Styrax japonicus

Plants for a Japanese garden

Create a tranquil space inspired by the gardens of Japan, using these key plants.

Japanese-themed gardens are defined by their calming atmosphere and restrained colour palette.

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Trees and shrubs feature heavily, particularly evergreens and those with blazing autumn foliage or delicate spring blossom. Mosses and ferns thrive in the shade cast by these larger plants.

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We pick some of the key plants to grow in a Japanese garden, below.


Hakonechloa

Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra)
Hakonechloa macra

Japanese forest grass, Hakonechloa macra, is a gorgeous shade-loving grass that will gently rustle as it catches a breeze. Plant it in swathes or bold clumps to soften the hard edges of paths and steps.


Quince

Cydonia oblonga
Cydonia oblonga

Quince (Cydonia oblonga) makes a beautiful additions to Japanese-style planting schemes. In spring it produces cup-shaped flowers, followed by golden fruits in autumn. Quince can also be trained as a deciduous bonsai tree.


Rhododendrons

Azalea 'Rosebud'
Azalea ‘Rosebud’

Clipped into neat mounds or domes, azaleas and rhododendrons are bedecked in dazzling flowers come spring. They need neutral to acidic soil to thrive, however, so grow in pots of peat-free ericaceous compost if you have alkaline soil.


Araiostegia parvipinnata

Araiostegia parvipinnata
Araiostegia parvipinnata

This beautiful fern and other species in the genus are known as hare’s foot ferns, which spread by creeping rhizomes. Intersperse with ground cover moss or hakonechloa. Araiostegia parvipinnata needs a moist, shady spot.


Cherries

Prunus 'Pink Shell'
Prunus ‘Pink Shell’

This list wouldn’t be complete without mention of ornamental cherry trees, or sakura. Japan is renowned for its spectacular cherry blossom festivals in March and April. Lots of cherry species can be used for sakura, including Prunus yedoensisPrunus serrulata and Prunus padus.


Japanese maples

Acer palmatum 'Sango-kaku'
Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’

Japanese maples come in a huge variety of leaf colours and shapes, all of them gorgeous in autumn. Underplant with clipped, rounded shrubs or hakonechloa.


Wisteria

Wisteria floribunda 'Multijuga'
Wisteria floribunda ‘Multijuga’

Japanese wisteria, Wisteria floribunda, works well in many settings, but in Japanese gardens it’s often grown over large arbours and arches. Walking beneath these structures is the perfect way to enjoy the scent of the pendulous flowers. Prune twice a year, in summer and winter, to get the best flower displays.


Peonies

Tree peony 'Shimane-sedai'
Tree peony ‘Shimane-sedai’

Showy, ornamental flowers like peonies and chrysanthemums are great for bringing splashes of colour to Japanese gardens. Pink varieties of Paeonia suffruticosa (pictured) and Paeonia lactiflora are particularly popular.


Black pines

Pinus thunbergii 'Thunderhead'
Pinus thunbergii ‘Thunderhead’

Black or Japanese pines, Pinus thunbergii, are a useful source of evergreen colour. They’re often ‘cloud pruned’ – a technique that involves shaping the crown into soft, cloud-like forms. As old needles are dropped they help to acidify the soil below – particularly beneficial to azaleas and rhododendrons planted directly beneath.


Styrax

Styrax japonicus
Styrax japonicus
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Styrax species like Styrax japonicus (pictured) and Styrax obassia are Japanese natives with white, bell-shaped flowers appearing in the summer months. They look beautiful planted next to water or paths.


Using water

Water can be used in even the smallest of gardens, adding to the ambience through trickling sounds and pretty reflections. Ponds can be planted with waterlilies and Japanese flag irises, Iris ensata. For smaller gardens, consider garden water bowls or trickling water features.

Watering can