Urban and Small Space Blue Willow Chinese Zen Garden 
- A Blue and White-Themed Serenity Garden based on an antique Asian theme

One of my favorite patterns in my antique china collection is Blue Willow. 
There are many variations in the design, but the basic design theme is the same. This china was produced in England, but it is clearly
inspired by China. I also like the flow blue Chinese themes, and Blue and White Japanese pottery. I thought that if there are gardeners out there who would love a blue and white color theme, or serenity garden  in any sized space, I'd design a garden theme using plants with those colors, along with other traditionally Zen and Asian plants and accessories. This is an original design plan, and I've grown most of the suggested plants in pots and in-ground in zones 6, and I also use most suggested accessories myself.

This garden is especially stunning if you live in a white house with blue shutters or trims, or a blue house with white. A white fence adds to the appeal. The design and colors make your property look bigger and it seems to flow nicely from house to yard. If you design this in your backyard, place a few matching pieces, plants, or paint your front door in blue or white to tie it all in. My home is white with this shade of deep blue for shutters and aluminum porch and patio awnings. I have a big white fence to decorate. Perfect.

Place this Chinese serenity garden away from foot traffic, pets, and put it in a quiet space so that you can relax, reflect or meditate. It should feel welcoming and soothing, and become a place you will spend a lot of time in. It's not just for decoration. Try to make it your own, and fill it with what you love. You can create a full garden or several nooks within your current landscape using this design.

Decor Ideas you can use when designing your garden retreat

Small table/chair or a small bench, preferable not in the center of the design - place one in or near a cluster of plants and shrubs.
Wind chimes - Bamboo is the most mellow, but add a small tinkling chime somewhere in the garden. The wooden chimes give a mellow and mindful sound, the tinkling sounds feel cheerful and magical.

A Buddha, a dragon or tall water bird statues (cranes, herons, egrets). I use all of these. Stone is expensive, but there are some high quality resin pieces that are lightweight, cost much less, and that can be left out all year.

Stones and gravel here and there. I use the small black river rock and white stones on the tops of  my planters, and a few are placed in the bowls of my fountains. and birdbaths. White gravel looks great on a path or as mulch in a flower bed.

Solar fairy lights, solar fountains or birdbaths

Asian style lanterns. Some hang from branches, and some can be set on the ground, on a shepherd's hook, or on tabletops.

More ideas:

Paint inexpensive metal bird baths, benches, chimes, bird cages and bird feeders in shiny blue, bronze, copper, black, yellow or red.

If you're lucky enough to have an arbor or pergola - plant wisteria in blue or white to cover the structure, or plant honeysuckle or trumpet vines. These will perfume your garden, and the perfume is stronger at night. You can use the Moonlight Garden design for ideas on white plants that seem to glow in the evening and have a deep fragrance, by visiting this page.  

It's best to grow these vines in pots to easily control their shape and growth. They are aggressive spreaders in the open ground. A large pot on either side of an arch or pergola is ornamental, and spotlights the base of the structure. Tie the plant as it climbs up.  Choose a color to match your main color in the garden, or choose one in one of your accent colors.  I have several of these mature vines, and they will happily grow in pots as small as 12 inches in diameter. If you don't have an arbor or pergola, use large pots with trellises inserted. I have great success with these. I just clip vines to the trellis as it grows. It finds it's way to climb and cover the trellis. If you have an unattractive or lonely fence. cover it with flowering vines. Place a few large pots in front of the fence, and insert a large trellis inside the pot or in the ground behind the pot, and against the fence. Both methods work beautifully for me. Use all one type of vine, or mix it up, leaving about 3 ft. of space between the pots. I grow honeysuckle and clematis in every other pot along my fence line. My accents are climbing rose shrubs. Try it - it's beautiful and easy to care for because you have confined the roots. Trim as needed to keep it short, or let it trail along the top of the fence if you can use clips or just tie it where you want it to be. Trim out the vines that bush outward to keep it along the fence and not sticking out. 

To decorate tabletops, use inexpensive pottery, heavy glass ornamental pieces, or flea market teapots on top of a stack of blue, yellow or red cake plates. There are many beautiful designs in plates made of melamine. They're high quality and appear to be made of china. I also use plain white tableware. White rice bowls, square white plates, and a white vase or planter. On or near the table for that midnight snack in the garden.

Intersperse foliage plants that give an air of serenity and Asian feel. Bamboos, palms, Yucca, ferns, ivies and jades in pots work well if kept out of full sun and watered regularly. Water plants that can grow in the soil (most grasses and bog plants) work well. You can cheat and find high quality silk shrubs or trees that withstand the weather. An instant decor item while you wait for your landscape to fill out or to change it up now and then with a new focal point. Shots of accent color for the blue and white should be in the deep or bright blue shades, dark purples, plums, and medium to dark yellows.

Asian, Japanese, Thai, Buddhist decor and accessories

Suggested Blue and White Perennial ornamental plants and accessories

Choose large blooming flowers for impact, but add a few little clusters of flowing or hanging blooms and ground covers. Add grasses for a feeling of wind movement. Add chimes, water features like fountains and birdbaths, a Buddha or two, pagoda, dragon or Asian lanterns, and Asian style benches or stools and quiet seating areas. Fill some old blue/blue and white teapots and some flea market Asian style containers with cut flowers from the garden to decorate your retreat.   - place a few stones or pebbles in the vases to keep them from tipping over. Do not place the cut flowers in the sun. Hang an Zen style rain chain from a branch in your garden.

Brightly colored bird cages, crane, heron or peacock metal garden statues. Bluebirds and Birds of Paradise are another nature theme, along with carp and koi designs, if you have a water feature. A popular Asian garden theme is pottery depicting birds on a cherry blossom branch or dragons. Fill plastic or metal vases with cut flowers and foliage from the garden as a focal point where you're growing these plants. On the ground or on a table. For shots of color here and there, choose red Chinese accessories, or a few small pieces in dark yellow.

You can easily find a treasure trove of beautiful decor and symbols by doing a search for "feng shui" decor.

More garden tips

Choose plants based on color, shape, season of bloom and height.
Choose plants in the mature height and width you desire for your space and design.
Choose several weeping and feathery types of plants. Pick some foliage plants with an Asian feel. 
Foliage and evergreen plants can be used as focal points or ground covers, as well.

Use similar colors as ground cover plants to match the plants and to keep out weeds. 
Ground covers are usually sized 6-12 inches tall, spread a few feet, and can fill in anywhere.

Perennials and Bulbs. Plant them and forget them, they will return, and perhaps multiply every year.

Use plants in any combination and with a few flowers that share the same accent colors. 
For example, you can grow clusters of annual nasturtiums or marigolds to bring out the oranges and yellows in Irises and ornamental trees.
Those plants are also natural pesticides, and will protect your plants from insect damage.

Research the plant's hardiness zone and bloom time, if you wish to have flowers blooming in rotation spring to fall.

You can grow any plant, no matter what zone hardiness, if you grow them in pots, and bring them in for wintering over or if the weather is too hot for the plants you love to thrive.

Use your houseplants - Jade, bamboo, palms, dracaena, ferns, and many succulents look great summering outdoors with their friends in an Asian garden. Place them in the proper sunlight and give them the proper care. Be sure to bring your plants in before their recommended lowest temperatures. Most plants will put out a lot of growth. Check for insects before bringing your plants back in. You may want to repot them if they filled their pots. If roots show under the pots, time to repot. Transition them back indoors over a week or so, so that they get used to the change in their environment.

Many desert-type plants and succulents, like Yucca and Agave can be grown in pots in your garden will also grow as lovely houseplants with the right light and care, and be ready to go back outside in spring. The Yucca plant shown in the photo below is evergreen (at least in zone 6. Check your zone for others).

Some plants are traditionally used in Asian and Zen gardens, like Chrysanthemums, peonies, ornamental plum and cherry trees. You can build your garden around those as the focal point. Dwarf pomegranates and other fruits look pretty in the garden among the flowers and foliage, and can be grown in pots to save space.  These look beautiful on the patio, terrace or courtyard.

The Blues
When choosing your plants, be sure to check the plant's hardiness zones, heights, watering needs and bloom time. Try to choose plants that will bloom together or in rotation so that your garden always looks beautiful. Fragrant plants become more fragrant at night. 
Choose those and set up a small seating area and solar lanterns in that area, so that you can enjoy the evenings in your Zen garden.

Here are a few blue flowering perennials and blue-shaded foliage plants that give an Asian feel to your gardens

Feel free to plug annuals into your design to fill in gaps or add shots of new color to the summer landscape if there's a time that nothing is blooming.

Also called Bachelor's Buttons. Bright blue, interesting shape, Multiplies nicely.

These can reach 6 ft. tall. Grow along a fence or against walls.

A type of Larkspur


The Whites
You can't beat white flowers as the secondary or additional color in your any of your themed gardens. Many have 
little shots of color in them that will blend nicely with your color themes. White feels clean and "pure". 
White-flowered or silvery foliage plants and ground covers give a sense of coolness on a hot summer 
day, and add flow to the garden tying in the plants. Ground covers keep the soil cool and helps to retain water. 
It also gives your design a pulled-together look, as a rug does inside your home.


Giant Hardy Hibiscus is a cousin of Rose of Sharon. It comes in several different colors. It reaches 6 ft. and needs tying or staking. Multiple, big 10-12 inch flowers. Great along fence lines and in front of walls.

My go-to ground cover


On fences and in pots

Accent and Focal Points Specimen Plants -Trees and Shrubs - Foliage, Flowers and Fragrance
Most can be grown in large plastic or ornamental pots. 
Perfect in small gardens and on patios. I always grow wisteria and other large vines in pots to control the spread. 
I keep my large shrubs and small trees potted and pruned to the height I like, so I can keep larger varieties in my smaller space.

Use ornamental foliage plants to add texture and shapes. 
Choose those that will grow as small shrubs, and those dwarfs that will do well in large pots.

Shade: Rhododendrons and azaleas are other ornamentals that can be used in shady spots 
for spring blooms. These are traditional favorites for spring flowers in a zen garden.

Edibles In The Zen Garden - Add snackable fruits and veggies to your Chinese Zen Garden

Feel free to use contrasting colors in your accent choices. 
If a blue flower has a yellow or orange marking, use those colors in other plants as accents.


Very Fragrant
Prolific and very fragrant

Grow as a shrub, or train into a small tree. 

"Pugster" varieties are compact

Dwarf and Asian Style Ornamentals and Trees 
- No Zen or Asian garden should be without a cherry, plum, bamboo or dwarf Japanese Maple. 
I own several. All dwarf, and all are in pots. These over-winter beautifully.

Choose trees and large shrubs in dwarf varieties, those that are hardy in your zone 
(if you can't winter them indoors as houseplants or dormant) and choose from those that love to live in pots.


Spreading Shrub - Plant in Pots

Bamboo adds a lot of Zen to any garden design











Add Edibles to Your Garden Retreat

Create an edible Zen garden using veggies in big, colorful pots or standing elevated raised garden beds. Place these along a fence, or add them as focal points in four corners of beds or the garden. Use them on either side of a structure or pathway filled with dwarf ornamental or fruit trees. Be sure to leave a space to step around and tend to your veggies.These are my pots, and each is filled with a different edible. Choose blue, black, white, or red planters or paint plain pots.You can plant a few beds of leafy greens for your salad, and plant some fruit or veggies for grazing while in the garden.

To plan and plant edible gardens in containers, in any space or garden design, visit this page

To plant a container veggie garden in shady spots (under little tree canopies, tall plants or in shady nooks), visit this page


I fill each with different leafy greens and bush-type fruits and veggie plants. They are used in my mini orchard for dwarf fruit trees. These are available in black, red and dark blue, too, and are not too expensive for their size and durability.

These space savers produce bushels of food in a 2x4 ft. space. Off the ground and away from predators and weeds. 10 min. from assembly to planting. Deep enough for me to grow beets, turnips and carrots in a little bit of space. A nice way to use and ornament the mid-section of a long fence line.

USDA Plant Database
My gardens
 Photos in the Public Domain
Breck's Nursery
White Flower Farm
Spring Hill Nursery
Fast Growing Trees

Buddha Serenity Gardens

Native American 
Three Sisters Gardening

Flowers and Their Meanings
Easy Butterfly Gardens

Veggies That Grow in Shady Spots

Medieval and Castle Gardens

Mediterranean Diet 
Vegetable Garden

Easy Square Foot Gardens

Easy Native Plant Garden Layouts

Dwarf Fruit Trees In Pots Raised Bed Square Foot Gardens

Path of The Green Witch

Canning Fruit, Making Preserves

Garden Design Plans

Foraging The Wild in Pennsylvania
African American 
Heritage Garden
Botanical Mythology
and Nature Folklore

The Hummingbird Garden

Yoga and Meditation Gardens

The Original Victory Garden Growing Baby Melons
Authentic Mary Gardens Hardy Giant Hibiscus 
and Rose of Sharon
Deer Resistant Gardens
Ornamental Gourd
 and Winter Squash Gardens

Quick Guide To Storing Your Harvest

Native American 
Medicine Wheel

Design, graphics, articles and photos 2008+ marysbloomers.com
All rights reserved.