Creating your own Japanese bonsai garden can be a lengthy drawn-out battle or a weekend endeavor. It all depends on the tools you have on hand and your willingness to work hard. I am not a traditionalist so I do not heed to any rules when creating my gardens. My Japanese gardens are Japanese inspired, not corset-tight plans.

Ready, set, go!

There are a few things that can help you move this right along. You don't need all of these tools but let me tell you they help a lot. Here are the basics, starting with hardware:

  • Tiller
  • Shovel
  • Rake
  • Weedkiller (optional but recommended)
  • RustOleum spray landscape chalk (any brand you like though)
  • Strapping young man to do the hard labor
  • Gas money to bribe the young man. (These last two aren't required but do seem to work in most cases.)

Spray the area you want to use with some sort of weedkiller to destroy all those nasties that do not belong in your garden. If you can get one that is safe for the environment that would be much better! Wait several days for it to really work and dry those bad boys up. After they're dead, till the area very very well. Turn all those weeds under so they rot.

Now, use your rake to smooth out the entire area. Really get in there and rake rake rake! After these initial steps are completed it is time for the fun to begin! Take your chalk spray and mark the entire perimeter in the shape you want your garden. I hate straight lines so I always try and make rounded swooping edges. It's probably better to make the garden a bit larger than what you think you want, there's always something you'll forget and want to add later. Trust me!

Draw out your paths and any place you want to add a garden or table or aviary.....ponds, anything! This is the time to stand back and really imagine what your garden will look like. Do you see yourself sitting at a table with your husband or wife while sipping coffee and looking at your gorgeous koi pond? Maybe you have a family of mandarin ducks nibbling an herb garden you planted just for them?




Next, create a display table.

You don't want your precious bonsai to get lost in a vast expanse of gardens, so building a display table is really a good idea to showcase your favorites. I'm cheap so I will use pine boards and then stain them what ever color I want (probably a deep mahogany). My bonsai table will be a very simple design and the stain will make it pop without taking your eyes off the plantings. Make sure you seal it well as the elements will make the wood rot. Now, boards aren't the only way to display your trees, I have one of my best plantings on a huge fallen log in my garden, another is on a stump. I really like things to be natural and what's more natural than a log? There are many table designs online for you to pick from, I'm not a carpenter so I can't really tell you HOW to build one.

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Just add water.

Water is a very important element in a Japanese inspired garden..really, in almost any garden. You can add this feature with something as simple as a small bowl filled with water and a couple tiny plants, or you can be as elaborate as a 10,000-gallon pond complete with waterfall and stream. As with the sides of your garden, try making the edges of your pond sweep rather than being totally perfect with the lines. This will help add a sense of serenity to the surrounding landscape. It's also easier to accomplish than trying to make straight edges! Remember, a garden should play off nature, not fight against her.

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Have a seat.

A sitting area is an important addition as well. Try to find furniture that will echo the theme of the garden; remember you don't want to detract from your bonsai. An easy and cheap way to make a bench is to take two stumps and place a sturdy board across the top. It's pretty and in some cases free. Add a few tables scattered around to place interesting rocks and fountains on. Anything to make your space feel good to you.

Don't forget to spend quality time with your fish. Offer them food from your hands as often as you can. Even the shiest fish would have trouble denying a tasty cricket or two. Sometimes it takes a while to tame them down. You can always put your carp (goldfish/koi) in an unheated aquarium and teach them to hand feed there before releasing them into their larger home (pond). Fish love to pick through the muck you stir up from the bottom of the pond, so cleaning time is perfect for teaching them to accept food from your hand.

If you want, you can add a floor to your garden as well. There's many choices out there, from stone and brick all the way down to cheap reed mats.

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There are so many things you can do with a garden such as this, you can really let your imagination run away with you. If you're afraid of getting bogged down try breaking the project up into easy to handle installments.

Until we talk again,



I want to thank, slyperso1,, for the use of photos and Daves Garden for the general inspiration in the writing of this article.

Thanks Ya'll!!

(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on July 12, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)