Stones In Japanese Gardens – Groupings, Good Stones & Bad Stones

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Stones and rocks are essential elements to every kind of Zen Garden and are symbolic representations of real or mythical land forms, while this is not their only role. They can also be used as stepping stones, paths, groupings, central stones, and many other types.

The first Stone Grouping to be introduced into Japanese gardens was the ‘Shumisen’ – a collection of stones representing where the Buddha lives (this is placed in the centre of the garden) along with his disciples which are the smaller stones around the Buddha.

Centralized traditional Stone Groupings can essentially be called:
a. The “Buddha Stone” (Mida Buhtsu)
b. The “Goddess Stone” (Kwannon)
c. The “Child’s Stone” (Seishi)

Yet there are 5 basic types of stone groupings that bear a name, purpose and meaning in Japanese Zen Gardens. These stones and rocks can be used in many combinations.

Positive stones are:

1. The “Soul Stone” (Reishoseki), which is low and vertical.
2. The “Body Stone” (Taidoseki), which is tall and vertical and always represents a God or person.
3. The “Heart Stone” (Shintaiseki) or “Flat Stone” which is flat, as the name implies, and is used as a central stone.
4. The “Branching Stone” (Shigyoseki) or “Arching Stone” which has a wider top than base and connects other stones together.
5. The “Ox Stone” (Kikyakuseki) or “Reclining Stone” which is always used in conjunction with the Branching Stone.

Negative or bad stones are:

1. “Diseased Stones”, which are stones that are withered or have a misshapen top.
2.  A “Dead Stone”, which is a stone that is a vertical stone used as a horizontal one and vice versa.
3. “Pauper Stones”, which are unaffiliated or unconnected to other stones in the garden.

Stones that should NOT be placed in Zen Gardens, as they may affect the Feng Shui element of the garden, are those that are cut, broken or de-formed.

Stones moreover shouldn’t be placed at right angles to buildings along their axial line and should not be placed near verandas, as this also disrupts the Feng Shui.

Japanese philosophy reasons that everything OLD has a value. This applies to when you are making a Japanese Zen garden. Boulders and Stones overgrown with moss, old trees, stone arrangements are all examples of this mantra.

If you would like to learn more about creating a Japanese garden or a Zen style garden for mindfulness and relaxation take a look at our new Japanese garden package specifically to help you imagine and create your garden.

You can see what it consists of by CLICKING HERE

4 Japanese Garden Elements That Make All the Difference

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In this post you have lots of information on 4 key elements that make up a Japanese garden.

If you are interested in creating a Japanese garden these things will really enhance your design and give your garden a real sense of authenticity as well as a calm and atress free environment!

Natural Plants

In some Japanese gardens, the form of plantings is considered much more important than bright colours. In Kyoto the Shoden-Ji Garden has replaced rocks with mounds of pruned and clipped Azaleas, which rarely flower because of their constant shaping within the garden.

This is in itself an art form but you should be aware that if you choose to include plants,trees or shrubs there will be an element of regular care.

Azalea’s come in many colours to add lovely colour to a Japanese garden

The flowers and plants chosen to accompany a Zen Garden should be suitable for the climate that the garden is subject to.

The available landscape within the garden space should also be estimated and taken into consideration. Additionally, planting soil will also have to match the plants requirements.

A small amount of gravel or sand at the bottom of the planting hole will assist with the correct drainage.

One thing that you may have noticed about Zen or ‘Dry’ gardens is the topiary involved.

This is not as daunting as it may first seem. For example, carefully clipped Azaleas placed together with surrounding gravel or sand would make an attractive “distant view” of a range of hills if placed correctly.

Smaller plants will take a much longer time to grow so a good idea to achieve swifter results is to buy slightly larger plants .Different sizes and shapes mean visual variation and add to the natural appearance of the garden.

Ornaments

Ornaments are often used to decorate Zen Gardens usually in the form of lanterns and statues (mainly Buddha representations).

Lanterns essentially offer Yang to reduce the dominance of Yin. These two polarities united serve as the perfect state of harmony. Yang balances Yin and vice versa. Yang, in this case the lantern element, becomes the white circle in the black; the fire to shield from the cold; the life to enlighten and vitalise from the dark. It offers the perfect essence of a Yang in a Yin environment.

The lantern represents the gardens realisation of time, night and day, year after year.

It transcends time and its physical structure and design perfectly attune to the climate of Japan by offering a hood for the snow and ice and a roof and walls to protect a candles flame.

The lantern can sit beside a pond, in the pond, within a corner of the garden, alongside a pathway. It’s best not located where the “sha” (detrimental) energy can extinguish it e.g., exposed on a hill in a gully or swamp, where the constant damp will extinguish the flame, or if used in a low place lifted above it on a pedestal to become a beacon similar to a lighthouse on a seashore guiding ships at sea.

Buddha

Buddha’s in Zen gardens are popular elements, as Japanese gardening has a close association with Buddhism.

In a Japanese garden the soil represents the fertile mind of Buddha and our own internal Karma.

Planting is interpreted as blossoming ideas from fertility.

Paths signify the way to enlightenment. Zen Buddhism teaches that making a garden encourages contentment and enlightenment. This is the reason that in more recent times within the context of Japanese garden history, gardening is considered a spiritual and religious activity.

The general rules of thumb for placing Buddha statues in a Zen garden (or a Japanese garden) is facing north. South facing is not recommended as it is related to Yama a Hindu god and select in the dead. The Buddah statue is usually placed in a Lotus pool.

Moss

Moss may not always be included in a Zen Garden, yet quite a few seem to embrace its use.

Grasses, perennial plants, bamboo and ivy will usually accompany moss, forming a stunning motif of contrasting earthy colours.

The Silver Temple in Kyoto is a stunning example of a mossy Zen Garden.

The western part of Kyoto is also filled with moss-adorned gardens, the most striking of all being the Saiboji Temple or “Moss Temple”. Ninety different types of mosses are incorporated in the garden!

Moss, however, is generally difficult to cultivate and comes in various forms and sizes. It requires far less maintenance than grasses but is very particular on where it likes to grow; areas populated with weeds and general debris like decaying leaves are simply out of the question, as they interfere with its growth.

Shaded and semi-shaded areas of a garden space on the other hand are best because they retain moisture for most varieties of moss.

Moss is resilient to both cold and damp weather, as it exploits any nutrients that may surround it. These nutrients are usually absorbed through its leaves, which simultaneously absorb moisture – this is the reason they cannot be covered for growth.

Types of Moss:

Rock Cap Moss (Dicranum): This type of moss loves deeply shaded areas and is perfect for stones and rocks in a Zen Garden.

– Cushion Moss (Leukobryum Glacum): This variety has a slight sun tolerance but requires a predominantly sandy soil. It is usually light green in colour with silvery flecks.

Hair Cap Moss (Polythirchum Commune): This kind grows in a medium-shaded area and can be placed in partial sunlight. It loves sandy and acidic soil.

Hair Cap Moss – there are over 70 different varieties!

Moss can be transplanted to your garden and encouraged to grow, but be solicitous in choosing the appropriate type to suit your garden.

Moss is estimated to be hundreds of millions of years old as a species and knows what it wants and can stop growing when conditions are not favourable. Simply restart its growth when things take a turn for the better.

A little tip for fresh, relatively quick-growing moss is to coat your stones with “clean” natural yoghurt and watch them over a relatively short space of time turn green.

Moss tends to grow abundantly in the right habitat and all that is required on your behalf is to provide moisture and patience.

 

There you are four elements to consider for making a Japanese garden – there are more options but most Japanese gardens feature one or more of these ingredients.

If you are looking for more detailed knowledge and help about Japanese gardens and Zen gardens then the good news is that we have put together a package that wil;l tell you everything you need to know to get started.

It includes books, audio interviews, plans and some great Japanese garden ideas and you can find out about it by CLICKING HERE

 

The Meaning Of Japanese ‘Zen’ Gardens Made Simple

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The Meaning of Zen Gardens

I’m often asked ‘What Is A Zen Garden and What Does It Mean?’

There are Zen gardens that are ‘true’ to Japanese history and culture and there are Westernised versions that maintian a lot of the design principles – this garden is an example of such a garden.

Yes! you can do something similar to this! More on that later…

Well,the beauty of Zen Gardens has transcended through a consequence of eras and is still part of, not only Japanese, but our universal culture today.

It has adapted to multiple styles and interpretations, evolving throughout the ages. But what is the core meaning of Zen Gardens? What do they symbolize and represent? And what are those elements that distinguish a Zen Garden from an average garden?

Zen Garden Principles

Simplicity is the word that captures all the essence of a Zen Garden’s design.

While average Western gardens tend to be packed with adornments until no further space is available, a Zen Garden evokes a constant tribute to minimalism. Less is, after all, more in the Japanese culture.

Tidiness,precision and an informal, natural character are also what make a Zen Garden true to its cause.

The rules of Zen gardens state that the top two requirements are purity and minimalism (restraint); no single feature should dominate the garden, it is though a personal decision as to whether you wish to have a Zen garden or stretch this mantra and have a garden of Zen influence.

Early Japanese gardens imitated natural landscapes and took inspiration from Japanese landscape painters who had a very strong influence over garden design in the late 14th and early 15th century.

The Seven Aspects of Zen

As far back as the 13th century the seven aspects of Zen were determined and defined as follows:

1) Nature and naturalness
2) Simplicity
3) Asymmetry
4) Minimalist sublimity
5) Tranquillity
6) Subtle profoundness
7) Freedom from attachment

Extravagantly decorated Western gardens can appear cluttered to look at but with a minimal Zen Garden the actual art-form aims to not over-stimulate the mind; essentially, the Zen Garden is there to output peace and serenity while evoking tranquil contemplation.

A Zen Garden should be planned with the “spirit” of Zen in mind. The setting should be quiet and peaceful, bright colours should be avoided and landscaping and planting should be kept to a minimum.

 

Zen Garden Design

Three basic principles apply to a Zen Garden’s design and you should take inspiration and bear these in mind when creating one:

1. Reduced Scale
2. Symbolization
3. Shakkei(“Borrowed Scenery”)

Reduced Scale is one of the key principles of making a Zen Garden.

The size of a regular garden would be reduced to basically a miniature, as Zen Gardens aim to represent and symbolize nature minimally, not over-accentuate it.

This is the very reason that you may have seen table top Zen gardens right the way through to gardens that occupy a large outdoor space. Even a large garden can be an accurate miniaturisation of a real landscape.

Symbolization is another focal element of Zen Garden design and is what makes these gardens so unique.

Zen Gardens, though once symbolizing imaginary realms, now basically represent natural scenery in confined spaces.

Mountains and islands are replicated with the use of rocks and streams and rivers are imitated with the use of raked sand, when water is not present. Representing nature and depicting its elements via basic, minimal structures is what all Zen Gardens symbolize.

Shakkei or “Borrowed Scenery” is a term first presented in the Sakuteiki during the Heian Era and is the art of incorporating natural existing backgrounds to supplement and compliment the garden.

“Borrowed Scenery”, giving justice to its name, uses the surrounding plants and scenery to mimic real-life landscapes but on a much smaller, confined scale.

And that for many is the attraction of a Japanese Zen garden also known in Japanese as ‘Karesansui’ or dry water – the sand, gravel and rocks symbolise an expanse of water with land masses.

As I’m sure that you know the raking of sand or gravel symbolises the movement of a body of water. Japanese garden practitioners develop this skill with a lot of practise and of course training but the results are often as stunning as meaningful.

Creating a Japanese garden will give you a real project with spectacular results. Don’t rush it, plan out your garden, find a suitable space and then start creating and adding the elements.

Imagine a peaceful haven at home in a stressful and some would say crazy world – your answer is a Japanese garden!

For more help on getting started and lots of tips and ideas for creating a Japanese garden see our latest help available by CLICKING HERE

 

Japanese Garden History – Zen Gardens

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Whether you’re aware of what a Zen Garden is or not, you have most likely seen one – a tranquil harmonious place with rocks, sand or gravel and manicured plants and shrubs is probably the most renowned imagery of a Zen Garden.

These picturesque gardens, ideal for meditating or simply viewing, are seen enwreathing most religious edifices in Japan, like the famous Buddhist temples in Kyoto.

Zen Gardens are characterized as such because of the calmness they invoke, which is what makes them ideal for meditation, reflection and relaxation. Inspired initially by Buddhism and Chinese culture, the word ZEN would be written on soil and sand, which is the root and inspiration of Zen Gardens.

But a Zen Garden should have more than one meaning for the viewer.

As the Japanese say, “the mind is flexible if we practice flexibility”, thus each garden bears its own interpretation.

But before we elaborate on what a Zen Garden is, means and what comprises it, let’s first take a journey to the past and unearth the roots and derivation of these beautiful gardens.

Each period marks its own significant point in the rise, enhancement and adaptation of Zen Gardens in the Japanese culture. These periods are:
The Han Dynasty
The Asuka Era
The Nara Era
The Heian Era
The Kamakura Era

The Han Dynasty

Although the aspect of Zen Gardens is associated with Japan, it is historically accepted as being a tradition imported from China during what is known as the Han Dynasty (206 – 220 BCE).

This recreation, which was more of a philosophy, was adopted by the Japanese and enhanced to their culture. This is why Japanese gardens exemplify a “lighter” version of Chinese ones and generally follow fewer aesthetic rules and design guidelines in the creation process.

The first Zen Garden was created by Chinese Emperor Wu Di, who lived from 140-87 BCE.

This garden depicted three small islands and it eventually became a custom to use rocks and greenery in order to form island-like motifs and mimic nature. These particular islands were meant to represent the Isles of the Immortals or Taoist gods, a trend that would be replicated throughout the years.

However, the aspects represented in the gardens of the Han Dynasty period were based on imaginary places, godly realms and mythological landscapes.

This imitation of imaginary places went on until the early 600s AD, when the first nature-inspired hill and pond garden was created in Japan by Chinese Emperor Yang Di, who enjoyed good relations with the country.

The Emperor’s overtures were enticing enough for the Japanese to send their own envoy to China – a man called Ono no Imoko. Imoko who immersed himself in Chinese culture and upon his return to Japan brought all that he had learnt with him, including the art of gardening and Buddhism.

 

The Asuka Era

During the Asuka period (estimated at 538-710 AD) a new philosophy and religion began to emerge, known as Shinto.

Shinto, meaning “Way of the Gods” in Chinese, was a religion that looked upon nature as a god(s), which is what led to the open worship of certain types of rocks and trees.

When a certain “deity” rock was used, sealed by a rice straw rope, in order to indicate an area as being sacred, then that was basically a Zen Garden of the Asuka Era.

The Japanese word niwa was a term often used to determine the holy piece of land around a stone or tree, a dominant aspect of Shinto Zen gardening, particularly between 552-646 AD.

The Nara Era

The Nara Era (710-794 AD) accentuates the blend of Chinese and Japanese culture, Chinese-influenced garden architecture being one of many examples.

A strong characteristic of gardens during this period were the Shinden, which revolved around the element of walkways; paths that connected buildings to each other, with stones and shrubs complimenting the buildings themselves.

Shinden gardens would usually adorn royal edifices or temples and shrines.

With teachings like Buddhism and Shinto broadly introduced to the Japanese culture, the gardens fashioned in this period would be looked upon as depictions of the cosmos.

A large stone would be placed in the centre of them in order to indicate the home of the Buddha and the centre of the universe.

Encircling that stone, smaller ones would be placed in representation of the Buddha’s disciples.

The Heian Era

From 794 to 1185AD, otherwise known as the Heian Era, the Japanese culture was defined by elegance and luxury.

This period of opulence in Japan was in which gardens too developed a more luxurious feel to them and were thus usually the domains of wealthier people.

Zen Gardens suddenly became status symbols indicating wealth and reputation. These rich land-owners were expected to be connoisseurs of Zen Gardens according to the newly developed rules.

It is in the Heian period that we see boats floating upon garden ponds, another advantage that applied to the owners of these lavish gardens. These gardens were specifically known as Chisen Shuyu Teien, translating as “Pond-spring boating gardens” in English.

 

Ponds would essentially be the epicentre of such a garden as well as the spot from which one would view the garden as a whole.

Taking a tranquil boat-ride through the pond was the traditional way of viewing the garden and a method of entertaining guests.

What we refer to today as Modern Japanese Gardening actually stems from the Heian Era.

‘Sakuteiki’, the first book ever written on Japanese gardening and that dates back to the 11th century, was written by Tachibana Toshitsuna, whose father Fujiwara Yorimichi ruled Japan for nearly half a century and was also the renowned builder of the Byōdō-in in Kyoto.

The Sakuteiki, or “Book of Gardens”, indicated the starting point of Japanese gardening and was also the book that freed designers from the constraints of Chinese-influenced gardening in Japan, which was strictly based on Feng Shui principles and geometric rules.

What the Sakuteiki recommended was a breakthrough in this rule, suggesting that the garden designer should use the placement of stones as their number one priority.

The Kamakura Era

The Kamakura Era ran between 1185-1392 and was a period of great change in Japanese garden design due to the Zen influence.

The new Shogun and his Samurai had embraced the Zen religion, thus influencing the role and purpose of Japanese gardens, which evolved into meditational grounds.

This is where the label “Zen Gardens” firstly and officially applies.

Now that the gardens were enhanced for religious purposes, the designers behind them would largely be priests and sometimes even designers with religious affiliations.

The priests were known as Ishitateso (rock setting priests) and were younger, lesser-ranked priests; elders would consider such work as beneath them.

One of the leading garden designers during the Kamakura Era was Muso Soseki (1275-1351), also known as the forefather of “Borrowed Scenery”.

Soseki designed the gardens in such a way, that the visitor would actually walk around the garden to view it as opposed to sitting in a boat or looking from a building.

The idea was that the visitor would think about the changing views of the garden as they moved around it. Soseki’s design principle, also called “Hide and Reveal” in Japanese, is evident in some Japanese garden designs to this day.

The history of Japanese gardens is as ancient as it is fascinating and this of course is a big attraction for people who respect their simplicity and beauty.

If you are thinking about Or would like to know more about how to create a Japanese garden of your own then we have plenty of help for you take a look by CLICKING HERE

Stones, Rocks & Sand In Japanese Gardens

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Stones & Rocks in Japanese gardens

Stones and rocks are essential elements to every kind of Zen Garden and are symbolic representations of real or mythical land forms, while this is not their only role. They can also be used as stepping stones, paths, groupings, central stones, and many other types.

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The first Stone Grouping to be introduced into Japanese gardens was the ‘Shumisen’ – a collection of stones representing where the Buddha lives (this is placed in the centre of the garden) along with his disciples which are the smaller stones around the Buddha.

Centralized traditional Stone Groupings can essentially be called:

a. The “Buddha Stone” (Mida Buhtsu)
b. The “Goddess Stone” (Kwannon)
c. The “Child’s Stone” (Seishi)

Yet there are 5 basic types of stone groupings that bear a name, purpose and meaning in Japanese Zen Gardens. These stones and rocks can be used in many combinations.

Look at how stunning a small Japanese garden can be with the use of ‘dry water’ and Stones/ Rocks

 

Positive stones are:

1. The “Soul Stone” (Reishoseki), which is low and vertical.
2. The “Body Stone” (Taidoseki), which is tall and vertical and always represents a God or person.
3. The “Heart Stone” (Shintaiseki) or “Flat Stone” which is flat, as the name implies, and is used as a central stone.
4. The “Branching Stone” (Shigyoseki) or “Arching Stone” which has a wider top than base and connects other stones together.
5. The “Ox Stone” (Kikyakuseki) or “Reclining Stone” which is always used in conjunction with the Branching Stone.

Negative or bad stones are:

1. “Diseased Stones”, which are stones that are withered or have a misshapen top.
2. A “Dead Stone”, which is a stone that is a vertical stone used as a horizontal one and vice versa.
3. “Pauper Stones”, which are unaffiliated or unconnected to other stones in the garden.

Stones that should NOT be placed in Zen Gardens, as they may affect the Feng Shui element of the garden, are those that are cut, broken or de-formed.

Stones moreover shouldn’t be placed at right angles to buildings along their axial line and should not be placed near verandas, as this also disrupts the Feng Shui.

Sand in a Japanese Garden

Although a traditional Japanese garden insists on the use of water in its display, contemporary Zen garden owners don’t always have the capacity of adding water to their gardens.

Thus, sand or white gravel is used as a substitute for water and this is why “dry landscape gardens” (Karesansui) are very popular.

Lines formed when raking the sand can depict the flow of rivers and streams but usually a larger mass of water – a sea.

A Relaxing Zen Garden
Note The Raked Sand To Depict Water or ‘Dry Water’

Japanese Zen style gardens may look simpler to create and compared to a larger Japanese garden space with many elements they probably are BUT just because this style of garden is in a small space does not mean that time and effort should be put in with an attwention to detail to get the best results.

Take a look at our ‘All-in-One package that we have put together for helping you create your dream Japanese gardens including expert interviews, books and a classic Japanese garden landscaping lecture from Ken Honda CLICK HERE to read more.

Good luck with making a Japanese garden – beautiful serene havens of calm and nature working in harmony.

3 Japanese Gardens In One Space At Kew Gardens In London

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I was lucky enough to visit Kew gardens in London – a fabulous few hours spent looking at all of the areas of this oasis in South West London.

But, what I really went there for was to visit the Japanese garden area. It covers some 5000 square metres, has three different varieties of Japanese gardens within the space. The Imperial Gateway has been associated with the garden for many years and in recent years has been restored to become perhaps the finest example of such a building outside of Japan.

There is a restored Japanese Minka which is stunning, a Karensui garden, a virtual Tea garden and even a Bamboo garden all within a stones throw of Kew gardens world famous Pagoda.

On my Facebook page I have put several photographs from Kew and my visit to the Japanese garden and I plan to make a slideshow along with an interview with the gentleman who is responsible for the gardens authenticity and upkeep.

In the meantime, take a look at this shortish video as I take you around the Japanese garden area at London’s Kew gardens. Enjoy!

This video features two websites that we closed to concentrate on this one and our Facebook page that you can visit by CLICKING HERE

Making A Japanese Garden – ‘Edging’ An Important Thing To Do

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In a Japanese garden and its design principles you will often hear about ‘flow’. A Japanese garden has to be something with a clean and crisp visual appearance and ‘flow’ – this is so everything appears to naturally follow on in the viewers eyes. Think of it as ‘visual tidiness’.

Edging is used in all sort of gardens all over the world but in a Japanese garden , when placed properly and with the right materials, it can really be highly effective. You could have a borderline between the garden and other parts of your space if you are just utilising a small area. A borderline can also be used to give paths an edge too.

In a Japanese garden you can use all sorts of edging materials. Cast stone, Bamboo, edging stones, slate, bricks and even an iron fence.

Slate because of its different shades will provide clean lines in your project when making a Japanese garden. Terracotta is also one of the top edging ingredients used because of its shade of colour. Stone can be used for edging a pond or a smaller building.

In a Japanese garden gravel can be used as either a pathway OR as a border to give a distinguishing line between areas. The use of bricks is becoming more common in Japanese garden design and not as a straight line laid out going one way or another. Bricks can be laid in all sorts of ways to make the garden interesting – so do not be afraid to experiment.

Concrete can be moulded easily for any kind of edging look that you want to achieve. River rock gives a totally natural feel to eding and cast stone is sometimes used as an alternative for natural rock.

Edging with bamboo is a way of creating some intricate edging for the garden. Simply, cut the can of the bamboo to the height that you want and bury in the ground for quick and effective results.

Sometimes, metal fencing is added to Japanese gardens as some people feel that its addition adds a certain amount of elegance.

CLICK HERE for our Japanese Garden creation help – perfect if you would like to have your own Japanese garden space.

Japanese gardens are famous for their peace and tranquility so remember the colour and style of the edging that you choose NEEDS to match and follow the natural flow of the garden. A couple of good tips – a Japanese garden is all about nature, so when making a Japanese garden if you do some edging with rocks don’t make them all the same size because in nature that simply wouldn’t happen.

Spread the rocks around in different sizes. The same goes with trees or shrubs – think NATURAL in your design thoughts and you should find that the ideas flow quickly and naturally for your design.

To learn more about Japanese garden design and find out how simple it is to create your special place for your garden or yard visit HERE 

It includes our handy quick start Japanese garden design book ‘ 11 Simple Ways To turn Your Garden Japanese.