Modern Landscaping - Page 2

Japanese-Asian verve: modern landscapes come alive behind three basic design principles

The key to design restraint is finding those forms and materials that express the feel of traditional Asian composition. The classic Zen dry gardens of Japan are often made up of little more than carefully selected sculptural stones and raked gravel. These basic elements can be combined, with restraint, into remarkable modern gardens.

alexander front garden

The minimalist front yard of the Palm Springs home pictured here (right) shows how this concept can be applied. Composed of gravel, concrete stepping pads, accent boulders, and a handful of mature plants, this garden provides a perfect setting that plays up the dramatic architecture of an Alexander home, and requires only minimal water and upkeep—important qualities for any garden regardless of style.

There are numerous resources available to homeowners and gardeners interested in creating Asian influenced gardens to complement their modern homes. Japanese and Asian garden design is a favorite topic for landscape writers, and there are numerous books on the subject.

Two books worth noting are 'The Modern Japanese Garden' (Octopus Publishing, 2002) and Ideas for 'Japanese Gardens' (Sunset Books, 1968). Long out of print, the Sunset title is especially interesting because it was written with the modern home in mind. It also includes photos by Eichler photographer Ernie Braun. Many of the designs, although not credited, are the work of prominent landscape architects of the era.

The internet, of course, can also provide significant and useful information on the topic, including directions to nearby public gardens that can be the source for inspiration. The Japanese Tea Garden and Strybing Arboretum, both in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, are two beautifully maintained public gardens that include a wealth of landscape features that can be adapted to an Asian-inspired modern garden. In Southern California, the James Irvine Garden in Los Angeles and the Japanese Friendship Garden in San Diego's Balboa Park are also wonderful resources.

There are several attractive rain chain designs on the market. They are often available at nurseries and garden centers, and from online retailers, including and For more information on the life and design work of James Rose, visit

Photos: JC Miller, Dave Toerge, and Doug Nelson