Japanese gardens are inspired by specific destinations, such as nearby mountain ranges, forests, and rivers. But the true hallmark of the Japanese garden is the way it blends with surroundings to create a tranquil, Zen-like respite. “Japanese gardens are asymmetrical yet balanced, natural,” says Joshua Long, business developer for Southern Botanical. “It can seem as though they grew out of the earth spontaneously.” Since many of the plants that Long uses for Japanese gardens are sensitive to our summer heat, he suggests planting them in a shady area on the north side of the home or in an area with large trees. Most of these plants also require excellent drainage and more acidic soils, so amend thoroughly with azalea mix.
Japanese maple (Acer palmatum)
The Japanese maple is a must. Pruning is critical, and leaf tips and bark can be scalded by direct sun in the summer.
Sedge (Carex) and mondo (Ophiopogon japonicus)
These ground covers can soften harsh edges of boulders. Carex takes sun or shade; mondo must have protection from sun and heat.
Japanese laurel (Aucuba japonica)
Perfect for shady gardens, this evergreen shrub boasts medium height and long, sometimes-speckled leaves, which will turn black in full sun.
This is one of the strongest indicators of an Asian garden. Since it spreads aggressively, Long suggests using containers or areas with deep permanent borders.
Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica)
This tree is light greenish-blue in color and has a layered branching structure. It prefers sun and does much better than pines in our climate and soil.
Holly ferns (Cyrtomium falcatum)
These do well near water. Their distinct leaf shape and dark color make them irreplaceable.
Creating an Asian feel in your garden is easier than you might think. Along with using plants, Forehand says there are three other elements you should incorporate, too. “First, you need to use stones, large and small. Second, you need water—a small pool or stream can really add to the look. And third, you need some type of architectural feature, [like] a small stone wall or bamboo screen.” For ideas on how to incorporate these elements, visit the Arboretum’s Nancy Rutchik Red Maple Rill.