Japanese garden designers choose specific flowers to create a calming atmosphere and achieve balance. Many plants are chosen for their beauty, their symbolic meanings, and their relationship with nature. We arrange gardens in this way for visitors to enjoy a tranquil space and find inner peace.
Let’s dig into what this means for our own designs and go through some of our top picks of traditional flowers to go in your Japanese garden.
In Japanese culture flowers are respected as symbols of nature, beauty and life itself. Different flowers have specific associations used to convey particular meanings. Flowers can symbolise respect, prosperity, happiness, or love, and are chosen with this symbolism in mind.
If you are looking for more information on symbolism, we recommend this article by 1800flowers
Purpose of Flowers In Japanese Garden Design
As well as their symbolism, we use plants for their aesthetics and beauty. Visual elements like color and texture are used to make the garden space visually appealing whilst keeping an impression of harmony and balance with nature.
We also use plants to create borders, define paths, frame a nice view or close off the garden from the outside. The one constant to keep in mind when creating planting schemes for zen gardens is to keep things consistent with nature.
Common Flowers in Japanese Gardens
Cherry Blossoms (Sakura)
No list of Japanese flowers would be complete without Cherry Blossom trees (Sakura in Japanese). These Japan native trees are famous the world over for producing stunning white and pink flowers. They are used commonly as ornamental plants due to their beauty.
They are the symbol of spring because this is the season they bloom. In Japan, Cherry Blossom season is observed by what is known as Hanami, which is the traditional Japanese custom of enjoying the flowers. During Hanami, people gather together under these trees to have picnics and outdoor events in order to enjoy the transient flowers (which are seen metaphorically to represent the transience of life).
Cherry trees need little maintenance and adapt quite well to different conditions making them ideal for creating a relaxing garden.
The Yoshino cherry tree is a popular choice as it’s one of the first japanese flowering cherry trees to blossom in the spring time. Yoshino cherry trees require well draining moist soil. Ideal pH is 6.5 – 7, slightly acidic to neutral soil.
We think cherry trees are among the best plants for a Japanese garden. They have all the elements for creating a tranquil space in mid to late spring.
Peonies are another ornamental plant popular in Japanese gardens. Known as ‘The King of Flowers’, these flowering plants are native to asia and have large blooms that come in a variety pinks, reds, whites and yellows.
Peonies are symbols of bravery and prosperity; making them a great addition into any Japanese garden as they’re said to bring about good luck.
They bloom around spring time into early summer.
Chrysanthemums (Kiku in Japanese) are the symbols of longevity, nobility and goodwill in Japan. They are also the symbol used for the imperial family and Japanese emperor.
Originally cultivated for medicinal purposes in ancient China, before being brought over to Japan around the Heian period (794–1185).
Chrysanthemums have showy blooms like peonies, having large flowers in whites, yellows, pinks, reds and purples.
Blooming in late summer to early autumn, they are known as Japans autumn flower and symbolise this time of year and the harvest.
Japanese Iris (Iris ensata) are beautiful sword shaped flowers, native to east asia, that have blue, purple, lavender, pink, or white flowers.
They bloom in the summertime and are best planted near water due to them being native to wetland areas.
The meaning of the flower depends on it’s color – Purple means wisdom and blue can symbolises hope.
Japanese Wisteria (Wisteria floribunda) is a plant that produces clusters of colorful flowers across vines. These hanging flowers can be in blue, pink, white or purple and are known for their pleasant smell. This sweet smell makes them popular ingredient for perfumes.
Wisteria floribunda belong to the pea family and are native to Japan and China, and are popular Japanese garden plants because of their ability to grow vertically, across walls, fences or trellises. We can grow Wisteria in a variety of shapes and sizes depending on our needs.
Japanese Wisteria are resilient plants, able to grow in a variety of conditions and soil types. This makes them low maintenance and perfect for people who don’t have much time to dedicate to their garden. We recommend growing in slightly alkaline soil.
Hydrangeas are flowering plants native to Asia and the Americas. They produce large beautiful flowers in a range of colors such as reds, whites, pinks, blues & purples.
These are another easy to care for variety of plant that are generally used for mass planting, or as accent plants within Japanese gardens.
An interesting feature of hydrangeas is that their flower color can be different depending on the pH of the soil. Plants in growing alkaline soil are usually pink, whilst in acidic soil they are usually blue. Gardeners can use this to their advantage and create visually pleasing combinations.
Hydrangeas also have long blooming periods, with blooms from spring through to fall. They are drought resistant and are able to grow in partial shade.
Azaleas are flowers native to Asia, North America & Europe, that come in many colors, including pinks, whites, reds & purples. They belong to the Rhododendron genus.
Japanese Azaleas produce many flowers and bloom in April/May time. They need a certain amount of sunshine but are best suited to partial shade rather than full sun.
They prefer moist soil conditions with an ideal pH of around 5 and can be planted in beds or containers.
In Japanese gardens, azaleas are usually pruned into a rounded shape.
Japanese Camellia (Camellia japonica) are plants native to Japan and China. They bloom from late winter until the spring time and are popular due to their beautiful flowers during these seasons.
They are easy to care for, preferring partial shade and moist soil (as long as it’s consistent) that is well draining. Soil pH levels should be around 6.
The Camellia japonica is said to symbolise everlasting love.
Gardenias (Gardenia jasminoides) originate from China & Japan and are known for their showy white flowers and rich green leaf color.
They flourish in indirect sunlight or partial shade as opposed to full sun, and away from the cold and the wind. Gardenias should be planted in slightly acidic soil that is well drained. Flowers will bloom in the spring and through to fall.
Lilies come in a huge range of shapes and sizes, with many of them fitting perfectly into any Japanese garden.
It will vary by variety but most will grow from 3-6 feet tall and thrive in partial shade to full sunlight.
Oriental lilies, native to Japan and China, are our favorite choice. They are sweet smelling and beautiful to look at. Grow them in rich acidic soil and expect blooms around August time.
Lotus Flowers (hasu)
The Lotus flower is an iconic aquatic plant that is popular in Japanese gardens. These flowers come in various colors like pink, purple, blue, white, yellow and red.
They are a common feature in zen garden ponds or near temples. They float on the surface and at retract at night time. Lotus flowers prefer still water that does not move, so keep some distance between them and a water feature.
Lotus flowers symbolise spiritual growth and awakening in Buddhist cultures.
They generally bloom in the summer months.
Other Plants for Japanese Style Gardens
Japanese Maple Trees
Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) are among the most popular trees in the world and one of the best plants for Japanese style gardens. They can be found in dwarf varieties used for bonsai, or large trees growing in excess of 20 feet tall.
They are slow growers but worth the wait! Japanese maple can be grown in full shade or partial shade, and require well draining, slightly acidic soil.
Some popular varieties include:
- Acer palmatum ‘Wolff’: With it’s deep purple foliage
- Acer palmatum ‘Crimson Queen’: As the name suggests, this Japanese maple variety has stunning dark crimson red leaves. Can grow up to 10 feet tall.
- Acer palmatum ‘Villa Taranto’: Japanese maple with beautiful golden yellow leaves.
We had to add moss to our list as a Japanese inspired garden wouldn’t be complete without it. It’s a common addition in a Japanese zen garden as dark or light green ground cover. Moss is a small plant that thrives in the damp shade and wet soil.
Moss is low maintenance and slow growing. It helps bring a sense of simplicity to a design and gives the impression that an area is untouched and natural. Perfect for creating a calming atmosphere.
Moss is often used for ground cover and is effective at adding texture whilst keeping things simple. As well as looking the part, it benefits the soil by keeping it moist.
If you want to learn more about Japanese Garden design, check out our article on Japanese Garden Elements