Making A Japanese Garden – Flat Gardens

Flat gardens within Japanese garden culture one of the simplest forms of gardens you can consider when planning a Japanese garden space.

Flat gardens, or Hira-niwa in Japanese ,do not have hills and do not have any water in the way that a western garden would. The flat area which is essentially made of either sand or more usually gravel IS the water. All Japanese gardens tend to be a lesson in environment and space.

Part of Portland's Japanese Flat Garden Courtesy of

Part of Portland’s Japanese Flat Garden Courtesy of

Just like in a Zen garden the gravel is raked into swirls and different shapes to give the impression of the movement in a body of water. The ground is usually covered this way and on occasions I have seen flat gardens that use very small pebbles ,once again raked in circles and straight lines to give the impression of water  ripples.

A flat garden can include many familiar ingredients that you would expect when making a Japanese garden. Stones, Rocks, Trees and Shrubs are very common. The trees although natural will be pruned and the low level shrubs and bushes shaped on the edge of the water space.

Courtesy of

Courtesy of

Flat gardens were first designed to interpret and in miniature mimic Japan’s seaside landscapes or some of its grander lakes, a journey through Japanese garden history points to war and water shortages as to why water was replaced by gravel as a ‘dry’ substitute. This is a trend that has continued for hundreds of years even in peacetime and with abundant supplies of water. The Edo period of Japanese history is when flat gardens became very popular.

Interestingly water features apart from a body of water are fairly common in a Japanese ‘Flat’ garden. For example, large upright stones can symbolise a waterfall and this something that you can copy for a garden space that you have in mind however large or small.

Use non sharp edged rocks or stones ( Granite) to depict islands within your gravel water area. 3 together is a popular representation of ‘The Isles of The Immortals’.The Japanese Circle and Gourd Islands are often copied and represented in the gravel water area to add the spirit of enlightenment. You will be able to get the correct rocks and stones from your local aggregate supplier – take sometime to consider the shapes that you want and strictly speaking for authenticity you should not use rounded stones.

Other ingredients that you may wish to add to a flat garden are stone lanterns, included for the illumination of parts of the garden at night, basins and if you are very ambitious even a well ! Well’s are normally constructed out of wood and have some way of getting the water out of the well – a pulley and bucket or a large wooden spoon are common.

Stepping stones can be placed across the gravel water area and look very effective if they lead to the far side of the gravel area where a rustic hut or pagoda is located. After the 16th century this was a popular type of design where the hut would be used for the slow and meaningful Tea ceremony.

A completed flat garden will give a real impression of depth of space to the viewer as the eye is drawn into the water area with the clipped shrubs on the faraway edge. The stones or rocks placed carefully within the raked gravel ‘water’ area give a feeling of depth and perspective relative to the scale of the garden.

As a Zen garden is designed to be viewed from a single space it is exactly the same with a Japanese flat garden. The view is sometimes ‘framed’ when a veranda door is opened or when looking through a larger window into the garden itself.

A flat garden is often seen as similar to a landscape painting when designed and built correctly to scale. The viewer’s eyes are drawn across the water to the carefully clipped low level shrubs and plants like Lilies or Azeleas. In Japan plantings are deliberately made in a flat garden to show off the seasons.

Maples for the autumn , Cherry blossom looks its best in Spring, the soothing impression of water signifies summer and something like a Black Pine denotes the winter.

Flat gardens became an alternative to hill gardens in Japan as were amongst then first residential gardens added to the homes of ordinary Japanese people and they continue to be a wonderful type of garden today for any yard or garden area.

I believe a ‘Flat’ or Hira-niwa garden is a cost effective and beautiful option for a domestic Japanese garden as it includes some of the essential ingredients needed for a Japanese garden as well as the classic Japanese garden design method of borrowed scenery. This is where the designer either copies a specific landscape in miniature or use existing scenery such as a hill located outside of the flat garden space to include it in the overall garden view.

But, lets face it, not many of us have a natural piece of landscape that we can include in our overall design so just the copying of a real or imaginary landscape will be more than enough. Creating miniature landscapes allows your creative juices to flow and your imagination to run wild! All the more reason to get started on building your dream Japanese garden space.

For more help with a flat garden design and how to develop your own stunning Japanese garden get your free copy of my latest book ’11 Simple Ways To Turn Your Garden Japanese’ by CLICKING HERE

Best Wishes and I hope you have found this information useful and inspiring for your own Japanese garden space!














Making a Japanese Garden – Zen garden’s Books and DVD’s on AMAZON…

Zen garden books and DVd’s on Amazon

Here is our amazon page cntaining books and DVD’s on the subject of Zen gardens or Japanese rock gardens as they are sometimes known. CLICK HERE


Making A Japanese Garden – 5 Japanese Garden Designs REVIEW



Thanks for visiting our website. It is fairly common when making aJapanese garden to feel a little overwhelmed by all of the available information and deciding what to do and where. You can do-it-yourself, get a professional in to help you  OR for a fraction of the cost get help from one of the world’s top award winning Japanese garden designers Alison. is one of the internets leading garden design specialists and they have terrific advice on all sorts of gardens from all over the world. They are highly respected and have a hugely successful business. They have reviewed this ‘third’way of making a Japanese garden after road testing Alison’s Japanese garden design manual and video series. Take a look.


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Here’s an overview of ‘Japanese Garden Designs’…

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Japanese Garden Designs


Making A Japanese Garden – Books and DVD’s Of Interest


Thanks for visiting my website – I have put together a page of books and DVD’s on the subject that are available on AMAZON just incase you are interested. CLICK HERE

Zen Gardens Online MAGAZINE Launched!

Hi ,

Thanks for visiting my website

Sometime ago I started an online magazine about Japanese gardens – it is FREE and updated daily. You can visit it by clicking HERE.

If you like Japanese and /or Zen gardens you will really enjoy these web resources.

A lot of folks asked for more information about Japanese Zen gardens so I have done the same. I have just launched my ZEN GARDENS site today – it is also FREE and will be updated daily. CLICK HERE to viisit


Making A Japanese Garden – A Japanese Zen Garden


Thanks for visiitng my website on making a Japanese garden. If you don’t know I am in the process as part of a longstanding plan at my home to build a small space outdoor Japanese Zen garden.

I have previosuly published some ‘before’ photographs and some details about what I am going to use and how I am going to do it. Simply browse through the next two or three pages to find that information.

In the UK, where I live, up until the last week or so we have had aenough rain to float Noah’s Ark again! Thankfully, the rain has stopped and it has been blisteringly hot – you are right we have CRAZY weather in Britain!!

So earlier today I went out into my garden at the rear of my home and decided to shoot this small video that you can watch below. I am not Martin Scorcese as you will see, but I wanted to give you a better way of seeing what I am doing and plan to do. There will be more videos and this week we will be moving onto fine edging of the Zen garden.

Take a look below:


Gold For the Japanese Hillside Garden At Chelsea Flower Show!

Picture by Martin Pope -


CONGRATULATIONS it’s a GOLD for ‘Best Artisan Garden’ at The 2012 Chelsea Flower show for Ishihara Kazuyuki Design Laboratory and a beautiful Japanese Hillside garden.

You can get a sense of the use of stones and traditional moss from the picture above.

If you are keen on making a Japanese garden then professional help is at hand! 5 stunning designs can be yours from one of the Worlds top landscapers – check out this short video and get more information by CLICKING HERE .

What About Making A Japanese Hillside Garden – The 2012 Chelsea Flower Show Will Point You In The RIGHT Direction!

The Chelsea Flower Show 2012 – as ever a wonderful horticultural event , that was visited by Her Majesty The Queen yesterday. It opens to the general public today and will be covered by news organistaions all over the world. Television coverage is on BBC1, BBC2 and BBC HD as well as BBC World News ( around the globe).

There is an ‘Artisan Garden ‘ section and one of the exhibits and designs is a Japanese Hillside garden – a great idea if you are considering making a Japanese garden. You do NOT need a great deal of space to design one. Below is the designer and name of the garden as well as a good image that really gives a greta feel for one of these very traditional Japanese gardens. More information can be found by searching’ Chelsea Flower Show at

Kazuyuki Ishihara

Satoyama Life

Award-winning Kazuyuki Ishihara returns to RHS Chelsea 2012 with a design   inspired by the Satoyama – the Japanese term that describes the space   between the lowlands and mountain.

The Satoyama Life garden will be a peaceful space which underlines the   importance of co-existing with nature in modern times.

Kazuyuki will use a thinning out technique which is in contrast to European   style and is traditionally used in Ikebana Japanese flower arrangement, to   highlight the natural beauty of his garden.

The garden will be framed by the plants and deciduous trees that bud all at  once in the Satoyama. His key plants will be acers and he will also use   Dryopteris erythrosora, Equisetum ramosissimum var. japonicum, Liriope   muscari and Quercus suber to name but a few.

PS: for those of you following my Japanese Zen garden design and construction – GOOD NEWS it has finally stopped raining in the UK and the work can now commence. I did find time inbetween flooding to find a really good Buddha statue which is now in situ! Pictures to follow later this week.

Have a good day!