Horticulture Magazine

15 Oriental Plants For A Japanese-Style Garden

an autumnal japanese garden in Canada

If you want your garden to exude peace and tranquillity then a Japanese garden could be just the ticket.

Japanese gardens are said to bring serenity and the simple beauty of nature into our busy and cluttered lives.

They give the illusion of natural landscapes but are actually controlled by the gardener, meaning that though they are inspired by nature they are not naturally grown.

Daigoji Temple pagoda in Kyoto, Japan
Japanese gardens harness the peace and tranquillity of nature

The art of Japanese gardens dates back to 1,300 years ago – however, they have become extremely popular in the west over the last century. [source]

Japanese gardens were heavily influenced by the country’s Shinto religion and Chinese philosophies where ideas about leading peaceful, harmonic lives and being at one with nature are at the core. [source]

beautiful Japanese garden with a large pond and trees

When we think of Japanese gardens we often think of the expansive gardens filled with lakes and pagodas, blossom trees and bridges and you may be wondering how on earth you will be able to recreate this in your own garden.

But fear not, choosing the right plants means that even the most modest garden can successfully harness the Japanese theme.

What Is A Japanese Garden?

daffodils growing in the centre of a raked gravel garden

Japanese gardens are traditional gardens defined by Japanese philosophies and aesthetics, there should be absolutely no artificial plants and the main focus should be to showcase the landscape’s natural beauty.

Including aged and worn materials will also give the appearance of an ancient and distant landscape and will allude to the vulnerability and frailty of life and that time is always marching forwards with us or without us. [source]

Japanese gardens are minimalist and should inspire reflection and meditation.

tall and colourful Japanese maples growing in a garden with a large lake

They can also include a number of elements including water, rocks and sand, vegetation, paths, islands and bridges.

Japanese garden designers also work using the concept of “borrowed scenery”, which means they use the existing scenery such as a mountain or a castle to inspire and accentuate the garden they are creating. [source]

In modern times skyscrapers are instead used as borrowed scenery to great effect.

Choosing the right plants that would best suit a Japanese themed garden can be tricky so we’ve put together a list of a few of our favourites to get you started.

Best Plants For A Japanese Garden

autumnal colours of red and yellow in a Japanese garden

Now that you’ve decided that a Japanese garden is for you it’s time to start getting to grips with the plants you might want to choose.

Obviously there are thousands to choose from but we’ve narrowed these down to our best picks for UK garden – 

1) Bamboo

very tall bamboo
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Phyllostachys aurea
  • PLANT TYPE: PERENNIAL
  • HARDINESS RATING: H5
  • PREFERRED LOCATION: ANY
  • SOIL REQUIREMENTS: LOAM-BASED; WELL-DRAINED

Topping our list is of course bamboo, the plant most instantly associated with Japan and its culture.

Growing throughout Japan, bamboo is used for everything, including chopsticks, toilet paper, chairs, fans and even entire houses.

Bamboo is extremely easy to grow but do keep in mind that some varieties can grow up to 70ft in height.

Best planted in spring, bamboo requires moist but well-drained soil in a sunny spot where they are sheltered from the wind.

Bamboo should be watered regularly during dry spells, receive a large amount of nitrogen in spring and a well-balanced fertiliser during the growing season up to late August. 

Aside from that they require very little care and will give your garden an instant Japanese aesthetic. 

2) Ornamental Cherry Trees

blooming pink cherry tree against a blue sky with clouds
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Prunus avium
  • PLANT TYPE: TREE
  • HARDINESS RATING: H6
  • PREFERRED LOCATION: FULL SUN
  • SOIL REQUIREMENTS: ANY

If you have the space for it then including one or more ornamental cherry trees will immediately accentuate your Japanese theme.

Japan is renowned for its beautiful, pink blossoming cherry trees – or sakura – and there are even dedicated festivals to celebrate them.

Ornamental cherry trees should be planted in full sun and in well-draining soil and somewhere sheltered from strong wind.

They will do well in most soil types and should be planted in early autumn.

Once planted you should water your tree well and often until it is fully established.

Applying fertiliser often can also reduce stress on the tree which can encourage pests and disease.

Growing to up to 30 ft, these gorgeous trees can live from 25-50 years and if well cared for, will reward you with their beautiful pink blossoms year after year.

3) Japanese Maple Bonsai

a Japanese Maple bonsai growing on a raised plinth
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Acer palmatum
  • PLANT TYPE: TREE
  • HARDINESS RATING: H6
  • PREFERRED LOCATION: SHELTERED
  • SOIL REQUIREMENTS: SLIGHTLY ACIDIC

If you have a more modest-sized garden then opting for bonsai trees is a great way to accentuate the Japanese theme without using much space. 

Bonsai is the art of growing and cultivating artificially dwarfed trees in containers that mimic the shape and scale of a full-sized tree.

Japanese maple bonsai should be kept in a sunny, airy spot although they should be moved to a shadier spot during the midday heat.

You should be watering the container every day and, in particularly hot weather several times a day. 

You can prune and trim shoots and twigs all year round but wait until autumn to prune the stronger branches so you can avoid bleeding.

These cute mini-plants will need repotting every two years, and with love and care, they will reward you with clusters of yellowy-green flowers in May and June.

4) Lotus

a stunning pink, yellow and green water lily on the surface of a pond
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Nelumbo nucifera
  • PLANT TYPE: AQUATIC
  • HARDINESS RATING: H1C
  • PREFERRED LOCATION: FULL SUN; SHELTERED
  • SOIL REQUIREMENTS: SHALLOW WATER

If you have included a pond in your garden to incorporate the element of water then the lovely lotus is a must-have plant.

These sun-loving, dramatic plants adore the sun and prefer to be bathed in it for at least 5-6 hours. 

Lotus plants are fairly easy to care for but do be aware that lotus tubers will not tolerate freezing and will not survive.

If freezing occurs on your pond then you should overwinter them by pushing them deeper into the pond, so that they are below the freezing line.

If this isn’t possible then we recommend you dig the lotus out and overwinter it somewhere inside.

These aquatic beauties will really bring a taste of the exotic to your garden and will make a perfect centrepiece for your Japanese theme.

5) Wisteria

draping wisteria flowers in lilac growing across a timber bridge
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Wisteria sinensis
  • PLANT TYPE: CLIMBER
  • HARDINESS RATING: H6
  • PREFERRED LOCATION: SHELTERED
  • SOIL REQUIREMENTS: ANY

This is a great option for any sized garden because the wisteria can simply climb up your house.

It’s also perfect for training up pergolas and other strong, wooden structures.

Wisteria is effortlessly beautiful but do be aware that it can take five years or more to establish itself.

However, they are absolutely worth the wait thanks to their pendulous clusters of lilac, white or bluish flowers which they produce in late spring and early summer.

Wisteria needs fertile, well-drained soil and should, ideally, be planted in a west or south-facing direction.

If you would like to learn more about wonderful wisteria then why not check out our wisteria guide.

6) Azalea

orange azalea flowers
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Azalea / Rhododendron
  • PLANT TYPE: SHRUB
  • HARDINESS RATING: H6
  • PREFERRED LOCATION: ANY
  • SOIL REQUIREMENTS: ACIDIC; LOAM-BASED

7) Camellia

cream coloured flowers of Camellia japonica 'Brushfield's Yellow'
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Camellia japonica
  • PLANT TYPE: SHRUB
  • HARDINESS RATING: H5
  • PREFERRED LOCATION: SHADED; SHELTERED
  • SOIL REQUIREMENTS: SLIGHTLY ACIDIC

8) Japanese Boxwood

small round Japanese Boxwood plants growing in a serene gravelled garden
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Buxus microphylla var. Japonica
  • PLANT TYPE: SHRUB
  • HARDINESS RATING: H6
  • PREFERRED LOCATION: ANY
  • SOIL REQUIREMENTS: ANY

9) Hakone Grass

Japanese hakone grass in pots
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Hakonechloa macra
  • PLANT TYPE: GRASS
  • HARDINESS RATING: H7
  • PREFERRED LOCATION: ANY
  • SOIL REQUIREMENTS: ANY

10) Iris

violet and yellow coloured Iris germanica
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Iris germanica
  • PLANT TYPE: PERENNIAL
  • HARDINESS RATING: H6
  • PREFERRED LOCATION: FULL SUN
  • SOIL REQUIREMENTS: SLIGHTLY ALKALINE; WELL-DRAINED

11) Hydrangea

huge hydrangea bush growing against a wall with flowers in blue, lilac and purple
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Hydrangea macrophylla
  • PLANT TYPE: SHRUB
  • HARDINESS RATING: H5
  • PREFERRED LOCATION: ANY
  • SOIL REQUIREMENTS: SLIGHTLY ACIDIC

12) Japanese Quince

red blooms of Japanese Quince
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Chaenomeles speciosa
  • PLANT TYPE: SHRUB
  • HARDINESS RATING: H6
  • PREFERRED LOCATION: ANY
  • SOIL REQUIREMENTS: ANY

13) Mondo Grass

black coloured mondo grass
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Black Beard’
  • PLANT TYPE: PERENNIAL
  • HARDINESS RATING: H5
  • PREFERRED LOCATION: ANY
  • SOIL REQUIREMENTS: SLIGHTLY ACIDIC

14) Peonies

large pink peony flower in bloom
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Paeonia lactiflora
  • PLANT TYPE: PERENNIAL
  • HARDINESS RATING: H6
  • PREFERRED LOCATION: SHELTERED
  • SOIL REQUIREMENTS: ANY

15) Lilies

white lilies
  • BOTANICAL NAME: LILIUM
  • PLANT TYPE: BULB
  • HARDINESS RATING: H6
  • PREFERRED LOCATION: FULL SUN; SHELTERED
  • SOIL REQUIREMENTS: SLIGHTLY ACIDIC

Journey To A Japanese Garden

Japanese garden behind a large body of water

Hopefully you now feel ready to begin your journey to a Japanese garden.

There are so many wonderful plants to choose from and don’t forget to incorporate some of the Japanese elements like sand, water, distressed wood, and so on.

A Japanese garden will demonstrate simple beauty and grace and will be the perfect place to enjoy some much-needed calmness in the midst of the hectic lives we all seem to lead these days.

We wish you luck on transforming your garden into a Japanese haven, and we hope you enjoy the peace and tranquillity it will surely provide.

© 2021 TKO DIGITAL LTD | Registered in England and Wales No. 10866260 | This website uses cookies.