Front Yard Japanese Garden Landscaping

Updated: Jul 15

Front Yard Japanese Garden

Many people are drawn to the Japanese garden for a variety of reasons. Some love the tranquility and serenity of the garden, some see it as a place to relax and contemplate, others love the beauty of balancing art and nature. Whatever your reasons for appreciating a Japanese garden are, there are a few unique things to be aware of when thinking about designing a Japanese garden your front yard.

A few things to take into consideration when planning your front yard Japanese garden landscaping are:

  1. Does it blend with the house?

  2. Japanese garden Viewing Angle

  3. Type of Japanese garden to choose

  4. Hardscaping

  5. Water feature

  6. Simple and minimalist or miniaturized scene?

  7. Privacy and relaxation or display garden



The first thing to do is look at actual front yard Japanese garden landscaping in Japan.

Often times there is very little space, sometimes even only a 3’ x 6’ space that we wouldn’t even consider as a possible garden space. 

  1. Does it blend with the house?

Depending on what type of neighborhood you are in curb appeal may be a factor in deciding your Japanese garden style. If you live in a city or suburban setting you may have many houses close by each other or homes that were built by one home builder in a fairly similar style. The first thing is to keep in mind that this is for you and should be a look and feel that inspires you. You can always be extravagant but you might want to also see if there is a way to allow it to blend with a house.

In Japan the houses are often built lower to the ground with a large window to view the garden from inside. These floor to ceiling windows often open, like a large sliding door, and sometimes open to a veranda that overlooks the garden.

If there is a way to include shrubs and trees as a buffer to the neighbors house you may better be able to build a garden that can blend with your house. The basic thing is to envision the design with the house as a part of it. Just transplanting a small Japanese garden and plopping it in the middle of your front yard will most likely not flow well with the overall look with the house in the background. Having it closer to the house or in a corner of the yard may give it a more solid background from which it can be anchored.

  1. Japanese garden viewing angle

One key point is that the garden is usually designed at eye level with the prime viewing spot from the veranda living room. However, many western homes are just not built this way so it may need to be custom built or positioned slightly different. You could still have a main view from a porch which would then give it a similar view point.

Designing the garden with only one viewpoint proves problematic then for people who will inevitably view your house from the street passing by or pulling up to the house in the driveway. Part of the issue has to do with the fact that Japanese gardens often have a backdrop defining their space, such as a solid wall or row of shrubs. Therefore if you are going to have it in your front yard it might look nice on the side of the yard with some type of backdrop on the border of your property line.

  1. Type of Japanese garden to choose

Researching various Japanese garden themes will also help you define and your look and find a garden style that can flow with your home and overall front yard look.

Dry Rock Gardens – these gardens can create a garden of contemplation with a variety of sizes of gravel and boulders mixed together. Stone settings in asymmetric and odd numbers is a great way to create a more natural looking scene. Dry rock gardens, or karesansui in Japanese, are sometimes referred to Zen rock gardens but this is something we have attached to the name. Dry rock gardens can be found in a number of different gardens throughout Japan without any relationship to Zen.

Kyoto Rock Garden

Kyoto Rock Garden

One thing to be careful with when designing a rock garden is to not have too many trees which lose their leaves nearby. This can drastically add to the cleanup you will have to do a few times a year.

Tea Gardens – these gardens are often much more dense with various evergreen trees and shrubs. Often the trees are thinned out on the lower part of the tree which allows you to see more, creating an airy feeling, but still maintaining a canopy of leaves. Think shade garden or woodland garden with a few elements like a tsukubai water basin, Japanese lantern, and bench. 

Courtyard Garden – this garden style may provide some inspiration for a landscape scene, however they are usually created in an enclosed setting making it harder to recreate in a larger more open space. If you had a corner where 2 fences meet that could work well, but you have to take into consideration the viewing distance. Courtyard gardens are sometimes in the middle of the home and meant to be viewed from only a few feet away. If you are planning your front yard garden what will this look like from 50 or 100 feet away on a sidewalk?

Kaiyu-shiki Strolling Garden – this style can also give you some great ideas because they are often done on a grand scale. Man-made hills, or tsukiyama, and boxwood or azalea mounds can create some elevation changes that are often found in Japanese gardens. Traditionally these gardens have strolling paths around a large pond but you need to be careful with ponds in the front yard and liability.

Hardscaping

Hardscaping is something we forget about when thinking about gardens, but a balance of living things and solid surfaces and items can do wonders for a garden. Things like dry rock gardens, stepping stones, lanterns, benches, a small patio etc. are all considered hardscaping that you can add to a nature scene. Stepping stones over to a bench will give you a new sitting area and nice look to your garden.

  1. Water feature

Some type of water feature could be a nice touch but you may need to check with local ordinances about having a pond in the front yard. There are liability issues with having something like a koi pond without a fence, even though it’s on your property you could be held responsible if someone falls in or hurts themselves. That being said, a koi pond isn’t your only option.

I have installed self containing waterfalls where you get the beauty of a flowing waterfall coming over the boulders yet the water doesn’t pool up and gets recycled over and over again. If you strategically hide where the water is going you can also create a dry rock stream bed that symbolizes a flowing stream.

A dry rock garden can even bring about the illusion of water without any actual water. Or something like a tsukubai water basin or Japanese ceramic pottery bowl placed in the garden can hold still water that you place a few seasonal leaves in to connect it with nature and the current season. A deer scare is another type of flowing water often coming out of a piece of bamboo that fills up with water and tips over, making a tiny knocking noise that is meant to scare the deer away.

  1. Simple and minimalist or miniaturized scene?

Looking at modern Japanese gardens may also inspire you with a minimalist yet functional design. Contemporary homes in Japan often do not hav e the luxury of space so many of the gardens are trying to make the best use of their space by creating a modern Japanese style garden that can still be used, with a patio added for example. Simple touches of Japanese elements may flow with your landscape and home more than a miniaturized scene.

modern japanese garden

modern japanese garden

Making use of less variety of shrubs and trees but using more of the same species can create a unified theme. Some people even create a unique garden by sticking to one type of tree, like using evergreen shrubs and only white birch for example.

Privacy and relaxation or display garden

On a similar theme, you should decide if this garden is going to be a sort of sanctuary for you or a display garden that you and others will be able to enjoy from a distance. If you are looking for a refuge for relaxation or privacy you might be better off thinking about another area surrounding the house, like the side or backyard, where you can build it with more seclusion.

When you think of the overall theme of your garden you should plan it out from the beginning all at once. When you are in one train of thought then you can design something cohesive. You will often end up cluttering and chopping up the flow if you add on to the garden little by little. Of course you can build the garden in stages, even over the span of a few years if needed to gather funds etc. but an overall goal should be strived for. Even when you reach that goal the garden is a living thing, never static, so it will inevitably change a little year after year. But throwing in a lantern or adding a bridge every time you see one in another Japanese garden will inevitably ruin your flow.

Front yard Japanese landscaping can be accomplished but there are a few unique problems that come along with this type of garden design. You can however have a successful garden if you keep in mind some of the things I mentioned in this article.

Another article you may like that is related to this is my Complete Guide to Small Japanese Gardens. You can also visit us at ShizenStyle where we have a number of articles and videos guiding you through many different styles of Japanese gardens. 

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