Japanese Garden Design Ideas: The Art of Karesansui

Landscaping in EssexThe majority of gardens found in Essex feature rows of roses and cobbled paths. While beautiful, some garden owners crave for the serenity and beauty of Japanese gardens.

Essex’s climate is a little bit colder than that of Japanese cities such as Kyoto.  Nevertheless, their climates are quite similar. Due to similar weather patterns, the English countryside lends itself well to Asian influences. In fact, installing a Japanese garden is not a far-off reality: You can even find landscape gardeners within Essex that specialise in building Japanese-styled gardens.


The most famous style of Japanese gardens is called Karesansui. Known as ‘Zen gardens’ in the west, Karesansui is characterised by flowing sand and gravel interspersed with rocks.

Karesansui is a type of dry garden that gained popularity in the Muromachi period in 14th century Japan. Buddhist monks discovered that gardening aids in Zen meditation. They began building beautiful rock gardens, filled with sand and gravel. They painstakingly draw geometric patterns into the sand, for they teach the value of patience.

There are three major elements to Karesansui. Understanding these elements gives garden owners an idea of what to include in their own Japanese style garden.


Ishigumi is the arrangement of rocks. Rocks are the centrepiece of Karesansui, and have deep religious meaning in Buddhist philosophy.

A common rock arrangement is the ‘Sanzon Ishigumi’, which represents the Three Sacred Buddhist Figures. A large rock, representing Buddha, is surrounded by two smaller rocks, which represent his attendants.


Shirasuna refers to the arrangement of sand and gravel. Traditional gardens prefer the use of gravel, and they evoke the properties of water. Gardeners draw waves and circles in the gravel using specialised wooden rakes. They represent the ebb and flow of life.


Shakkei is the concept of ‘borrowed scenery’. Karesansui is a kind of tableau of Japanese life, and gardens may depict forests, mountains or rivers. Shakkei allows you to incorporate a few plants into your garden. Bonsai plants are popular, as they resemble miniature trees.

Karesansui is beautifully complex in its minimalism. With a little patience, you can recreate some of its beauty in your own little garden.

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