Category Archives: Japanese Gardens

Water Orchids

Orchids have moved to rapidly become beloved amongst houseplants due to their gorgeous blooms and their array in kind, colors and sizes. Like any other type of plant, orchids call for the proper growing environment in order to flourish.

Giving your orchid the precise quantity of water is only the initial part of offering your orchid the correct growing environment. While the amount of water essential for your orchid can differ amid dissimilar species of orchids, it is imperative to do research for your particular plant. However, it is useful to comprehend orchids in general and from where the come.

You’ll find orchid plants typically in tropical areas around the earth. Vast amounts of rain fall in the areas where many orchid plants are found. Also, it can be incredibly humid in their local habitats. As a matter of fact, the ultimate humidity level for most orchids is right around 80%. Taking into consideration that a room that is kept at 80% humidity would be exceedingly uncomfortable and unbearable for most human beings, one needs to find other strategies to maintain orchid’s health and happiness. One trouble-free way to humidify your orchids is to give them with a stable supply of rain water. Orchid owners should buy a orchid pot, deep saucer and a few bags of pebbles. You should dispense the stones into the saucer. Now, position your orchid pot on top of the pebbles that are within the saucer and then you can water the pebbles. You should make certain that the water doesn’t ever touch the actual orchid pot. By doing all of this you’re able to set up a synthetic high-humidity environment around the orchids.

It seems that one of the prevalent missteps people make when taking care of their orchids is over-watering. By and large it is understood by a few owners that when the potting soil looks dry as a bone the plant requires to be watered. This is so not true, especially when dealing with orchids. Even though the potting bark may seem to appear dry, the bark itself holds humidity. The general rule of thumb for watering your orchid plant once every seven days or every other week, scarcely. When one is growing an orchid plant in their home, be sure to let the potting bark dry out entirely prior to watering them. Some species of orchids have been known to grow on the trunks and branches of trees. In their local habitats it’s completely ordinary for their roots to dry out before being given any water again. You’ll find that orchid plants need to be fertilized but in moderation as well. You can purchase orchid fertilizer at most garden shops within your local area. By creating a good schedule for fertilizing and watering your orchid is an outstanding way to warranty that you’ll be able to take pleasure in these exotic flowers for an extensive time.

You will find that orchids will prosper in your home atmosphere if they are given the right care together with the right total of potting bark, just the right quantity of water, and the correct amount of sunlight and if they are fertilized sporadically. Even though they are quite stunning, they can also be unpredictable. However, by understanding how to care for them appropriately, orchids are not that complex and you can grow these exotic and striking plants.

Travis Waack is a gardening enthusiast and flower lover. His website offers simple, yet effective easy to follow directions for raising beautiful, healthy orchids. Travis’ Free E-course “Orchid Tips & Secrets” is packed with tips and techniques for the orchid enthusiasts. Subscribe for FREE by visiting us at

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Zen Gardens, Imagination in the Making


By their very nature Zen gardens encourage you to use your imagination.  Using carefully placed rocks and stones and open spaces filled with sand or gravel these gardens tend to capture the eye and the mind and hold both. Soon one can see the waves undulating in the sand ponds as they push around the rock islands that break their flow. The carefully placed rocks along the shoreline become craggy mountain ranges. Perhaps a bit of moss adds a hint of color and the impression of a hidden valley between those ranges. As you sit deep in thought and relaxed, you realize the garden has indeed captured you.

Zen gardens are done in the Japanese dry gardening style of Karesansui. It was developed in the 13th century by a Japanese priest in Kyoto, the site of one of the world’s most famous Zen meditative gardens. Created over 500 years ago, the Zen garden at the Ryoan-ji Temple is one of the most visited sites in Japan. It contains no plants at all within its 30 metre by 10 metre design. Fifteen rocks are cleverly arranged on a bed of gravel and sand in such a fashion that one can only see fourteen of them at one time.

Kyoto is also home to Nanzenji, a Zen temple located at the foot of the city’s eastern hills. It is the head temple for the Rinzai sect’s Nanzenji Zen Buddhism school of thought and is famous not only for its contemplative Zen garden but for its artwork and rich history that dates back to 1291. The Seiryo-den is the main building, where hand painted sliding doors, called fusuma, open to the rock garden. The entrance gate, called the Sanmon, was completed in 1628.

Zen gardens have found their way to other parts of the world as well. In Portland, Oregon, sister city to Sapporo, Japan, the popular Japanese Gardens have included a Zen garden in their design. The creator, Professor Takuma Tono based his layout on a 2,000 year old legend that tells of Buddha saving a starving tiger and cubs that were trapped in a ravine. The expanse of combed gravel is accented by four smaller stones and one upright, all covered with a patina of moss after standing for fifty years.

Zen gardens may one day invite contemplation on the moon, or beyond. The National Space Society held a design contest for lunar space station layouts. Artist Ayako Ono from Japan entered her “Lunar Zen Garden” painting. It features a lunar layout with several domed buildings, solar panels and all else you would expect to find in a space colony. What was not expected was the groomed circles around the domed buildings and strategically placed rocks that seem to have no other function than to capture the imagination. Of course on the moon, limiting your gardening materials to rocks, sands and gravels isn’t much of an issue.

Why not try to sculpt your own Japanese Garden or create a Japanese Water Garden.

Ryoan-ji Temple, The Temple of the Peaceful Dragon.

Rikugien – Garden of Waka

The word “waka” translates into “Japanese poem.” The term dates back to the Heian period (794 to 1185) when Japanese culture was being heavily influenced by Chinese traditions, such as Buddhism and Taoism. Poetry and literature were respected art forms during this period. Purists of the time came up with the word waka to describe poetry written in Japanese by Japanese artists. This was to distinguish these 31 syllable texts from the same style verse Japanese poets were writing in the Chinese language.

The Rikugien Garden in Tokyo was constructed during the Edo period (1603 to 1868). This was the time when the Tokugawa shogunate was in power and when the mistrust of outsiders was at its peak. The first shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu saw the value of foreign trade and did indeed encourage it. But he did have a fear of foreigners, their customs and religions and set about turning Japan into a closed society.

The fifth shogun of the Edo period, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi gave permission for the construction of Rikugien Garden. Built by Yanagisaw Yoshiyasu, a daimyo, or territorial lord under the shogun, construction began in 1695. The gardens were designed to emulate the original six forms of waka poetry.

The gardens opened in 1702 and originally featured 88 landscaped scenes taken from actual poems. After Yoshiyasu died in 1714, the garden was largely forgotten until 1877 when it was purchased by the founder of the Mitsubishi Corporation, Iwasaki Yataro, who revived 18 of those scenes. Today it is the property of the city of Tokyo, Japan.

Visitors pass through the Naitei-Daimon gate and are greeted by a large cherry tree, which in season sports a cascade of pink blossoms. The pathway takes you to the Deshio-no-minato, a spot on the edge of the pond that gives you an overview of the garden including the islands in the middle. The two hills on the main island represent Izanagi and Izanami, man and woman, from the myth of Japan’s ancient origins. Another smaller island, made of strategically placed stones, is called Horaijima. It represents the home of the immortals.

As you follow the pathway around the pond, artfully placed azaleas and tiny bonsai trees seem to appear out of hidden pockets. Nearing the Tsutsuji-no-chaya teahouse, you find yourself standing in a grove of maples. In fall they will be clothed in bright reds, yellows and oranges. Take a walk through the Sasakani-no-michi, a pathway lined with greenery that is so narrow it is named for a spider’s web. Cross the Togetsukyo stone bridge, built in remembrance of a romantic poem about the moon, cranes and a rice paddy.

End your visit with a traditional tea ceremony at Takimi-no-chaya, another teahouse that sits next to a stream with cascading waterfalls, bonsai trees and stone lanterns. From here you can watch the Sleeping Dragon Rock and listen to the gentle flow of the waters.

Orchids and Japanese Gardening

orchid_gardenCombining the Traditional Japanese Garden with Tropical Plants creates a beautiful retreat. Japanese gardens are elegant, deceivingly simplistic and aesthetically pleasing. The subtle shifts in colour and form tend to calm the spirit, taking us away from the busy pace of the modern world. This can even be at a subliminal level. Your mind’s eye may know the garden has placed a gossamer veil of peace around your psyche, but your body may take a while to catch on.

But it will. Spend time among the carefully placed rocks covered with velvety textured mosses, quiet ponds filled with koi fish or even next to an imaginary river made of seemingly flowing pebbles and yes, your body will eventually get the message.

It is not surprising that those who have the skill, patience and creativity to create a Japanese garden would use those same skills to nurture delicately scented orchids. Nor is it a surprise that the fragrant orchid and Japanese garden design elements can be elegantly wed.

Morikami Park, in Palm Beach County, Florida, is home to a Japanese garden with a tropical twist. Named after George Sukeji Morikami, who immigrated to the United States in 1906, the 200 acre property has expanded from a small, traditional Japanese garden and pavilion to a garden setting with almost a mile of pathways.

It has the traditional bamboo stands and tiny islands connected by zigzag bridges, as well as a “Contemplation Pavilion” that urges guests to just relax and enjoy their surroundings. The twist in this garden is that some of the traditional plants have been replaced by tropical ones, including orchids.

Instead of Japanese maples, which won’t grow in Florida, black olive trees were pruned and shaped to mimic this garden staple. Strawberry guava trees and slash pine were also trimmed to show off their elegantly shaped trunks and limbs. Fig trees form a wall, blocking out the sounds and sights of neighbouring homes.

The creator of this marriage of Florida plants and classic Japanese design is Hoichi Kurisu. Ever mindful of long held traditions, he has created a bolder, brighter colour palette that is more in sync with its tropic locale.

Adjacent to Morikami Park is a recently purchased parcel with a large greenhouse maintained by the American Orchid Society. Inside is a 15 foot high waterfall, its tiered layers covered with orchids of every colour and shape. Outside is a three and a half acre formal garden that is home to over 3,000 orchids that are growing in trees, among perennials and shrubs that line the pathways and alongside tranquil ponds.

In the wild, orchids attach themselves to tree branches in the forest canopy. They are epiphytes, getting their nutrients from the air. In this garden, orchids have been attached to the trees using wire and liquid nails. This means that you not only have beauty at your feet, but are greeted with an array of colour and hints of fragrance from above.

Karesansui Gardens

In romantic love and even Bonsai love, we seek to find the hidden magic behind the power of physical love. In a Karesansui Japanese garden, we are asked to imagine water that is not there and islands that exist only as a stone placed within a bed of sand. In seeking both visions, we are asked to see beyond what our eyes tell us. We are being asked to seek from within.

The Karesansui style of Japanese garden first appeared in the Muromachi period (1392 to 1568). Influenced by Zen Buddhism, and much favoured as a meditation retreat, this garden style creates entire landscapes by using sand, moss, rocks, smaller stones and small plants. Sand is raked to simulate water movement. Rocks are placed in the middle of the sand pond to represent islands. Moss covered rocks surrounding the pond become gently rolling hills, and the tiny trees create miniature forests. Not a drop of water in sight, yet we delight in the search for it.

The Karesansui garden is an abstract which can have many interpretations. That is the intent. Just as no two people experience love in the same way, no two people will meditate at a Karesansui garden and come away with the same impression. What looks like a mountain in a tranquil lake to some may look like a ragged cliff with wind driven ocean waves to another. Love to one person might feel like a gentle breeze, to another like a raging storm.

The Tsukiyama style of Japanese garden that gained favour in the Edo period (1603 to 1867), takes a slightly different approach. Rather than a search for meaning in an abstract form, a Tsukiyama style garden presents an accurate representation of the natural world. Real water flows in streams crossed by curved bridges or cascades from waterfalls into quiet ponds. Koi fish brighten the ponds with their gold and calico colours. In larger gardens pathways lead you from one display feature to another. In smaller affairs, a vantage point has been created so the garden can be viewed from the best angle.

The Karesansui garden encourages us to search for our spiritual interpretation of love. Just as the sand ponds never change unless we take the rake and alter the waves, this intangible part of love does not change unless it is of our doing. The Tsukiyama garden lets us reflect on the beauty of love that can be touched. This is the tangible part of love, affected by the passage of time, just as the gardens change with the passing of the seasons.

the heart takes notice
of inner beauty enhanced
by timeless wisdom

M. Rose 2010

The Haiku and the Japanese Garden

misho journeyPrecise in structure yet allowing artistic creativity, the haiku is a form of Japanese poetry that can well be compared to the meticulously designed gardens that prove inspirational to those who craft using the power of the pen. This poetic art form goes back to 17th century Japan and the trick is to convey meaning within seventeen syllables in a precise five-seven-five format. Traditionally, haiku was used to express views and impressions of the natural world.

Matsuo Basho, whose birth name was Matsuo Kinsaku (1644 to 1694) one of the most recognized poets of Japan’s Edo period, is credited with fine tuning the “hokku” format. A hokku was an opening verse that introduced the “haikai no renga”, a form of collaborative poetry popular at the time. It wasn’t until the late 19th century, long after Basho’s death, that the word hokku was changed to haiku and the format became a standardized, stand alone art form.

Just as the haiku uses discipline for creating beauty, so does the Japanese garden. The Karesansui, or dry landscape style of garden is perhaps the best comparison. These gardens were influenced by followers of Zen Buddhism, who found the simplistic design conducive to meditation. One well known example of this garden style is in the Daisen-in sub-temple, part of the Daitoku-ji grounds in Kyoto, Japan. It was completed in 1513.

Much like a haiku, where the words on paper need to be studied to get the full meaning, these dry landscape gardens must be studied to interpret what the designer intended. In a Karesansui garden you must use your imagination to see that carefully raked gravel or sand as a tranquil pond. You must imagine that those rocks strategically placed in that pond are islands. The beauty of the garden and the haiku is this is that no two people will have the same vision, the same interpretation.

In Basho’s poem “Temple Bells Die Out” shown below, the poet describes dusk experienced by someone relaxing in a Japanese garden. The chiming of the bells is man made. The fragrance of the flowers is nature personified. The contrast, much as that found between carefully constructed pathways and the timeless sound of water cascading into a pond, both features of Japanese gardens, make for “a perfect evening.”

words upon a page
pathways through tended gardens
lead to inner peace

M. Rose 2010

temple bells die out
the fragrant blossoms remain
a perfect evening

Matsuo Basho (written between 1686 and 1691)

Japanese water gardens, choosing your plants

Having carefully planned and constructed your Japanese water garden, it’s time to bring it to life with plants.

A Japanese water gardener’s goal is to echo nature with rocks, water, and plants. Landscaping may include carefully planted lilies with softly waving grasses and bamboos.
The arrangement of flowers and shrubs are more dynamic than in other pond design styles, while still creating a relaxed and peaceful feeling.

The plants must be chosen wisely to create the effect you are seeking, as well as to help to mature and balance your Japanese garden. In choosing plants for your Japanese water garden, foliage and form are as important as bloom color.

Many plants native to Japan, including ferns and dogwoods, have close relatives in North America and Europe, and are easily adaptable to these growing conditions. Foliage plants play an important role in a Japanese garden style more than flowers do. Evergreens are essential and generally make up a majority of the plants used. Part of the appeal of a Japanese landscape is its simplicity. It has few elements to detract one’s attention from the garden. And this understatement is on purpose. The following list identifies some of the traditional elements that contribute to the overall appearance of your Japanese water garden.

The negative spaces are as important as the plantings.

Asymmetrically placed plants, paths, and sculptures give a feeling of motion within the contained space.

Monochromatic designs of dark green foliage, dark stones and white gravel and sand invite contemplation.

Color is only a temporary accent via blossoms or grasses that change color with the seasons.

Plant shapes are enhanced and controlled by pruning with close attention to diagonal, horizontal, and vertical directions.

Simplicity, balance, and calm are the hallmarks of a Japanese garden design. Japanese maples are one of the most popular plant choices for the Japanese water gardens. Japanese maples have red or variegated leaves and most have brilliant fall colors. Shapes and sizes range from ground huggers to those that will grow 30 feet high and wide.

A weeping cherry is another eye-catching plant that is readily used. Even when they are not in bloom they are still visually appealing.

The Taro or Elephant ear is a popular plant for the Japanese Garden. They have bold leaves that add dramatic texture and color to the water garden and it has several stunning varieties. Most varieties grow quickly and put on an awesome display. The Black Taro (Black Magic) is likely the most popular taro due to its moderate stature and unique color. It has dusty black leaves that sit on dark purple-black stems. The Imperial taro has green leaves that vary in degrees of dark purple patterned between the green leaf veins. This compact grower generates numerous young plants on runners and will quickly fill out a container. Another popular taro is the Violet stem taro. Black stems hold the large shiny green leaves well above the water. The silky texture of the leaf surface magnifies the gentle ripples.

Tropical water lilies with their large leaves and colorful flowers add dazzle to your pond. The leaves of the tropical water lily are often serrated around the edges, with bold markings. They hold their flowers well above the water’s surface. Tropical lilies can be wintered indoors, or the tubers can be collected after frost and stored in damp sand at 45 to 50 degrees F.

One plant that shouldn’t be missed when planting your Japanese water garden is Bamboo. Bamboo has 1,500 varieties to choose from, and their mature size can be as short as 4 inches. It can be included as living clumps and in architectural elements such as fences and fountains. If you grow Bamboo you will want to restrain them. Planting in a 2 to 3 foot length of culvert pipe sunk vertically in the ground would be a good idea.

Remember, when planting your Japanese water gardening plants you will not want to plant them in rows or en masse, instead tucked singly and discretely at the foot of a stone or the bend of a path to add visual excitement. Tall grasses such as the Japanese Silver Grass (Miscanthus Sirensis) provide vertical interest and rustle in the wind.

For your Japanese water garden to look its best and work in optimal condition you will need to implement care and maintenance of your plants. Once established, aquatic plants grow rapidly and will require dividing and cutting back.

The sound of trickling water and the flash of color provided by bright, healthy plants is the aim of most Japanese gardeners. A healthy pond with clean water and lush plant growth will brighten any Japanese garden, large or small, and bring hours of pleasure and relaxation. It is not difficult to achieve such a pond, given the correct information, some planning and a little work.

Japanese Gardens, Poetry in Motion

The Japanese people have always been in tune with nature and accepting of the concepts of change and the passage of time. This harmony is expressed through many artistic mediums, but none so evident, nor so pleasing, as the Japanese Garden. Just as Japan’s delicately crafted poetry demands structure, Japanese Gardens have their own Aesthetic Markers, as steeped in tradition as the 17 syllable haiku.

Delicate branches
Roots caress a simple pot
White blossoms shimmer
The essence of all forests
Lives here in one small tree.
– Mastuyama Mokurai

One of the most cherished aspects of any Japanese Garden is the preservation of “shizen” or naturalness.  An bonsai forme du lettréexample would be in the use of cement or brick; they look more pleasing in their natural tones rather than painted. Another example is by complementing the natural surroundings with the selection of simple objects such as a single bonsai on the edge of a quiet pond.

Natural asymmetry or “fukensei” is preserved by placing elements in compositions using odd numbers, one, three or five. A solitary object can create a bigger impact on the senses than small groupings. An imaginary drawing of a triangle between the trained branches of a tree or the placement of stones also insures that the element of “fukensei” has been met.

The Japanese concept of “kanso” or simplicity is most evident in gardens of the Zen tradition.  Just as the haiku creates powerful images by its element of simplicity, a solitary stone may represent an entire mountain or island by its simple yet precise placement.

The concept of “ma” or space used in a Japanese garden is a direct reflection of how the Japanese have viewed life through the generations. The concept that all objects interact within a given space and that nothing exists alone plays a big part in all aspects of Japanese culture. Even that single stone island is surrounded by water, real or imagined and the point at which they meet is the transition from the liquid to the solid; neither can exist without the other.

The Japanese love of things miniature and their capacity for patience is fully expressed in the art of bonsai. Whether the trees are trained to represent the oldest form of bonsai, the “informal upright” or more modern versions such as the “sharimiki”  (resembles dry wood with live branches) these tiny creations are believed to represent all of nature “in one small tree”.

That does not mean that the Japanese were and are not without a sense of humor. In Nijo Castle in Kyoto, which was the center of military power in the ancient capital, the shoguns had their own way of enjoying their gardens. They would mix their love of poetry and saki by holding a poetry writing contest in the midst of the formal display garden.  Poets of note would sit on large rocks at the edges of garden streams.  Their task was to compose a poem before cups of saki, set afloat upstream, reached their particular rock. If the poem was not complete before the saki reached the poet, the poet must drink the saki before the contest could continue. In that vein:

vision of beauty
nature encapsulated
within your branches

Now, where’s the saki?

Bonsai Your Pond!

ContainerPondsThese are the small to really small ponds and container water gardens are one of the easiest ways to try your hand at water gardening. The beauty of these container water garden is that you can integrate one or many into your landscape. A container water garden is also ideal for an apartment or small home where you may only have a small patio. Your creativity is the limit for these little gardens.

Anything that can hold water can be incorporated into your garden. Containers for your water garden come in a variety of shapes and sizes. You can use something as elegant as a ceramic planter or as rustic as an old horse trough, kettle, or half a whiskey barrel.

You should have a container that holds more than 7 gallons of water, anything else is too small. Look for a container that is at least 12 inches deep. If you can find something that is a little deeper, say 18 inches that would be ideal. You will need a little depth if you plan to keep water lilies or any fish. Water lilies need 6 to 12 inches of water above their crown to grow well. Fish need a little depth for swimming and for keeping cool.

Place your container water garden where you can enjoy it often, as well as add a visual display to your visitors. Decide ahead of time where you want your container to be positioned, and then buy plants that suit the situation. There is no point buying sun lovers for a shady position, for they will not do well. Some plants also have really large roots, so they are best kept for the open garden.

To keep your container from rusting or leaking and to keep any toxins it might contain from harming plants or fish, you should line it. There are now fiberglass shells specially made for half barrels. For other containers, use a piece of PVC liner.

Although you shouldn’t cram the container with plants, it is possible to enjoy a half dozen species in even a small one. Water lilies are always a good choice for your container water garden. Cultivating aquatic plants in containers make for easy maintenance and management. Individual varieties can be lifted and divided as required and isolating one kind from another means that they do not readily invade one another’s territory. Try to include an upright plant or two, as well as one that will hang gracefully over the side.

A few small goldfish or mosquito fish will help keep your mini-pond free of mosquito larvae. Unless you live in a warm-winter climate or can sink the container into the ground for the winter, you will need to transfer the fish to an indoor aquarium for a few months each year.

Container Plants
A wide range of plants can be used in containers. In fact, virtually any plant is suitable, although those with long taproots tend to be unhappy unless the pot is really deep. Some plants are used almost exclusively in containers. Trailing plants, for example, have been bred especially for hanging baskets and window boxes. The most common plants used for containers are:

* Ageratum
* Agapanthus
* Argyranthemum
* Begonia
* Bidens Ferulifolia
* Brachycome Iberidifolia
* Cordyline Australis
* Diascia
* Felicia Amelloides
* Helichrysum Petiolare
* Hosta
* Impatiens
* Lobelia
* Pelargonium
* Nemisia
* Pelargonium
* Petunia
* Phormium
* Primula
* Tagetes
* Tropaeolum
* Verbena x Hybrida
* Viola x Wittrockiana

One benefit of having a water garden is all the creatures it will attract. All creatures need water for survival, and the addition of any kind of water feature to your landscape is a sure way to attract birds, butterflies, bullfrogs, and other wildlife to your yard. Water features of all kinds with or without fish, in the house or out in the garden, filled with plants or little more than a basin of still water reflecting the sky; add a soothing element to any setting.

At every stage of creating your container water garden, you will be faced with many interesting choices, each with their own challenges and benefits. Be led by your own creativity, budget, and instinct to create a garden feature that reflects your own inspiration. You start with a clean slate, so let your imagination take over.