Less is more in Japanese-style landscaping. Plants are carefully chosen and manicured meticulously. Sand is raked to careful patterns. Rocks and boulders are positioned carefully. Water is an essential element, and maybe a simple bamboo water spout or a meandering stream. Elements such as bamboo fences, gazebos, rock pathways, bridges, lanterns and statuary are added to complement the overall effect and create focal points.
All is tied together to represent the natural landscape of mountains and seas. This integrated whole produces peaceful beauty, tranquility and harmony.
Often Japanese landscapes are created in miniature and can be perfect for small urban spaces, working well for patios, yards or even roof gardens.
If you desire a soothing, yet dramatic landscape, you might explore Japanese design. Think about plants with strong lines that lend themselves to pruning, particularly into cloud shapes. Evergreens are a common feature. Ornamental grasses work well. Although the Japanese maple is widely used in this design style, they rarely work well in a Northern Nevada landscape without sun and wind protection. An alternative is the Amur maple, a much hardier and more drought-tolerant tree.
Look for plants with twisted interesting frameworks or colored bark. These gardens are as attractive in winter as they are in summer, so think winter interest as you design.
"Borrowed scenery" is a Japanese design concept inspired by ink wash landscape paintings and that incorporates distant views as part of the composition. The whole design - both the garden and the vista are intended to be appreciated as one scene. Paths serve as guides, leading from one view to the next. They control how you see the garden.
A narrow walk of uneven stones forces you to slow down and look at the path underfoot, which, of itself, may be a thing of beauty. Wide open paths allow you to look up and around.
Rocks are used for different purposes, signifying mountains or philosophical ideas such as Zen Buddhism. They may mimic bridges, boats or landforms from ink wash paintings. They may be pieces of natural sculpture. No matter what, they are never simply rocks. Sand and pebbles can represent the areas around temples purified to be hospitable to the spirits. They may show a formal approach. They can be included in the design as a simple rectangle of white sand.
If you would like to discover more about Japanese landscape design, visit http://learn.bowdoin.edu/japanesegardens/.
• JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 887-2252.