Understanding and an appreciation of the nature and spirit of Japanese gardens must come before you begin the planning and designing stage of your site. You need to determine your needs and desires for what you want from your garden. In other words, what is its purpose? A difficult question for those of us who want “instant gardens” where we just go out, buy a bunch of flowers and plant them. But by determining why you want a Japanese garden and what it will be specifically used for, will help you toward creating a garden of your dreams, rather than a garden that will cause you nightmares.
You will also need to go out and study your chosen site to determine what assets it has and what constraints there may be and how you can work with them. Finally, you should read through and study each of the different styles that Japanese gardens follow to determine which would suit your selected area.
Keep a notebook handy to jot down ideas and possible concerns that may need to be addressed. Read books on Japanese gardening, clip pictures from magazines, and print any appealing pictures that you may find on the Internet. Right now, all you are doing is setting the stage before any actual work begins. Remain open to new ideas and possibilities that may come your way, rather than getting fixated on one design at this point.
Studying your site carefully over a few days (or even weeks) can help you gain a better perspective on what the land itself may “want to be.” Allow the area to “speak” to you. Write down your impressions in your notebook.
While determining the type, style and layout of your future Japanese garden, there are a few areas that you should investigate further before any final decisions are made
Will this garden be used for entertaining?
Entertaining can have different meanings. How large a number of people would want in your garden at any one time? What kind of entertaining are you planning to do? Are you planning on a nice sitting area for chatting? Perhaps a tea garden might be a possibility. Are you considering cocktail parties and informal dinners? Then a larger scale design would be in order.
Do you require a lot of privacy or do you prefer your garden to be open?
If you wish your garden to be a private retreat for yourself and yoru family, you will need to look at your chosen site closely. Does it already have a fenced yard? If not, this will probably need to be added in order to ensure privacy. Can your garden be seen from the road? How will you work with the landscaping to minimize this problem? What areas, if any, will be more open and accessible? If you live in a busy neighborhood, how will you incorporate the serene, spiritual atmosphere of a Japanese garden design?
What type of elements do you find relaxing?
Water features are often times the first thought that comes to mind when contemplating a relaxing site design. Is there room for a water feature and what type is most important to you? Some people find that a small water fountain is perfect, others want a running stream, still others would prefer a low watefall and small pond. What type of furniture or ornaments will you place within the garden to give it a sense of inviting tranquil serenity?
How much time do you have for maintenance of your garden?
People love the looks of Japanese gardens once their completed… provided someone else looks after the gardening and general maintenance of the area. Who is going to build this garden for you? Keep in mind that most of us tend to underestimate the time it can take to complete such a project. As well, do you have the time to look after your garden site once it is completed? If not, a small and simple courtyard might be a better choice rather than a hill and pond design.
Have you budgeted for the cost of building a Japanese garden?
Once again, this is another area where we humans tend to underestimate then end up with major problems because we are short of cash. Take the time to research the costs associated with building this style of garden, as well as the prices of any additional elements and features that you may decide to include. Some of the ornamental plants, shrubs and trees could get quite expensive.