6 Japanese garden ideas: create a Zen space in your back yard

These Japanese garden ideas will help you create an outdoor space that's tranquil, harmonious, and beautiful

Japanese cherry tree
(Image credit: Unsplash/Mike Marquez)

These Japanese garden ideas will help you try out something different in your garden this autumn. Japanese garden design is very different from Western garden design, with a much more minimalist approach to planting and decoration. Japanese gardens are soothing and tranquil spaces intended for contemplation, and if you've fallen in love with their beauty (as we have), there are several elements you can easily incorporate into your existing garden. Take a look at them below.

Then, find more garden ideas in our ultimate gallery. 

1. Plant acers

Acer palmatum

(Image credit: Thompson & Morgan)

Acers – also known as Japanese maples – are wonderfully low-maintenance, hardy trees that thrive in shady, sheltered spots. Adding one to your garden is the easiest way to create a Japanese look in your garden. Acers rarely need pruning and naturally grow into a graceful shape. 

2. Start a rock garden 

Japanese rock garden, by David Martin

(Image credit: Unsplash/David Martin)

Rock gardens are a staple of Japanese garden design. They're a lot more spare than Alpine rockeries: in fact, you can just have an area with a single rock surrounded by fine granite gravel, which you then rake in the characteristic circular patterns. Simple and very beautiful. 

Find more rock garden ideas in our gallery.

Rock garden

(Image credit: Unsplash/Kari Shea)

3. Space out your plants

Japanese garden

(Image credit: Unsplash)

The 'less is more' philosophy definitely applies to the Japanese garden style, and Japanese gardeners often talk about the spaces between plants being as important as the plants themselves. So, choose a couple beautiful mature trees and a few smaller plants, but avoid an overly dense planting scheme. 

Japanese garden

(Image credit: Unsplash/Juanita Swart)

4. Add a water feature

Japanese garden with pond

(Image credit: Unsplash/Jeff Finley)

A carp pond is such a classic Japanese garden idea. Plant water lilies, iris, and pond grasses to create a tranquil pond scene. 

Find out how to build a pond in our guide.

Water lilies

(Image credit: Unsplash/Riccardo Chiarini)

5. Plant a fruit tree as a centrepiece

Japanese cherry tree

(Image credit: Unsplash/Mike Marquez)

Cherry blossoms play an important part in Japanese culture, but they look lovely in any garden. There are many varieties of Japanese flowering cherry trees: some of them grow very tall, others can be grown in containers. Plant yours in a prominent spot in the garden: you want those blossoms to take centre stage come spring.

6. Experiment with bonsai

Japanese bonsai tree

(Image credit: Unsplash/Meritt Thomas)

If you have very limited space in your garden, then a bonsai tree could be a wonderful way to add that Japanese element. Bonsai do require a bit more maintenance than regular trees, but some are hardy and will do well on a patio. 

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Anna is a professional writer with many years of experience. She has a passion for contemporary home decor and gardening. She covers a range of topics, from practical advice to interior and garden design.