Japanese and oriental style gardens are characterised by having a deceptively simple design. Every element in the garden has meaning and is laid out with precision, be this swirling gravel, water, the placement of a cherry tree or clump of bamboo. All of the elements, be they structural, water, or floral need to work in unison to make the Oriental design work effectively. Even the colour palette used is important with the colour red being particularly significant in Oriental culture.
You can create a number of dfferent areas, each with their own character in an Oriental garden. Areas may flow from a gravel garden into a decorative pool backed with a cascade to give a very complete design.
Oriental pond design is always informal in with sparkling clear water. A formal style pond design would just not look right in this setting. The pond design should create a contrast with the lushly planted garden around it, which is often planted with bamboos and other tall plants which give the garden more height and structure. Very often a bridge, or if it is a small pool, a statue is incorporated into the pond design – painted red it creates a juxtaposition with the green foliage.
Another important element of Oriental pond design is the reflection and movement of the water surface. Careful attention to the detailed pond design helps to create reflections of the gardens features, clouds and plants in the pool, often with a gentle surface ripple to add movement to the overall picture.
There are many plants that are closely associated with the Oriental garden and pond design. Acers (Japanese Maples) are almost a must-have, along with bamboos. Both of which are available in a wide range of different sizes and colours. Cherry trees offer a more limited palette but are no less important to give them exotic feel.
Although the design might appear quite informal, Oriental gardens are always immaculate, and do require a degree of regular maintenance to keep them looking spectacular. If you have a lawn it needs to be in very good condition and run right up to the edge of the pond. Similarly, gravel should be raked to give a smooth even surface with no foot prints! Raking also helps to stop weed seeds from becoming established and stops the upper surface of the stones from turning green.
Mimicking the natural rock found in Japan we tend to use weathered limestone in Oriental gardens, rather than the brown ironstone that we more commonly use. This is a hardwearing stone that creates the right effect in the garden. Stonework should be bold and made up of large stones. You do not want a lot of small stones, for example a dry stone wall, this is not how stonework is traditionally used in the Oriental garden. Just like the other elements, stones make a statement and are chosen and placed for maximum effect as part of the overall design. These large stones lend themselves well to producing water features, such as cascades where the water falls over a large stone onto another stone beneath. If possible visit a stone yard a pick the stones that are going to work best together as a set, it is really important with such large features that they work well together as there is little opportunity to alter them.
Balanced stones can be very effective in creating a focal point for your pond design.
Perhaps consider having a gravel area for balanced stones, that can be rearranged in a Jenga style rather than fixed stones. Set a large fixed stone in the ground and then have a variety of smaller stones that can be played with to create a changing feature of balanced stones.
Fish are a common sight in Oriental ponds, both koi and goldfish have been developed in the Far East for several centuries, but care must be taken not to overstock with these fish. The whole ethos of the Japanese garden is to create an oasis of tranquility and overstocking can lead to the fish becoming excitable, spoiling the tranquility. Not to mention that a high biomass can reduce water clarity. Quality fish, rather than quantity is very much the philosophy here with just a few fish adding movement and gently breaking the mirror-like pond surface.
Maintenance is an important consideration in the Oriental garden. I have already mentioned that these gardens are characterised by being immaculately well kept, and that does require a degree of regular maintenance. By thinking carefully about the design and planting though this can be kept to a reasonable amount of work. Using evergreen plants within the overall design helps to reduce maintenance and keep the garden full of interest year round. Other plants traditionally used do require more care. Acers for example have fine leaves which they often drop fairly early in the Autumn. These are not too difficult to collect and do break down relatively quickly. Perhaps the worst plants are some of the pines whose needles break down very slowly and are quite difficult to collect. In water pine needles release tannins which effect water quality and are very difficult for the microbes to break down.
When marking out the pond design in an Oriental garden try to avoid narrow areas and necks. Bold shapes with flowing curves are the common designs. Avoid right angles and corners at all costs! If you want to incorporate a bog garden then this needs to be right next to the pond, ideally at one side where it can be easily viewed. More structural elements, such as deer scarers, can be incorporated along with a wide range of fleshy plants.
Oriental garden style incorporated into your pond design – when executed well – are amazingly beautiful and create a relaxing oasis into which you can retreat at the end of a busy week. They are ideally suited to the person who likes to potter about in the garden as once established the planting remains mainly static just requiring light maintenance to keep the garden looking its best.