What does a Japanese Garden Designer do?

S. Miller

A Japanese garden designer creates a conceptual plan for a Japanese garden, sketches it to scale either on paper or computer, determines whether features such as ponds or sculptures will go into the garden, selects the plants that will be planted there and, finally, oversees the work as the designer’s vision is brought to reality. Before the Japanese garden designer does the actual design work, however, he or she must analyze the land on which the garden is to be built. A designer of a Japanese garden must take into account the land’s drainage and soil types, its natural terrain, the trees and other vegetation on the land and how much sunlight it receives. All of these aspects must be considered so that the Japanese garden designer knows which plants will flourish in the garden and which design elements will enhance the garden’s natural beauty.

Zen Buddist gardens are popular gardens.
Zen Buddist gardens are popular gardens.

The designer consults with the client to determine what type of garden the client wants. Japanese tea gardens are popular, but so are other types of Japanese gardens, such as Zen Buddhist gardens, strolling gardens or courtyard gardens. After the Japanese garden designer has a good feel for what the client wants and has properly analyzed the garden site and had it professionally surveyed, the design work itself begins in earnest.

Japanese garden designers are often graduates of landscape architecture programs.
Japanese garden designers are often graduates of landscape architecture programs.

Japanese garden designers are often, but not always, graduates of landscape architecture programs. Colleges and universities all over the world offer both bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in landscape architecture. Some of these schools offer a higher concentration in design.

During school and after graduation, fledgling landscape architects serve as interns and apprentices for professional landscape architects for a few years before going out on their own. In some countries, landscape architects must be licensed. In the United States, for example, most states require that landscape architects take and pass the Landscape Architect Registration Examination to obtain a license. Garden designers who have not studied landscape architecture have sometimes studied design, art or programs related to horticulture or the environment.

Garden designers or landscape architects who specialize in designing Japanese gardens often do so because of an affinity for or deep interest in Japanese culture. Many travel to Japan to immerse themselves in the culture. This also allows them to see authentic Japanese gardens first-hand to further their study.

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