Japan has a rich cultural tradition of gardening, and the country is considered a global biodiversity hotspot. But you do not need to build an entire Japanese garden or start planning a trip to Japan to enjoy its diverse flora. Many thrive in our climate and make excellent additions to a St. Louis backyard. The William T. Kemper Center for Home Gardening recommends the plants listed below, which can easily be sourced from your local nursery or enjoyed while on a stroll at the Garden.
This evergreen conifer is native to mountainous regions of Japan and is grown as an ornamental and for timber. Dwarf and colorful-leaved cultivars are most commonly sold for use in home gardens.
Center for Home Gardening-recommended cultivar:‘Nana Lutea’ is a slow-growing, dwarf selection that features dark green foliage with golden yellow accents. Mature plants are generally pyramid-shaped and will reach 5′ tall.
This flowering tree is native to thinly wooded hillsides throughout Japan as well as China and Korea. The bell-shaped, white flowers dangle from the stems are best viewed from below.
Center for Home Gardening-recommended cultivar: ‘Pink Chimes’ features pale pink blooms and will reach around 25 feet tall with a 25 feet wide, spreading canopy.
Japanese astilbe, false spirea
A moisture and shade-loving perennial that finds itself right at home among the hostas and ferns of shady garden areas. In Japan they can be found growing in rocky, mountain ravines. Many cultivars and hybrids are available in a range of flower colors including red, pink, and white.
Center for Home Gardening-recommended cultivar: ‘Rheinland’ is a hybrid astilbe with Japanese astilbe parentage that features upright plumes of pink flowers. Clumps will reach around 2 feet tall with an equal spread.
These magnolias are prized for their fragrant, white flowers that bloom in early spring. They are native to northern Honshu island, the largest of Japan’s four main islands.
Center for Home Gardening-recommended cultivar: ‘Royal Star’ features larger and showier flowers compared to the species and will reach 20′ tall with a 15′ spread.
Native to sunny, woodland openings and mountain slopes in both Japan and China, these hydrangeas offer reliable, late summer blooms for St. Louis gardens. Bigleaf hydrangeas (H. macrophylla) are also native to Japan, but their flower performance can be variable from year to year in our climate.
Center for Home Gardening-recommended cultivar: ‘Limelight’ is the classic choice, but ‘Ilvobo’ BOBO has a more compact growth habit, reaching around 3′ tall and 4′ wide.
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Photos by Tom Incrocci and from Missouri Botanical Garden’s PlantFinder database.