Asian Landscape DesignEight dos and don'ts for designing an Asian garden
This Japanese maple is highlighted successfully by the low groundcovering plants at its base.
Statuary and colorful plantings can be used to create a focal area from a bare wall.
This courtyard sets an inviting scene from inside the home.
A side yard can become a place of beauty with careful design.
Use this design sheet to help you create the perfect Asian landscape. You'll get ideas for color, décor, materials, plants and fabric. It is a great starting point for any landscaping project.
Asian Landscape Style Guide (PDF)
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Plants for an Asian garden:
Groundcovers & perennials:
The Asian landscape is known for a meditative feeling of serenity. Stone and natural elements invite contemplation, while carefully-shaped plantings show our human interaction with the land.
AJ Shepard, a landscape architect with over 35 years of experience, enjoys the influence of the Asian style because of its calming nature. He's traveled extensively in Asia, so his knowledge of the culture informs his design sense. Here, he shares his tips for creating an authentic Asian landscape.
- Do incorporate art pieces into the Asian garden. "Art makes an important focal point, and adds another layer of interest to the garden," explains Shepard. However, use pagoda towers and other overtly Asian sculptures sparingly. "Softer and subtler Asian elements can set the scene without visually dominating the space."
- Do plan garden views by looking out your windows. "Use the sightlines from the house to place focal points or set a soothing scene to enjoy from indoors," says Shepard. "This creates an outdoor space you'll feel invited to explore."
- Do create meandering paths. It's believed that straight pathways allow malevolent spirits to go directly into the house, while a zigzag pathway hinders their movement into the living areas of a home.
- Do choose iconic Asian plants to set the tone. Plants like flowering cherry, Japanese maple, ginkgo, bamboo and mugo pine provide just the right atmosphere in the landscape.
- Don't select white flowers for an authentic Asian garden. White flowers are thought of as a funeral flower in many Asian countries. Chrysanthemums in any color have a similar meaning.
- Don't fill the entire space. "Less is more," says Shepard. "Think of your landscape as having positive and negative space. Focal points such as Japanese maples or statuary are most dramatic when placed among low, carpet-like plants."
- Don't feature a Buddha's head statue. If you want to honor the Buddha in your garden, choose a statue that depicts the entire body of the Buddha. Otherwise, the effect is that of defacing a deity, and can seem disrespectful.
- Don't neglect outdoor lighting. There are many styles of lights that work well with an Asian theme or a Craftsman-style home. You can light a pathway, direct light onto sculptures or art, or use lighting to enhance a beautifully-pruned tree.
In any landscape, think about how you can create a space that people want to go into the garden to explore. As Shepard points out, "one of the best things a designer can do for you is to take an under-utilized area and make it part of the garden, either by making it functional or even into a focal point."
Asian landscapes lend themselves well to this careful use of space. A bare wall can become the backdrop for a special piece of statuary, and a skinny corridor can become home to a carefully-curated selection of stone and plants. Having a series of garden "rooms" can create ample opportunities for the calm contemplation the Asian garden is known for.
Shepard Design Landscape Architecture - AJ Shepard (Marin, CA)