Japanese Rockeries: The Beauty of Simplicity

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The art of rockery gardens are thousands of years old in Japanese tradition. This ancient culture that so adores the beauty and symmetry found in nature has a distinctive style in their gardens.

Finding peace and tranquility are cornerstones of the Buddhist religion, the foundation of Japanese society. It is with the intention of creating natural havens in which to meditate and experience ‘samatha’ (tranquility) that they’ve designed their gardens.

The traditional Japanese garden was used only by buddhist monks in their temples until the wealthy samurai and lords desired to mimic the beautiful gardens of the buddhist monks. From there, these traditions trickled down to all the people of Japan.

Japanese rockeries feature heavy stone pathways, including bridges over small pebbles or water, and some variety of a bonsai tree or other traditional shrubs. The greenery in Japanese gardens are usually only used as a minor focal point, carefully pruned to create symmetrical cones or other shapes. This trimming and pruning of the trees is considered to be a step in connecting to nature and relieving stress. The colors of a Japanese rockery are almost always restricted to the natural hue of the earth and trees, with accents of bright cherry red or black.

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Types of plants used:

Plants used within Japanese gardens are usually limited in variety and diversity, but instead are constructed with the intention of creating uniformity and calm. This limited palette doesn’t detract from the beauty. Instead, the small number of textures and colors serves to enhance the beauty through a feeling of harmony.

The majority of plants used in Japanese gardens are evergreen trees and shrubs, giving emphasis to the beauty of all four seasons. Herbaceous annuals and perennials are rarely used except as minor accents. Common plants and their varietals are bamboo, moss, carefully pruned evergreens, and azaleas.

While plants are a beautiful part of the Japanese garden, the true focus is in the ‘bones’ of the rockery—the stones themselves.

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Stone groupings:

Japanese rockeries use several different groupings of stones, including clumps of tall pillars surrounded by small gravel and carved stone Japanese statues surrounded by flat pavement stones. They will also often feature a series of stepping stones that cross through a wide area of tiny white gravel used for raking. Japanese believe that a rockery should depict a scene of nature, using large stones as mountains or hills, and gravel as the river or ocean. This belief allows the natural flow of the landscape to be utilized as well. These stone replicas are called dry landscapes and have been used for hundreds of years.

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What stones are used?

Japanese rockeries will often see white gravel, large marble or granite stone, and some other various types of stone. They will also frequently used small polished stones of black or white as accents.

A common feature among Japanese gardens is a Zen Garden, an open area filled with small stones raked into geometric shapes. The rakes have teeth on one side and a flat tamper on the other, allowing the garden to design innumerable creative patterns. Sand is rarely used, as it is easily disturbed by wind or rain. Instead, small pieces of gravel are laid down because they hold their place even when exposed to rough weather.

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Koi ponds:

A discussion of the Japanese gardens would not be complete with addressing one of their favorite forms of ornament—the koi fish. These fish are actually a type of Japanese ornamental carp, called the Nishikigoi. Creating and maintaining a koi pond requires careful thought and tending. Many Japanese gardeners who nurture koi ponds submit their fish to local festival shows where the fish are given prizes by judges.

What’s your rockery style? Is it a blend of ancient traditional Japanese meets modern English country garden? Whatever your individual style, we’d love to help you create your perfect rockery. Contact us for a free consultation!