Walking through the garden this time of year the evergreens are the stars. Green is considered the color of life, ecology and the environment (especially in the United States). In Japan green is the color of nature, so it’s fitting the Japanese word for green, midori, is also the word for vegetation.

Naturally, plants are key elements in every garden, but this is especially true of Japanese gardens. A great deal of time and effort is put forth to maintain their exquisite beauty. To create a peaceful setting very experienced craftsman can take hours pruning in a single area.

“… the best Kyoto gardens look so natural they appear untouched by human hands, even though her crew spends hours meticulously cleaning every pebble in the streams. She is taught how to bring nature’s essence into a garden scene, how to design with native plants, and how to subtly direct a visitor through a landscape.” – Leslie Buck, Cutting Back: My Apprenticeship in the Gardens of Kyoto.

Each plant or tree is chosen for a reason, and this often includes Maple, Cherry, or Plum for their excellent seasonal color. Evergreens such as pine trees and bamboo are held in particular esteem for their beauty during the winter months when other plants go dormant. The use of bamboo either as a living plant or fencing is very common. In the Willamette Valley our rains encourage many different types of moss, and ferns which are very much a part of these gardens.

Dancing along a stream or a fountain you may find many ferns like Adiantum (Maidenhair ferns) that have delicate and whimsical fronds that are deciduous. Likewise, the foliage of Athyrium pictum (Japanese Painted fern) turns a silvery gray with a purple tint and also tend to die back but will produce new growth in the spring. If you prefer an evergreen fern try Blechnum spicant (Deer Fern). The perfect setting for these ferns is tucked between rocks where they will receive plentiful moisture and shade. In addition, ‘Platt’s Black’ Leptinella sqalida wrapped around the edges is a unique groundcover that appears “mini fern like” that would also complement the landscape.

The brilliant colors of Japanese Maples dazzle any yard which is highlighted against a green landscape. If you are looking for inspiration visit the Portland Japanese Garden includes 12 acres of one of the largest collections of Japanese Maples. The possibilities are endless, as you’ll find a variety of upright, umbrella, weeping, and dwarf habits.

I am partial to reds and oranges, but there are a plethora colors to choose from. A pleasant lace leaf Japanese Maple with a weeping habit is Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Orangeola’ (stake for upright growth). The color is magnificent with red new growth that fades to orange fall color. It’s a good idea to protect this tree from hot, especially afternoon sun. A nice pairing with this tree is a Acer palmatum ‘Omure yama’ (Japanese Maple) for leaf contrast.

Another Japanese Maple with magnificent fall color is Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood.’ Hues range from a burgundy to brilliant scarlet in the fall. Bloodgood is a larger Japanese Maple with growth up to twenty in height and fifteen foot in width. This tree can grow in full sun to partial shade.

Aesthetics and design play almost as important elements in Japanese gardens as the plants themselves which is why stone is an integral part of the garden. Since ancient times the arrangement of stones, such as three stones settled in a pattern is particularly significant. Large stones are used to represent mountains and hills.

Lanterns and water basins also play a key role in the garden. A stone water basin (tsukubai) is used for ritual cleansing. The basins vary from simple depressions in uncut stone to elaborate carved stone creations, and are usually provided with a bamboo dipper for scooping up water.

Strolling through a Japanese garden my mind is lost in tranquility, and this is intentional by the arrangement of stones and pathways that have been carefully planned. Often times featuring circular paths with stepping stones, crushed fine gravel, or sand. If you are looking for a softer footing around pavilions, tea houses or a guest house Woodchips would be worth considering.

Whether you choose a Japanese Garden style or something different Lane Forest Products has all the products to suit your needs! Stop into the Corner Store Nursery for your plants, and any of our yards for pathway and compost materials. Visit our hardscapes department at Prairie Road for a
selection of water basins, and several large basalt boulder options.

Written by Karen Smith, Lane Forest Products Plant Specialist