Even though the West think of Japanese Gardens as one style; they are in fact many different approaches and philosophies, some based on traditional or spiritual meanings. They do, however, have some commonalities.
Harmonious layouts are achieved by careful placement of objects and plants of different sizes, forms and textures. These are frequently contrasted between the rough with the smooth, vertical with horizontal, or hard and soft. The area is often very limited, however space between objects is essential.
Accirding to the Garden Encyclopedia Japanese gardens are appreciated as visual compositions for contemplation, rather than as spaces to be cultivated or enjoyed for leisure.
The famous dry Zen gardens use fine gravel raked into patterns, with minimal planting, sometimes just with moss at the bases of the rocks.
Water is seen as purifying, often in small pools or streams.
Planting is very controlled with informal stepping stones or meandering pathways leading to different points of interest providing an aid to meditation and relaxation.
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