sound!
- Create small resting spaces throughout your garden and add ways to encourage guests to meander through. Footpaths and bridges will lead your guests along!
- Add art and symbolism to celebrate the wisdom of Asian culture.
- Keep the planting design minimalistic. Remember, less is more. Limit plant variety and color palette to keep the atmosphere calming.
- Add architectural elements like a bridge or an arbor.
Combining Asian Style with Other Garden Styles
It’s important to remember that you don’t need to limit yourself to just one garden style. The “rules” of the different styles are helpful as a guide, but making the garden uniquely yours is what’s going to bring you the most joy!
Consider checking out all of the other garden styles and see which ones call out to you!
Then check out my Garden Style Mood Board workshop – I created a fun way to pin down your style and to get you started designing that garden you’ve always dreamed of.
When combining more than one style, I recommend keeping it simple at first.
Check out the planting style of one and the hardscaping style of another and see if you can combine them in a way that’s pleasing to you.
For example: if you love the decor and hardscaping of the Asian style, take a few elements – like a bridge and a water feature – and use the clipped boxwood hedges of the traditional garden style to create a much more formal look to your space!
Or, to go more casual, check out the naturalistic style for plantings. You can create a mini ecosystem in your backyard and add a small bistro set for teatime and meditation!
The possibilities are literally endless and you’re just scratching the surface of all the fun it is to design a garden.
The big focus of Asian gardens – from Japan to China to Korea – is to create a peaceful oriental landscape. This is done through minimalistic design and the use of Asian art and symbolism. Using soft-featured plants and tranquil water features will create a restful garden space.
Whether that space is used for meditation or socialization, it’s up to you!
If you enjoyed learning about Asian gardens, I invite you to check out my Garden Style Mood Board Workshop. Not only will you learn more about garden styles, I’ll show you how to flip these styles completely on their head to make a totally unique and inspiring space that you love!!
More Garden Style Articles You’ll Love
- 8 Pro Tips for Designing a Peaceful Meditation Garden at HomeReflect, rejuvenate and relax: these are my top design tips for creating a quiet, tranquil meditation garden in your space.
- Find Your Zen: How to Create a Meditation Garden in Any Space (Complete Guide)Deep breath in, deep breath out… And enjoy this complete guide for creating a tranquil meditation garden in any size or budget!
- Asian Gardens: Tips for Creating a Tranquil Oasis in Your Garden Space (Complete Guide)Japanese, Chinese & Korean gardens are known for their peace and tranquility. Unwind and unfurl in the meditative space that is the Asian garden!
- Mediterranean Garden Style: Planting, Landscaping and Design Advice for Any Space (Complete Guide)Embrace your climate & surroundings! Learn the philosophy of the Mediterranean garden style and how to apply it, no matter where you live.
- Modern Garden Style: How to Design a Minimalistic Contemporary Garden (Complete Guide)Less is more for the modernist! This guide outlines the minimalistic beauty of the modern garden style and how to create one in your own space.
- Naturalistic Garden Style: How to Achieve it in Your Own Backyard (Complete Guide)Minimal maintenance, colorful blooms and buzzing with biodiversity: how to accomplish the naturalistic garden style right in your backyard.
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Co-Authored by Kady Volpe
Kady is a pro-gardener-in-training. She’s in the process of learning all of Pretty Purple Door’s frameworks and landscape design techniques.