A garden should be a peaceful retreat, a place where you can go to escape the rush and the stresses of the outside world, and what better way to accomplish this than by borrowing a few Asian-inspired landscape ideas? While creating an authentic Japanese garden is a fairly complex thing, adding soothing elements from these masters of Zen can help to create a comforting retreat where you can contemplate and feel close to nature. Through the creative use of plant materials and design principles, you too can create an Eastern paradise just steps from your own back door.
Certain trees, shrubs, perennials, and groundcovers automatically call to mind Asian gardens. There is less of an emphasis on flowers than there is in Western gardening design, with a focus on foliage and form so that the garden has interesting visual elements throughout the year. This seasonality creates a closeness with nature, allowing you to celebrate each season in its time. Japanese maples have a beautiful branching structure so that they are attractive even in winter, although their gracefully arching branches and fall color make them attractive in other seasons as well. The finely-cut foliage of laceleaf maples adds a soft textural contrast to another Asian-inspired garden staple, evergreens. By planting evergreens with a variety of colors and textures, such as Hinoki cypress, contorted and weeping white pines, blue junipers, and golden or silver Korean firs, you’ll create all-season contrast. Bamboo, many varieties of which are also evergreen, is another great plant to include in the Asian-inspired garden to add contrast; "running" varieties can be a bit invasive, so check out semi-evergreen nandina. Although not actually a bamboo, this bush offers a similar texture as well as excellent fall color. Look for contrast in foliage when it comes to perennials as well, such as the golden, narrow, strap-like foliage of Japanese forest grass, Hakonechloa, next to the broad, heart-shaped leaves of the Blue Angel hosta.
Flowers are by no means absent from the Asian-inspired garden. Celebrate early spring with the blooming of cherry trees, then later spring with an artfully placed swath of Japanese iris. The horizontal growth habit of azaleas is at home in the Asian-inspired garden, as are the showy flowers of both herbaceous and tree peonies.
Water is another important and soothing element in the Asian-inspired garden. Ponds filled with colorful Koi fish immediately come to mind, as long as they’re not square. Since you wouldn’t find a square pond in nature, you also wouldn’t find one in an Asian garden. Similarly, fountains are not used; the sound of water is incorporated through the addition of natural-looking waterfalls. Bamboo deer chasers are another Eastern design element; purchase one or make your own from items found at most garden centers. If you don’t have the room for an actual water feature, don’t worry. Symbolism is a big part of Asian landscape design and sand raked into decorative patterns or dry rock beds are often used to simulate the effect of water. Artfully placed rocks are used to symbolize mountains or islands.