A walk through a Japanese garden can be the most relaxing thing you’ll do all summer. While western gardens are all about the visual display of bright flowers, traditional Japanese gardens are designed to look and feel natural, without looking wild. They’re stylized landscapes composed chiefly of rocks, water features, carefully shaped ornamental trees, and moss.
Japanese gardens tend to be more green than western gardens, but there’s no denying how beautiful and peaceful they are. You’ll see two different kinds of Japanese gardens in this collection: traditional Japanese rock gardens, where sand and gravel replace water; and larger promenade gardens, where a winding pathway takes visitors through individually designed arrangements. Some gardens can be a combination of these elements; in a small space, these are called Hermitage gardens.
Keep an eye out for some of the most unique designs, including an indoor zen garden, and large, public gardens with beautiful set scenes. Remember that some Japanese gardens are meant to be taken in from above, or scene by scene on a leisurely stroll.
We’ve scoured the internet to collect some of the most relaxing and beautiful Japanese gardens around for your enjoyment. We hope each one of these gardens will inspire you to go visit or create your own zen garden, or incorporate some of the design elements into your own garden.
1. Indoor Zen Garden
An indoor garden with a beautifully manicured tree in the center of a still pool. On the right is a vertical garden that can be seen from all points on the stairs.
2. Traditional Dry Landscape Rock Garden
A dry landscape rock garden with perfectly raked sand and enormous boulders. In Japanese tradition, these boulders can represent mountains, events, or even leaders. The perimeter of this garden is surrounded by maples and evergreens.
3. Walled Japanese Garden with Stone Lantern
Traditionally, Japanese gardens are walled, like this one. A dry landscape garden, the water is replaced by a “river” of gravel with a flag stone path winding through it to the bark beds beyond. A beautiful stone lantern completes the scene.
4. Hermitage Garden with Statue of the Buddha
A combination “hermitage” garden with a raked rock garden next to a created stone stream with gentle cascades and multi-toned stones. On a moss-covered rock sits a statue of the Buddha.
5. Layered Rock Wall Garden with Koi Pond
A lush, tropical-feeling Zen garden with mossy stones that create a water cascade and a layered limestone wall. A wooden footbridge leads visitors across the koi pond.
6. Japanese Garden with Delicate Blossoms and Shishiodoshi
A natural looking Japanese garden featuring a Shishiodoshi, a water feature where, as it fills up with water, it clanks against a stone, drains, and then starts the process over with. These are used to scare birds and other wildlife away from the plants. The bowl is beautifully aged, with a light film of moss on the inside.
7. Combination Garden with Stone Patio
The top tier of this garden has a small patio with a rock garden and a stone lantern surrounded by young maples. The path winds down to the larger, promenade garden. Like traditional rock gardens, this one is designed to be seen from above.
8. Lush Forest Garden with Scattered Stone Lamps
This Japanese garden is filled with grassy plants and evergreen bushes, with stones and stone lanterns intermixed for a natural, almost wild look. The trick to a good Japanese garden is for it to look natural without being allowed to actually grow wild.
9. Urban Zen Garden with Benches
A more urban example of a rock garden, with two benches surrounded by hardy trees and bushes. Although not traditional, urban zen gardens can be a great way to relax during a busy day.
10. Japanese Water Basin Near River
A Japanese garden with a rustic stone pathway leading over the narrow, still body of water. The path is edged by small topiary bushes. A traditional Japanese water basin overlooks the scene below.
11. Rock Garden with Arched Chinese Red Bridge
A public Japanese garden with perfectly groomed topiary and a large koi pond beside the zen rock garden. An arched bridge is painted Chinese red. A stroll around this promenade garden leads visitors through perfectly set up scenes just like this one.
12. Dry Landscape Garden with Round Topiary
A dry landscape Japanese gardens with sculpted topiary, large stones, and gravel replacing the stream. The perimeter of this garden is surrounded by a thick forest of impassable trees.
13. Stone and Bamboo Water Feature Near Japanese Maple
A small scene in a promenade garden with a bamboo and stone water feature. Red Japanese maple and several evergreen trees and bushes hang over the bamboo spout and stone water basin perched on the rocks below.
14. Natural Cascade with Arched Bridge
An artful cascade that looks almost natural, with an arched footbridge crossing the stream. Ornamental trees and bushes are shaped gently to grow near, but not over, the path. to the left is a small teahouse.
15. Gravel and Bark Zen Garden
A small, natural Zen garden of gravel and bark with a small wooden footbridge over the gravel “river” and stepping stones leading through the bark. Small patches of grass add greenery to this peaceful, low maintenance garden. Click the source link for a DIY guide.
16. Still Pond with Stepping Stones to Lantern
A colorful Japanese garden with ornate stone lanterns marking the path of the promenade through sculpted topiaries and bold yellow Japanese maples. Stepping stones lead to the large lantern across the water.
17. Pine Garden with Small Flagstone Path
A Japanese garden with aged stone lanterns and knobby pines that were grown curved to look ancient. Mossy stone pathways add to this illusion of being ancient.
18. Multi-Colored Sand Rock Garden
A modern zen garden with a diamond and triangle pattern. Each section is slightly different, some with large rocks, others with gray sand, some with light red sand, and others with shaped hedges. A low wall surrounds this garden, as is traditional.
Source: Timothy Takemoto
19. Colorful Zen Garden with Trellis
A less-than-traditional zen garden with wooden pathways leading around the small garden area. A tall Japanese maple is the center piece of the display in the center. The green door picks up some of the greenery as well.
20. Small Garden with Bonsai and Stone Lantern
A simple zen garden with wooden decking, white stone gravel, stone lanterns, and a beautiful bonsai perched on a wooden table. Taller trees cast dappled shade on this area.