This week wraps up our series on using drought tolerant plants to achieve certain sorts of landscapes, from tropical to Spanish to modern. We’re ending with an exploration of the perfect low-maintenance, drought-tolerant plants for Asian-themed lanscapes, be they a Chinese zen garden or Japanese oasis.
In previous posts, we learned that a Spanish garden is much more about the species of plants (those that come from the Mediterranean) like olives, rosemary, lavender and citrus, while a modern landscape is more about the form and use of plants – vertical, globe, geometric and repetition. The Asian landscape falls somewhere in between – it is important to use both certain kinds of plants and shapes of plants to achieve the desired result.
Ornamental grasses are an excellent choice for the drought-tolerant Asian garden. They provide lushness, movement, texture and color all for very little water and maintenance. Ophiopogon japonicus (1) and Pennisetum orientale (2) are excellent choices as their names imply.
A second must-have for the Asian garden is conifers – both upright (3) and spreading (4). Bonsai’d trees can act as statement or specimen trees in the landscape and can be purchased that way or pruned to suite your personal needs. Many conifers are drought tolerant including junipers (4), cypress and false cypress as well as certain species of pine such as Pinus nigra (3), Pinus eldarica, Pinus halapensis and even California native pines like Pinus radiata and Pinus torreyana.
Asian gardens are also recognized by the open form and exposed, often twisted trunks of small trees and shrubs like the iconic Japanese maple. Because Japanese maples require a lot of water and shade, they are not ideal selections for the drought-tolerant or Southern California garden. However, there are some excellent alternatives, including various types of upright manzanitas (5) with their beautiful, peeling orange-red bark, and smoke trees (Cotinus coggygria, 6) with their deep purple leaves and multiple slender trunks.
Deep purples are also an attribute of the Japanese garden, often provided by maples, but which can be had in grasses like the pennisetum (2) and smoke tree (6) above.
Lastly, be sure to include filler plants with medium-small sized, dense leaves. Excellent choices are Japanese mock orange (Pittosporum tobira, 7) and Rhaphiolepis indica. When all else fails, the names of plants – both common and scientific – are great indicators of plants that should be considered for the Asian garden. “Orientalis” and “japonicus” are keywords to look for in Latin names.