The Shin'en consists of four gardens which surround the main shrine buildings on the south, west, middle, and east. With a total area of approximately 33,000 square meters, these stroll-style landscape gardens are designated as a national scenic spot representative of Meiji-era (1868-1912) garden design.
Nishi Shin'en (West Garden)
The focus of the Nishi Shin'en is a quiet pond named Byakko-ike. The irises around the pond bloom in all their glory in early summer, lending the garden an ethereal beauty. A tea ceremony arbor called Choshin-tei is located in the cluster of trees in the garden's southwest.
Minami Shin'en (South Garden)
This garden is a Heian-style garden designed for holding Kyokusui-no-en, a garden party during which aristocrats amused themselves by composing Japanese poems. In spring, the garden is bright with the deep pink blossoms of drooping cherry trees. The cherry blossoms are followed by azaleas in early summer and by hagi (Japanese bush clover) in autumn. The garden contains a smaller garden called Heian-no-sono featuring plants and flowers which appear in Heian-period literary works.
Naka Shin'en (Middle Garden)
Visitors who pass through the cluster of trees behind the shrine's main buildings will find a beautiful garden called Naka Shin'en. this garden, as well as the Nishi Shin'en, was constructed in 1895. It contains the Soryu-ike pond which features the Garyu-kyo, a walkway consisting of stone pillars which once served as foundation stones for the girders of Sanjo Ohashi and Gojo Ohashi, famous bridges in the centre of the city of Kyoto. The pond is surrounded by an exquisite expanse of rabbit-ear irises.
Higashi Shin'en (East Garden)
This garden was contructed in the early 1910s. In the centre of the garden, there is a pond called Seiho-ike on which courtiers are said to have gone boating in ancient times. Borrowing the Higashiyama hills as background scenery, the garden contains two elegant old-style buidings - the Taihei-kaku and the Shobi-kan adjacent to it - which add to the garden's overall charm.