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Imagine being able to look out over your back yard and see an ocean, rimmed by white sands and bright green pines. From your porch, the view allows a vista of majestic mountains, of cascading waterfalls, and of gently rolling streams. For many of us, this is an impossible dream. But it need not be: not if you cultivate a Japanese garden, where the marvels of nature are duplicated in miniature right in your own back garden.

With a little thought and imagination, a wonderful illusion can be created with rocks, sand, water, and trees. A pond represents an ocean or a lake. Stepping stones become islands. Large rocks become mountains, and the waters flowing between them are waterfalls. But it is trees that dominate the Japanese garden. Trees are carefully spaced to create an atmosphere of peace and tranquility. While green trees dominate such gardens, other colors are also used to give varying accents to the garden from season to season. Plum, cherry, and magnolia are used for color in early spring.

In April and May, the azalea blossoms add a colorful splash. In autumn, the Japanese maple adds its red tones to the scenery. But it is still green that dominates the Japanese garden.

Often, trees are accented with clumps of bamboo. Trees are often used to give boundary and substance to the perimeter of the garden. The Japanese holly is often used in creative ways to resemble animals or other objects. And, of course, the pine comes to dominate the Japanese garden.

The black and red pines are the most common trees used for shaping. To visit some of the public gardens on feature throughout Japan is a real treat. But, just as spectacular, though less formal, are the thousands of family gardens. Family gardens have a more intimate appeal to them. They provide an un-ending opportunity for variety and to mix and match greenery according to taste and preference. With the creative use of rocks, trees, and water, even the most confined of spaces can be crafted to give the illusion of the most majestic of natural scenery.

In addition to the trees already mentioned, the following are the main elements of a traditional Japanese garden:

(1) Ponds, Waterfalls, Wells, & Bridges: The pond, or ike, is the fundamental element of the Japanese garden. It represents the sea, pond, river, or lake in nature. The bank of the pond is usually bordered by stones. A fountain is symbolic of a waterfall and, to the Japanese, this is a picture of human existence with its cycle of birth, life, and death.

(2) Stepping Stones, Garden Paths: Stepping stones and paths were originally incorporated so that visitors would not have to walk over the mossy ground. The stones are precisely placed according to their shape and style.

(3) Stone Water Basins & Stone Lanterns: There are two types of stone basins: the ornamental variety, which are kept near the veranda, and the raised basin, which is usually kept near a fence for aesthetic appeal. The stone water basins are made of natural or lightly worked stones.

(4) Fences: There are 3 types of fences: the short fence, which extends from the house into the garden, an inner fence, and an outer fence. The outer fence is the first fence you see as you approach the garden; it serves as a protective outer wall. Bamboo fences are very popular as outer wall materials. Inner fences emphasize lightness and act as partitions. The main materials used are bamboo, wood, twigs, and small trees.

So, why not give free reign to your creative instincts and set about transforming your back yard into a fabulous Japanese garden?