Create Your Japanese Garden, with Urban Jungle
16 April 2019 - by Rachel Bannon

Create Your Japanese Garden 

During the month of May at Urban Jungle, we're celebrating all things Japanese in our Nursery and Cafe, with plants and food carefully connected to the distinct and fascinating Japanese culture, promoting a feeling of zen and ikigai (finding your bliss).

Read on to find out more about the many elements that make up a Japanese garden, why these will add something really special to your outdoor space, and the meaning behind them. This month, Urban Jungle has also focused on a few of our favourite Japanese plants and cultural influences to celebrate in more detail with workshops, talks and dining experiences. 

At the centre of this month’s celebration is the Japanese garden and all it represents, that typically break all of the Urban Jungle rules of a big, bold, maximalist indoor and outdoor setting. In short, a Japanese garden focuses on the opposite - a minimalist, simple and natural setting, designed to inspire reflection and meditation. So, perhaps this provides the perfect opportunity for us all to take some time to appreciate the simpler things in life… 

“Throughout history, the Japanese have tried to emphasize in their gardens the charm of restraint; beauty is so concealed that it may be discovered individually, thus providing a thrill of joy to the soul like that which comes from doing a good deed in stealth.”

Create Your Japanese Garden

The History

The Japanese style of gardening was probably imported from China or Korea in the 5th Century, featuring a pond and islet connected by bridges to the shore. Japanese gardens have evolved over time to include symmetry, and religion in the form of rocks and boulders with Buddhist names. Shibui is also very important, and refers to a simple, subtle and unobtrusive aesthetic - again, not our usual Jungle style, but for these beautiful gardens we’ll make an exception!

An interesting development is that of Utilitarianism in the Japanese gardens. Duck ponds, the cultivation of reeds, and plum trees for military supplies were all introduced, along with public parks. During the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1923 public parks provided refuge, taking the health and wellbeing of the greater good into account. Various other philosophical influences have also been added to rationalise the aesthetics. 

japanese public parks
The importance of Japanese public parks...

Choose your style of Japanese Garden…

Tsuki-yama - Hills and ponds using streams and real water, or kare-sansui - the representation of a dried up landscape using rocks to suggest a waterfall. At its basin could be a winding stream or a pond where gravel or sand is used to symbolise water, or to suggest seasonally dried-up terrain.

Hira-niwa - Level ground symbolising a valley or more. 

sentai water garden
Sen-tei - Water garden 

Rin-sen - Forest and water 

Bunjin (“literary scholar”), a simple and small style typically integrating bonsai in level gardens. 

roji tea garden
Roji - The tea garden (dewy ground or lane), is another distinct garden style evolved to meet the requirements of the tea ceremony.

Genkansaki (Front entrance) incorporates a simple curve in the path to conceal the door to the house, or an unsightly entrance and give character too. 

Gardens may of course include different elements of all of these types of landscape and are also designed with the three degrees of elaboration; Shin - elaborate, Gyo - intermediate, and So - abbreviated. 

Japanese Garden Essentials...

Japanese garden essentials

  • Less is more: the space around the plants creates the feeling of space and is just as important as the plants themselves. 
  • Use the existing landscape - frame vistas with maples and add intrigue with paths to natural landscape scenes. 
  • Showcase all the greens - Encourage moss to spread in nooks and crannies, include leaves and architectural plants. 
  • Use simplicity, restraint and consistency to showcase natural beauty

Choose 1, a few or all of the below to get add that beautiful Japanese touch to your indoor and outdoor space…

Indoor and outdoor plants
There is so much choice when it comes to Japanese planting, here we’ve just a picked a few of our favourites… 

Kokedama workshop

Translates as ‘Moss-ball’ and originates from bonsai planting techniques. They encapsulate the Japanese aesthetic of Wabi-sabi - the appreciation of the imperfections of nature, and the transience of natural beauty. Characteristics of wabi-sabi include simplicity, warmth, earthiness, and irregularity with acceptance. Available to buy in the Nursery or attend a workshop HERE

Bonsai talk and display

Originating from China and Korea, the art of Bonsai is designed to bring the outdoors inside the temples of the Buddhist monks. Bonsai literally means ‘tree in a tray’, and the tree and container must form a single entity. It’s also believed that miniature objects have mystical and magical powers concentrated within them, adding to the intriguing nature of Bonsai. The Japanese version of the trees are for the most part more refined and better groomed than that of their Chinese and Korean counterparts, however, both types have their own individualistic charm.
Available to buy in the Nursery, or attend our Bonsai feature days HERE. 

Acers, Japanese Maples
acer japanese maple
Red Emporer

Acers, or maple trees are a firm favourite as they add that maximalist Jungle touch to any space. They’re a wonderful exception to the rule of simplicity, restraint and consistency, and the distinctive leaf shapes with bold, vibrant foliage changes colour throughout the seasons, from purple, pink, red, orange, yellow and green. View our range of acers on display in the Nurseries, or online HERE.

Flowering Cherry trees
Prunus amanagowa
Prunus amanagowa

Also known as Cherry Blossom trees, they’re extremely popular and renowned for the magnificent flowers that cover the branches. We offer a wonderful range at Urban Jungle with flowers in many different shades and forms. Whilst most people are drawn to the photogenic blossom, some varieties also offer stunning autumn colour, purple foliage or glossy bark such as Prunus Prunus 'Amanogawa' - a small, very slender, cone-shaped flowering cherry with bronze-tinted leaves and clusters of fragrant semi-double flowers in spring. In autumn the leaves turn orange/red. A wonderful ornamental tree where space is limited.
Visit the Nurseries to view the range, or buy online HERE.

wisteria at urban jungle

This one has a hugely significant part to play in Japanese art, poetry and culture. The most famous Kabuki dance (Fuji Musume - Wisteria Maiden) is centred around wisteria blossom as a symbol of love. The purple wisteria is also greatly favoured by followers of Buddhism, as it was believed that Amida Buddha would descend on a purple cloud to guide them to the ‘Western Paradise’, also because the branches and blossoms seem to lower their head in respect, as a symbol of prayer. It's long-life also bestows the additional symbolic meaning of immortality and longevity - therefore, a kimono decorated with wisteria blossoms would be of the highest formality. 

We have a wonderful range of Wisteria floribunda on display in the Nurseries and online including white (Alba), pink (Rosea) and purple (Lawrence and Yae-kokuryu). #wisteriahisteria
View online HERE. 

azalea at Urban Jungle

What’s more ‘Japanese’ than mounds of azaleas covered in brightly coloured flowers? A range of eye-popping colours are available at Urban Jungle, from ice white through to the deepest red and fiery orange. Neatly pruned or allowed to sprawl, they are essential to an authentic Japanese garden. However, if you don’t have the acid or neutral soils they prefer, try Japanese quince (Chaenomeles) for a similar effect.


Ferns predate the dinosaurs and are vital in providing that natural feeling in Japanese gardens, perfectly complementing trees and shrubs. For the perfect look they should not be taller than 1 meter tall and have a wide range of characteristics including delicate and intricate foliage, and tough leathery leaves of other species. We have a wide range including Polystichum, Dryopteris and Asplenium. Visit the Nursery or view online HERE. 

bamboo japanese garden

Because of its sturdy root structure, it is a symbol of prosperity in Japan. For years, people were told to run into the bamboo groves in the event of an earthquake, because the bamboo's strong root structure would hold the earth together. Simple and unadorned, the bamboo is also symbolic of purity and innocence. "Take o watta youna hito" literally translates into "a man like fresh-split bamboo" and refers to a man with a frank nature.

Bamboo plants are invaluable for fast screening of unsightly views, and blending gardens and architecture, some are beautiful specimen plants too. Evergreen and problem free. Rhizome barrier available for more invasive species. Fargesia species are perfect for shade or growing in pots or containers.
View the range in the Nurseries or online HERE.

Soleirolia soleirolii
Soleirolia soleirolii
Much faster growing than moss, this mat-forming perennial will carpet damp ground, rocks, the base of tree trunks, and the edge of a pond. At Urban Jungle it softens the edges of our koi pond.

Landscape and features

Japanese garden landscapes
  • Waterfalls, Streams and springs, Lakes, Wells - decorative and useful
  • Hills and Bridges
  • Natural stone, Stone water basins, Stone lanterns and figures
  • Few flowers
  • Evergreen, although maples are allowed
  • Trees, distributed according to natural growth and habitat
  • Pagodas, arbours and summer houses
  • Gateways and fencing including sode-gake (sleeve fencing)

Now you have all the tools to create your Japanese space, indoors and outdoors. If you would like to find out more or attend any of our events, find out what’s on in May, or get in touch with the team, contact us HERE. 

  Share Post   

View Comments Comments

Leave a Comment






Back to Top