A traditional Japanese garden can take many forms: a garden for strolling, a tea garden, or a Zen meditation (rock and sand) landscape. Every element in the garden has a meaning or significance. Plants take on special importance as specimens in the landscape, and water or the illusion of water, such as a dry rock stream, is almost always present.
A Japanese garden can be a place to sit, think, stroll, or converse with a friend or guest. The size of the garden is not important; what is important is the careful placement of garden elements. The placement of plants and rocks and the art of wood joinery are all carried out with an eye toward quality and uniqueness. Pruning is treated as a high art form in the Japanese garden.
Japanese styles are adaptable to all climates and locations. A rock and sand garden is perfectly suited to the southwestern desert, whereas a strolling garden works well on steep wooded sites in many parts of the United States. A small courtyard or a secluded corner of the yard may be the perfect place to add a Japanese touch to your landscape. Trees traditionally used include Japanese maple (Acer palmatum), pine, maidenhair (Ginkgo biloba), and Japanese flowering cherry (Prunus serrulata). Some of the most popular shrubs are glossy abelia (Abelia x grandiflora), camellia, Japanese pieris (Pieris japonica), and mugo pine (Pinus mugo).
Suitable ground covers include blue fescue (Festuca ovina var. glauca), English ivy (Hedera helix ‘Hahn’s Self-branching’), bigleaf lilyturf (Liriope muscari), mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus), and low-growing junipers. Flowering vines such as pink jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum) and wisteria are commonly used to cover arbors and trellises.