Over the past several months I have had several readers looking for book recommendations to help them create their own Japanese garden. I have answered these individually based upon what type of garden they were planning on creating.
They have ranged from an experienced construction professional looking to create a large Japanese style garden to an experienced gardener looking to add a small Japanese inspired section to their existing garden.
Most everybody wants books with clear instructions, practical advice, and lots of illustrations and photos.
How I came to My answer
To answer this question, I have decided to go through my book collection and see which Japanese gardening How To books I would recommend to readers* looking for practical information. By “How To”, I mean how to design and build a Japanese garden for a homeowner.
I also wanted to include books that I felt offered practical easy to understand background information that helps you design your own garden. I personally own over twenty books specifically about Japanese gardens, so I had a decent number to choose from.
Several of those are picture books with little explanation but plenty of inspiration. Although some of these are fantastic, I won’t select any of those for this post as this is specifically about Japanese garden How To. Neither will I cover any of my Bonsai books, although there are things to be learned in those that can apply to Japanese garden pruning.
My suggestions for Japanese garden How To books
Here is the list, which starts with one of the first books I read on Japanese gardens which I found an edition from the 1964 in a used book store. It cost $2.75 in 1964!
by Josiah Conder
This is an OLD book (1893) by an English architect. You can find many different editions of it. The one I own was printed in 1964.
It is also one of those books written before all the mystical fluff was added to Japanese garden books. All the confusing stories about spirits not able to follow you when you cross a zig zag bridge,etc. is left out of this book. Thank goodness. There are plenty of line illustrations to help in explaining things.
No you won’t be able to create a garden just using this book. You will have a better knowledge and appreciation of them and their different parts. If you are really into Japanese gardens it is definitely worth picking up. I really like this book. Buy a used copy and don’t pay more than $20 for it.
by Katsuo Saito and Sadaji Wada
This book gives some pretty advanced but also subtle information on Japanese Gardening that most other books either miss entirely or make more complicated then it needs to be. It supplies good details about stone selection, shapes, and moods created. I have to confess this book is not currently in my collection, but I did read it several years back. As I was putting this list together, I decided I could not leave this book out. I also promptly ordered my own copy.
FYI I did get and promptly reread. It was as good as I remembered.
Like the Conder book, it’s another one of those oldies but goodies (although this is not as old as that book). I think it is one of the best books on the subject that I have read.
by Isao Yoshikawa
This out of print little book is a good one for people to get their hands dirty building a small project. It has step by step illustrations that are usually lacking in most Japanese gardening books. Some of the construction techniques in this book will not fly in areas with frost heave. That being said, if you don’t want a coffee table book with a lot of inspiring photos but instead want a basic how to book on building some features of a Japanese garden for your garden, this is a good choice. It is also cheap.
by Isao Yoshikawa
If you are interested in building a bamboo style fence, this book cannot be beat. Isao again shows step by step instructions on actual construction techniques. These include illustrations that are very helpful. It also has a limited number of four color photos showing different styles of fences. Those of you in colder areas with significant frost heave will want to beef up your fence post foundations, but otherwise this book’s techniques are spot on.
If you have fence building experience and would like to venture into the world of bamboo fences this book should be on your shelf. There is a newer hardcover version of this book that I have not had a chance to read that you may be interested in. It looks to be a bit expanded.
by Kiyoshi Seike
I have had this book for a long time (years before I began working at a Japanese garden). I don’t consider it as great as a lot of people do. It is a good book that is probably one of the better first books to read on Japanese gardens for home landscapes.
It contains some very good photographs and ideas that can be adopted. It also covers some construction techniques briefly. There is a very good chance your library may have this book. There is also an older version available that is much cheaper.
by Motomi Oguchi
Most books on Japanese gardens tend to be picture books that are long on ideas and inspiration but short on advice on how to actually build them. This book is an exception. It mostly is a book to inspire ideas. It does also however, show and explain some construction details that were used in the different garden landscapes profiled.
There are some neat tidbits in this book that I have not seen elsewhere.
There are tons of inspiring books about Japanese gardens out there. I have only touched on the most practical ones that I own. There are better ones out there I have yet to discover I am sure.
In fact while putting this together I ordered several (don’t tell my wife!). Perhaps I will have a part 2 shortly.