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Japanese Garden - Be Inspired!

Walk with me as I create a Japanese Garden and Spa in my own backyard from start to finish!
I'll take you through the entire process: Show you what inspired me, How I decided on my final plan, Where I found materials, Any problems I run into along the way and how I work around them,
and the completed project.
Trust me when I say if I can do this, so can you!

Colorado - JULY and AUGUST 2008
I have a problem area on the westside of the yard and I've been dreaming of a hot tub for years. I'm taking the plunge (pardon the pun) and installing a hot tub and creating a Japanese Garden. I decided on the Japanese / Zen theme because I've always found the architecture, designs, and materials very calming. Perfect for a backyard getaway with a spa.

The area is approximately 35' by 28' and happily fills with weeds as often as possible. It ain't pretty. I started off with wanting the spa furthest from the house for noise considerations (there's a black square showing the original location of the spa). You'll see later on in my plans that I moved it closer due to cost and safety concerns because there's a two foot high wall right behind the original location. Originally I thought I wanted the entire area to be covered with a deck. I used my hose to create an outline of the area to give me and my family a better idea of how it would look. The lawn chair was brought in for contemplation. I immediately started thinking about shade structures!

Keep in mind I'm attempting to do this with a very small budget. I go for the best quality with the best price. Most Expensive isn't always the best or the best way to go. And if I can do it myself to save money, I will. Have any idea how much a 35' x 28' deck costs? A LOT!!!! If you can do it yourself, go for it. I'm not allowed to use any powertools except a sander for good reason, so building it myself is out of the question. So I started scrambling for a solution. Then I started looking and you wouldn't believe what I found! Here are links to some incredible woodworkers' pictures of Asian Inspired Decks, Patios, Pools, and Bridges:
Woods Shop and Peter A. Kirsch-Korff

Everything changed when I studied these new pictures and then I found Mister Boardwalk. I can get a platform-style deck for a fraction of the cost of a traditional deck! You can order different sized decks and walkways in different types of wood. I've chosed the teak-type IPE. I think it has the perfect look that I'm trying to achieve.

This area has an odd slope to it since fill dirt was brought in a long time ago when a retaining wall was added. The area under the spa and decking (to be explained momentarily) needs to be fairly level. One day soon I'll pick up an 8 foot board to start leveling the area especially where the spa will go (to be reused as a retaining wall or addition to my new vegetable garden when I'm done using it as a level).


After a fair amount of research I decided to purchase a spa from Colorado Custom Spas. These guys are awesome - super friendly and informative! They give you the necessary information about the materials spas and pumps are made of. This is a big investment! Here in Colorado where our temperatures can vary up to 70 degrees in 24 hours, you want materials that will last a long time. I chose a new material for the shell that is thick and durable (and most importantly for the klutz in me, it's slightly textured making it less slippery!) and the color choice was handled for me - it only comes in white. Colorado Custom Spas has a Shoji style gazebo! I had to get it! It's going to pull my visioin of a Japanese Spa and Garden together perfectly! So the spa is ordered with an arrival date of 3-5 weeks. I'm making a frame of treated 4x4's that will be filled with compacted gravel for the spa to sit in, and the gazebo to sit on. I need to ask one of my neighbors to use their power tools to trim 2 pieces of the wood though. I could have had the wood cut at the lumberyard, but I didn't have my measurements with me when I purchased the wood (silly me!)

I'm also working on making fairly level areas mostly for the spa location, but also for the 2 decks. There's a gutter overflow issue at the far side of the yard that will require a french drain to be created, and since I want to put in some sort of storage shed along that fence, I will also divert the downspout water in buried tubing so the water will go where I want it to! Sounds difficult, but it really isn't.

An electrician has been contacted and I'll be ordering the deck and walkways from Mister Boardwalk early next week. I talked to them on the phone recently because I was concerned I wouldn't be able to physically handle the shipment of decks and walkways, but the packaged weight is workable for two people to move.

I also chose some rock because I found the least expensive way to cover this large an area is with gravel. I'll be leveling a bit first, then one more treatment on the weeds, cover the entire area with landscape fabric, then cover that with Granite Chips. I chose granite chips instead of pea gravel for two reasons: 1) the pea gravel had a slight pinkish color to it, and 2) pea gravel will have a tendency to roll, whereas the granite chips are less round so they'll stay in place better on the slight slope from the foundation of the house. An added bonus is that the granite chips are grey - a nice neutral color that will highlight the decks and spa even more!

And I had to move the tree..... again! Poor thing has been moved twice since the spring, but it's a Sunburst Honey Locust and they're tough!

September 18 - I learned something important this week - Respect The SLOPE because slopes can be deceiving! I laid out the frame of 4x4 timbers only to find the downslope timber was actually above ground. I want this spa and especially the gazebo to STAY PUT and that means all timbers have to be at ground level or slightly below. Honestly, I freaked out a bit this past week trying to figure out a solution. After a good night's rest it came to me... I dug even deeper and stacked 2 timbers on the furthest downslope location and bolted them together with sturdy metal straps. I do not recommend using a screwdriver for this task. If you don't have an electric drill, Buy One! Creating the frame this way will help support the weight of the spa in one place so it doesn't shift downward in the future. Also, once I get that last timber cut to size, all of the frame will be bolted together with "L" brackets to give it overall stability and prevent movement. Then the gazebo posts will be attached to the frame using Post Brackets. Overkill? Maybe. Do I feel confident my spa and gazebo will stay in one place? Yep.

I placed my order with Mister Boardwalk with an arrival time of 7 - 10 business days so I have a lot of work to do before everything gets here. I sprayed the weeds a few days ago, but they still look quite happy which makes me not so happy. For a little instant gratification for all my hard work thus far, I splurged on a discounted Japanese Lantern. It stands about 2 1/2 feet tall making it the perfect entrance lantern. I also got a little present for my poor uprooted tree - I found 4 small 3x3 boards and made a little framed basin for the tree. Look for leftover timbers at your local building supply store (I visit Sutherlands because they're so nice there and the prices are very reasonable). This tree frame cost me 4 bucks. A friend of mine lent me the very long level. This tool has been invaluable while placing the framework for the spa and finding the level for the deck areas. Don't be afraid to ask neighbors, family, friends if they have tools you can borrow during projects, but return them ASAP in the same condition you received it.

I can sit in my yard now and "see" how it will look when all the pieces are in place. And I can think about plants I want to move into this area. I'm so excited!!! And sore... I really need a soak!

Early to Mid October - I've been really busy leveling areas, laying down weed barrier, and moving granite chips. The decks and walkways arrived from Mr. Boardwalk and you are not going to believe how awesome they look in person! My pictures do not do them justice. They were REALLY heavy, but with a little help and ingenuity, I was able to move them into place. The hardest pieces were the 6x6 decks since they come as one piece and I believe the ship weight was 115 pounds each. The walkways are 8 feet long and the ship weight on those was 55 pounds, which is workable for me if I'm careful. And the 8x8 foot deck actually came in 4 pieces which were fairly easy to manuever.

Let's see what else have I been doing.... Oh, I dug 2 small channels for the downspouts (one is buried down the side of the yard to open up in an unused area, and the other I made a dry river bed). And I made a bridge for the wooden walkway to cross over the dry river bed that takes you from the grass to the Japanese Garden. I got 3 large pieces of Pennsylvania Blue Stone to use as stepping stones from the path to the smaller deck. I enlarged my new vegetable garden and reused my old broken trellis for my new grape vine because I wanted to do something besides move rock! I also met with the electrician who will "hook me up" once the spa arrives. And now I'm just waiting for the spa to be installed so I can complete moving the rest of the rock in place, take a soak and a really deep breath, and put the Shoji-type Gazebo together! (Ok, I'll admit I'm a little afraid of THAT project!)

I just scrolled down and looked at the samples of traditional Japanese gardens I have below and I realized something: It looks like I'm creating a combination of all 3! Well, except the moss... I love moss but I also live in Colorado and am realistic! But then again..... the location of the gazebo may create some really nice north facing shade.... hmm, I wonder......

I'll get new pictures up this weekend. I think you'll like what you see!

Early DECEMBER- Sorry, it's been a while since I've been able to get pictures taken. The spa and gazebo arrived in October and it was a very exciting day! My landscaping got a little messed up with the installation, and then I found a great storage shed that took up a ton of time to get that settled in, and now winter has hit hard so finishing touches will have to wait until Spring. But... take a look at the pictures now!

Japanese Spa Entrance
more pictures below

The gazebo actually has sliding shoji windows on each side and a skylight you can't see. You can either keep them closed for privacy or wind block, or open them for a view or more ventilation. I added bamboo blinds for a little added privacy, but it's amazing how much wind those blinds can keep out! And the blinds will be useful keeping the direct sun out of the hot tub in the summer.

The spa is simply amazing! It's HUGE with plenty of room for 6 people comfortably. The jets are strong and in wonderful positions. I only wish I had a spa cover lift thingy... but I'm not sure it would work with the gazebo, so I've learned to leverage the spa cover in a way so it's not too hard to manuever by myself. And that's really been the only drawback. Oh, and I added some solar lights to guide along the zig zag walkway, but I forgot when it snows they don't work from lack of sunlight! doh! I'll be looking into "real" lighting in the spring. I'm also thinking about different plants and shrubs to install in the spring, too. Now there are two north facing (therefore shaded) areas - this side of the spa and in the distance you can see the storage shed. Now THAT needs to be covered with something nice and green! I really want to see a mungo pine or some really awesome Japanese spruce bonsai type tree back here, but they cost so much....

I found an inexpensive bamboo fence that I want to install for just a bit more added privacy, but I haven't decided exactly where to put it yet. Initially I wanted to put it along the dry river bed at the curve of the entrance to the garden, but I love the lantern so much I didn't want to block it. I may install it further back into the grass area. I haven't decided yet. Any suggestions?  I think it's easier to wait than to install, move, install.... I've done that enough this past summer already!

This entire area that I landscaped actually ended up being more like 50' x 35'. In brought the granite chips all around the house on the other side so it would flow into the backyard. I went over budget, but I saved tens of thousands of dollars by using the walkways instead of a deck, shopping deals, and doing so much of the work myself. Am I exhausted and happy winter has hit??!!?!?  You betcha!  But now I get to sit back and relax in my new Japanese Retreat and dream about the ways my garden will grow.....


Shows original spa location and hose outlines deck area.

Shows the weird slope of the yard.

First Inspired Drawing - not quite right

2nd Inspired Drawing with huge price

Final Drawing and Plan

Hose outlines spa, two deck areas, and walkway

 Spa and Gazebo Frame with 2 bolted timbers
Added slope stability by bolting 2 timbers together

 Simple frame around base of tree
Simple accent at base of tree

 Tall Japanese Lantern
Japanese Lantern for entrance to spa area

Small Patio
Small Deck area in separate part of yard

Almost Complete - Waiting for Spa and Shoji-style Gazebo
Weed barrier, rock, both decks, 2 walkways and bridge in place. Waiting for the spa!

Small Deck for Sunbathing
Small sunbathing deck

Mister Boardwalk Walkway
Mister Boardwalk Walkway (teak-type)

 Japanese Shoji Gazebo Spa
Shoji Gazebo - Looks and feels like a Japanese Tea House!

 Colorado Custom Spa w/Shoji
Colorado Custom Spa Installed!


There is more to an Asian garden than bonsai. The Five Elements of Feng Shui can be used;  Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Wood. It's not essential to have all five elements in your garden... It's important to find what is pleasing to you.


Are you looking for the green lushness of moss and ferns or the pure simplicity of a Zen Garden, or maybe something in between?
Maybe you'll find something here to help you create your own sanctuary.

Take a stroll through The Japanese Garden and get inspired!

Tsukiyama Garden

Ponds, streams, hills, stones, trees, flowers, bridges and paths are used to create a miniature reproduction of a natural scenery which is often a famous landscape in China or Japan. The name Tsukiyama refers to the creation of artificial hills.

Tsukiyama gardens vary in size and in the way they are viewed. Smaller gardens are usually enjoyed from a single viewpoint, such as the veranda of a temple, while many larger gardens are best experienced by following a circular scrolling path.

Karesansui Garden

The Karesansui garden reproduces natural landscapes in a more abstract way by using stones, gravel, sand and sometimes a few patches of moss for representing mountains, islands, boats, seas and rivers. Karesansui gardens are strongly influenced by Zen Buddhism and used for meditation.


Chaniwa Garden

  Chaniwa gardens are built for the tea ceremony. They contain a tea house where the actual ceremony is held and are designed in aesthetic simplicity according to the concepts of Sado (tea ceremony).

The Chaniwa garden typically features stepping stones that lead toward the tea house, stone lanterns and a stone basin with a bamboo water spout (tsukubai).  The purpose of the Tsukubai is for guests to purify themselves before participating in the tea ceremony.

 Shishi Odoshi in Japan

 Tsukubai - Bamboo Spout/Fountain





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