Chinese Garden Design: Tips For Creating Chinese Gardens

chinese garden in chengdu, China
Image by greir

By Mary H. Dyer, Master Naturalist and Master Gardener

A Chinese garden is a place of beauty, serenity and a spiritual connection with nature that provides busy people with much-needed respite from a noisy, stressful world. It isn’t difficult to understand the ever-increasing interest in this ancient art form. Let’s learn more about how to create a Chinese garden of your own.

Chinese Garden Design

Three major elements of a Chinese garden traditionally include:

  • Water – representing living, constantly changing nature
  • Stones – indicating stability and strength
  • Plants – which provide beauty, texture and meaning

Architecture such as pavilions and teahouses provide a place for reflection, conversation and refreshments.

Chinese Garden Plants


Chinese gardens contain a variety of plants chosen to provide beauty for each season. Chinese garden plants may include trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and aquatic plants. Bonsai plants are also common.

Bamboo is an important plant that symbolizes flexibility. Similarly, pine trees represent endurance and lotus symbolizes purity.

Other plants often found in a typical Chinese garden include:

However, plants are often chosen for their form, balance and texture rather than showy blooms or bright colors. Every plant is carefully chosen for its beauty and meaning.

How to Create a Chinese Garden

Creating Chinese gardens isn’t all that difficult to do. Select a space for your Chinese garden, then make a sketch of your plans. Your garden should be compact, asymmetrical and pleasing to the eye.

Clear existing vegetation and create a water feature, such as a pond or stream, which is often the focal point of a Chinese garden. Plant a stand of bamboo, but be sure to steer clear of invasive varieties, which can overtake your carefully planned Chinese garden. Select other plants that will provide color and texture for each season.

Other features may include shapes that refer to elements in nature, such as a curved walkway. If possible, provide an architectural element such as an artificial mountain with a pavilion. Many Chinese gardens are enclosed by walls.

Chinese vs. Japanese Gardens

Japanese gardens were initially influenced by Chinese gardens and both are peaceful, tranquil places to connect with nature. However, the two styles have several differences.

  • Chinese gardens are usually designed around an elaborate, decorative building that occupies a relatively large area of the garden.
  • The buildings are placed above or adjacent to a pond or other body of water. While Japanese gardens also contain buildings, the buildings are simple, lack elaborate ornamentation and are often partially or fully hidden from view.
  • Although rocks are elements in both styles, Chinese gardens often feature stones as a dramatic focal point. Japanese gardens generally use smaller, more naturally-appearing rock features.

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