For years I have preferred the wild, colorful messiness of English country gardens (aka cottage gardens.) I like to mix flowers and veggies, herbs and vines and succulents, all growing near each other and even spilling over each other in an alluring garden plot.
But after a recent overseas trip that vision has been somewhat tempered by the thoughtful serenity of Asian gardens. There is something profoundly appealing in the simplicity you find there, a careful mix of stones and water leading your thoughts inward. I love the serenity and self-reflection they inspire and try to bring a few elements into my own garden.
Stone Elements of Asian Gardens
What we think of as traditional Asian gardens do not have any elements that are randomly chosen or positioned. Careful planning goes into the design as well as the design elements, like stones, water and vegetation. Every element is intentional and situated in its location for a specific reason. But the primary aesthetic is creating a simple, natural setting designed to inspire reflection and meditation.
Stones have long played a central role in Japanese culture. Since ancient times, Asian gardens have included prominent large stones representing mountains and hills. Stones are seen as representing power and stability as well as tranquility. They contrast with the softer water elements, causing a viewer to reflect on the contrasts and harmony of nature.
Water Elements of Asian Gardens
Water is also an important component of Asian gardens. Water elements often take the form of koi ponds, where the large, bright fish add color, movement and character.
But fountains, waterfalls and lakes with bridges are also frequently included. The fluid water is intended to contrast with the solid stone, representing the yin-yang dynamic of life. And since water reflects, it encourages personal reflection.
Vegetation Elements of Asian Gardens
You will find trees, shrubs, lawns and many kinds of flowers in Asian gardens. Japanese maples and flowering cherry trees are common small trees that add seasonal appeal, especially when positioned near water. Evergreen trees and bamboo are ornamental in winter months.
These gardens are never left to their own devices. The vegetation is carefully arranged and meticulously manicured. Yet the stone/water/vegetation combination is a simple one that causes a visitor to slow down and appreciate nature.