A true Japanese garden requires very little maintenance, as the components are mainly easy-care features such as gravel, pebbles, stones, wood, water and occasional carefully-chosen and well-positioned shrubs or small trees.
The design must be kept simple and uncluttered, concentrating on outline, shape and contrasting surface textures, while the use of plants is restrained, resulting in a garden that satisfies the senses but requires minimum aftercare.
A sense of tranquillity and areas for contemplation are also important elements of the design.
Rocks and stones have a special importance in many gardens. They can be set in an area covered with fine pebbles, which are an ideal labour-saving ground cover. When wet, they change color and catch the light.
Choose some special stones of varying size, color and character, and arrange asymmetrically in one or two areas in uneven numbers. Traditionally, the pebbles are raked into variations of parallel lines and snaking spirals centralised on the main rock features.
Gravel can be substituted for pebbles as a cheaper option. You can inset a walkway of large paving slabs or sawn tree-trunk pieces in the gravel.
In an authentic Japanese stone garden, the only plants might be mounds of green moss providing a softening contrast with the stones and rocks, but other types of Japanese-inspired garden include a few more plants, chosen for their interesting form or grace.
These can be planted through the pebbles or in large simple containers. If mosses, which thrive in moist conditions out of direct sun, cannot be encouraged to grow, try moss like plants as an alternative, such as Sagina Subulata, S. Procumbens, or, in mild areas, the ground-hugging carpeter Soleirolia Soleirii.
Water, the essence of life, should always be present. In a real Japanese garden, it would be fresh running water, but for the low maintenance gardener even a bowl filled with water is calming in a garden and offers birds the opportunity to drink. A bubble fountain washing over pebbles or a running stream effect would be ideal.
In Eastern philosophy, traditional garden features have their own significance within the strict rules and special meanings of the garden design.
Bamboo wind chimes create soothing sounds, while a rounded lantern and a linear bridge are pretty, and useful for introducing contrasting shapes. You could introduce different ornamentation to suit your own preferences, with the purpose of providing contrasting shapes and colors.