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The Helpful Gardener is written by Scott Reil of Scott Reil Garden Design. He has taught an Advanced Master Gardeners course on Japanese Garden Design and is happy to share his knowledge of Japanese Gardening.

Advanced Japanese Garden Design Tips
Expanding your knowledge

While gardening has evolved in many different ways around the planet, and each style has its own unique charms, something about Asian garden style has captured world-wide attention. Perhaps it is the simple lines and minimal look. Perhaps it is the utilization of the natural landscape as the ideal model, intrinsically connecting the viewer to the environment. Perhaps it’s the whimsy of lanterns, bridges and tea houses that captures the imagination. All I know is that I was instantly hooked, and that I needed to know more. And whenever that happens, I start reading, and when I start reading garden books, I usually buy them. There is an entire shelf of my garden bookcase dedicated to Asian garden style and I’ll give you a quick tour to help you choose books on the subject for your own library. read more

A history of gardening with a light touch

The garden, like any art form, has evolved over most of the world. As with other art forms, the garden has developed in many different directions. In England, where much of the American gardening heritage hails from, clipped lawns and formal rose gardens rule the day. Across the channel, France has given us the parterre and the allee, sure marks of man’s hand on the land. Even the Italian villa lays out its paths and beds in formal, straight lines. read more

On the path toward a successful garden

There are certain intrinsic principles that one needs to grasp to successfully capture the spirit of the Japanese garden. Most importantly, nature is the ideal that you must strive for. You can idealize it, even symbolize it, but you must never create something that nature itself cannot. read more

Let the garden be your guide

There is a certain calmness that comes to you as you view a well laid-out Japanese garden. While it is hard to define any one particular element as the source of this peaceful influence, I would suggest that it is the solid, anchored look that the stone features bring to the garden that do the most to impart that feeling of peace. This should come as no surprise as the Japanese gardener utilizes rock as the “bones” of the garden, with plants and ornaments as trimmings. read more


There have been other philosophies that have found their way into the garden. Persia had its paradise gardens. Descartes theories of a mathematical ordering of the universe were clearly defined by Versailles’s geometric layout. But rarely has any one philosophy had such a clear and defined impact on a garden style as the indelible mark left by Zen on the Japanese garden. While many of the stylings now thought of as Zen had their roots in earlier forms, it was the discipline of Zen thought that helped give them the ageless quality we associate with the Japanese garden. read more

Watering - The most important part of Bonsai care

This is the crux of the art of bonsai. Most trees that die (I prefer the phrase “permanent dormancy”) are lost to dehydration, either from lack of watering or from being kept in a low humidity environment (indoors) too long. read more