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ASIAN PLANTS IN WESTERN LANDSCAPES

Learn more about native Asian plants at home in Western landscapes.

Click on these plants names to access information on specimens in the Garden's collection.

Crape Myrtle

Silver Willow

Flowering Cherry

Japanese Maple

Sawara Falsecypress

Variegated Himalayan Pine

Camellia 'Winter's Joy'

Sawara Cypress

Pygmy Bamboo

Yellow-groove Bamboo

Ginkgo

Katsura Tree

Crape Myrtle

Lagerstroemia ‘Acoma’  (flanking Conservatory steps)

Lagerstroemia indica ‘Potomac’   (Flagler south walk)

Lagerstroemia indica ‘Natchez’ (Flagler walk near ‘Monet’ bridge)

Lagerstroemia ‘CV’  (row on the west side of Grace Arents Garden)

East Meets West:

Crape myrtles are native to China and across southern and eastern Asia, including Japan, but they are ideally suited to southern gardens across North America. 

Asian garden characteristics:  Asian gardens are characterized by plant materials that can provide year-round interest, and crape myrtles fit that bill well, providing lush, colorful summer blooms, fall foliage color, and striking exfoliating bark to enliven winter landscapes.

Fast Plant Facts:

Often called the ‘Lilac of the South,’ crape myrtles have stunning, long-lasting flowers and are heat-and drought-tolerant.  Lagerstroemia indica does well in zones 7-9 (central Virginia is Zone 7 b).  Lagerstroemia fauriei, a Japanese variety, shows more cold tolerance and will survive a little further north.  Many have beautiful fall foliage and colorful, exfoliating bark in winter.

There are many heights and growth patterns, and there are cultivars of all sizes throughout the Garden.  They have been chosen so that their size is appropriate to the space, and the trees do not require extreme pruning.  A little online research will yield a crape myrtle for nearly every garden application.  The single trunk seen on ‘Townhouse’ in the North Terrace Garden and on ‘Muskogee’ in the Children’s Garden were developed by selecting a single leading trunk on the young plant and pruning off all other trunks early on. 

Silver Willow

Salix alba ‘Sericea’ (on outer northwest side of the Healing Garden)

East Meets West:

Willows are found throughout North America, Europe, China, and central Asia.  Silver willows provide silvery-gray foliage in a feathery texture.  The fuzzy catkins of male willows provide fleeting spring interest—prompting viewers to meditate on youth, spring, and the cycle of life.

Asian Garden Characteristics:

One of the principal characteristics of Asian Garden design is the reliance on contrasts of  foliage color and texture.  The silvery-gray of silver willow provides a striking contrast with greener foliage, providing visual interest.  The silvery undersides of its leaves create a study in movement and color when the wind moves the foliage.

Fast Plant Facts

Willows prefer moist habitats.  They grow quickly and propagate easily, and can become hard to control.  There are around 250-300 species around the world, and around 75 of those are in North America.  Some are used in bioswale areas because contaminants are taken up by the plant and stored in its wood.  The remediation area just below the Rose Garden uses several varieties of willows to take up excess nutrients and chemicals used on the rose specimens. This removes contaminated water before it reaches Lake Sydnor.

Flowering Cherry

Prunus x yedoensis   Yoshino cherry (in front of Conservatory and base of Rose Garden and Asian Garden)

Prunus x ‘Snow Fountains’  Flowering cherry (Flagler walk near ‘Monet’ bridge)

East Meets West:

In 1902 seeds were sent from Tokyo to the Arnold Arboretum. This was the first known introduction of Prunus x yedoensis into the United States. Yoshino cherries are the variety planted around the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC, famous for their spring bloom.  The original planting—and many of these trees are still alive—was a gift from Japan to the United States in 1912.   Yoshinos have been around for centuries. Iwasaki Fumio concluded in 1991 that the Yoshino cherry resulted from an artificial crossing of two species made around 1720-1735 in Edo (the old name for Tokyo). The botanical name, Prunus x yedoensis refers to “Yedo” or ‘Edo". The tree also offers an elegant, compact form in the winter as well as silvery smooth bark. 

Asian Garden Characteristics:

In Japan the tree is the subject of vast symbolic lore.  Ernest Wilson reported that in 1916 there were over 50,000 Yoshino cherry trees growing in Tokyo alone.  In Japan, cherries bloom around the first of April, and the start of the school and fiscal years coincide with Hanami, the practice of picnicking under a blooming cherry tree. They have been a highly symbolic part of Japanese culture and identity for centuries.

Fast Plant Facts:

Cherries are part of the enormous Prunus family, also including apricots, apples, and almonds, all of which are found in both ornamental and edible varieties.  All members of the Prunus family are enormously popular around the world in temperate zones.  Varieties are native to Asia, China, Europe, and North America. Prunus species generally prefer well-drained, moist, acid to near-neutral soils in full sun.

Yoshino cherries have long been popular in Japan and are now one of the most popular and widely planted cultivated flowering cherries in temperate climates worldwide.  This tree can grow quite rapidly to 30 feet high and wide. Massed fragrant white or pale pink flowers usually open before the new foliage develops, according to Botanica. The tree needs good drainage, full sun and prefers well-drained, acidic, moist soil, according to the University of Connecticut’s horticulture department.

‘Snow Fountains’ is a weeping form often grafted onto a root stock for greater hardiness. 

In 2013, the Garden will begin to complete a ring of flowering cherries around Sydnor Lake, linked by a paved and lit path—giving Richmond our own ‘blossom-viewing festival’!

Japanese maple

Acer palmatum (in a grove at the upper end of Asian Valley and below the Tea House deck)

Acer palmatum var. dissectum  ‘ Inaba Shidare’  (beside the waterfall in the pond below the Tea House path)

Acer palmatum var. dissectum ‘Atropurpureum’  (on the upper path, Asian Valley)

Acer palmatum var. dissectum ‘Crimson Queen’  (at the rock at the lower entry to Asian Valley)

Acer palmatum var. dissectum ‘Viridis’ (across the path from ‘Crimson Queen’)

East meets West

Asian gardens depend on foliage texture and color for interest and variety, rather than flowers.  The graceful form and feathery foliage of Japanese maple meets this need perfectly.  It also provides year-round interest in the garden, from early spring foliage, which often is a different color than mature leaves, to brilliantly colored fall leaves which also form a layer of color on paths and ponds, to winter displays of elegant limbs and trunks.  Some dwarfed forms develop contorted limbs that are on display once leaves drop.  You can see from the many varieties in Lewis Ginter’s Asian Valley that these are popular additions to North American gardens.  Cultivated in Japan for centuries, the first specimen of the tree reached England in 1820.  A Washington Post article by Adrian Higgins (3/23/12) says George Hall, an American living in Yokohama in the 1860s, sent back seeds and plants of ornamentals, including Japanese maples, to the United States.

Asian Garden Characteristics:

Asian gardens are intended to invite contemplation of the cycle of life.  The extremely distinct seasonal characteristics of Japanese maples lend themselves well to interpreting this philosophy.  Japanese maples are a popular choice for bonsai enthusiasts and have long been a subject in art.

Fast plant facts:

Michael Dirr, in his Dirr’s Encyclopedia of Trees & Shrubs, says of Japanese maples

  “True aristocrats are rare among people and trees,

but Japanese maple is in the first order”

Native to Japan, central China, and Korea, these trees have been cultivated in their native areas for centuries.  When Swedish doctor-botanist Carl Peter Thunberg traveled in Japan in the late 18th century, he smuggled out drawings of a small tree that would become synonymous with the high art of oriental gardens.  He gave it the species name ‘palmatum’ after to the generally hand-shaped leaves, similar to the old Japanese names kaede and momiji; references to the ‘hands’ of frogs and babies, respectively.

‘Dissectum’ in the name refers to feathery, many-lobed leaves.  Other names refer to foliage color:  ‘Atropurpureum’ varieties have purple foliage.

Many different cultivars of this maple have been selected and are grown worldwide for their attractive leaf shapes and colors. They are highly sought after and are relatively costly trees given their size. Acer palmatum includes hundreds of named cultivars with countless forms, colors, leaf types, sizes and preferred growing conditions. Heights of mature specimens can range from 20 inches to 82 feet, depending on type. Some tolerate sun; others like shade. Almost all are adaptable and blend well with companion plants. The trees are particularly suitable for borders and ornamental paths because the root systems are compact and not invasive. Well-drained soil is preferred, and the trees grow strongest when they are not over-fertilized. Many varieties of Acer palmatum are successfully grown in containers.

 

Sawara Falsecypress

Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Filifera aurea nana’ (at end of upper Asian Valley entry)

Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Kings Gold’ (beside rock at edge of upper Asian Valley pond)

East Meets West

The striking color and texture of both of these conifers’ golden foliage make it a year-round focal point in the garden.  Since Asian gardens depend on foliage texture and color and plant structure for interest rather than seasonal flowers, this is a good selection.

Asian Garden Characteristics:

The location of Chamecyparis pisifera ‘Filifera aurea nana,’ at the junction of a path indicates that it is intended to be a focal point.  Entering the upper Asian Valley garden from the first entry off the Garden walk, the view of this striking plant is a hint that there is more to discover in the garden.

‘Kings Gold’ is located beside the quiet pond where its striking foliage is reflected in the water.  Water in Asian gardens provides reflection of the sky and magnifies the landscape.

Fast Plant Facts:

Chamaecyparis pisifera is not common in the United States.  The smaller size, golden color, and feathery foliage make it a striking accent plant.  Native to Japan, and hardy in zones 4 – 8.  Fast botanical Latin:  ‘Chamaecyparis’ translates as ‘low-growing cypress,’ ‘pisifera’ as pea-bearing, referring to the size of its cones, ‘filifera’ refers to the thread-like foliage texture, ‘aurea’ to the golden color of the foliage, and ‘nana’ to the smaller size.

Variegated Himalayan Pine

Pinus wallichiana ‘Zebrina’

East Meets West

The striking color and texture of this pine make it a standout focal point.  In Asian gardens, specimens such as this are used as focal points, rather than flowering plants. 

Asian Garden Characteristics:

This tree’s location at a bend in the path and its striking appearance draw the visitor’s eye, suggesting that there is more to see along the path.  Asian gardens are planned for partial views that suggest the garden is larger than it appears to be.

Fast Plant Facts

Also called Bhutan pine, native to the Himalayas.  Its growth habit is wide and open—the long (6 – 8”) needles add a feathery effect.  “Zebrina” refers to the striped appearance of the needles.  It prefers to be sheltered from winter winds—as it is in its Garden location here.  A cousin, Pinus densiflora ‘Oculis-draconis’, whose variegated bands are a cooler white,  is located along the Main Garden Walk near the entrance leading to the Tea House.

Camellia x ‘Winter’s Joy’

East Meets West

This hybrid camellia is a cross of the fall-flowering C. sasanqua and C. hiemalis, and C. oleifera, all native to Asia.  After two very cold winters in 1976-78 the fall blooming camellia collection at the United States National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. suffered many losses. One of the few undamaged specimens was a Chinese Camellia oleifera. Dr. William Ackerman developed his “Winter” series using crosses with this plant. These specimens were planted in Asian Valley in 2002.

Asian Garden Characteristics:

The upright form and shiny foliage are appropriate for a focal plant.  This shrub is glimpsed from the lower entry to the upper Asian Valley.  It also signals the start of the passage to the lower Asian Valley garden. The fall flowering characteristic adds a pop of color in the garden.  Its glossy, coarse foliage provides a background for different textures of plants.

Fast Plant Facts

Camellias are native across China and Japan.  They include the species ‘sinensis’ from which tea is derived.  ‘Japonica’ varieties flower in the spring and ‘sasanqua’ flowers in the fall, and there are many cultivars and hybrids to choose among.  These shrubs are beloved in the South, where pines and camellias feature in many coastal gardens.

Camellias are found in eastern and southern Asia, from the Himalaya east to Japan and Indonesia. There are between 100 and 250 described species, though controversy exists over their exact number. The genus was named by Linnaeus after the Jesuit botanist Georg Joseph Kamel, who worked in the Philippines, though he never described a camellia. Camellias were cultivated in the gardens of China and Japan for centuries before they were seen in Europe.

The first living camellias seen in England were a single red and a single white, grown and flowered in his garden at Thorndon Hall, Essex, by Robert James, Lord Petre, among the keenest gardeners of his generation, in 1739. His gardener James Gordon was the first to introduce camellias to commerce, from the nurseries he established after Lord Petre's death in 1743, at Mile End, Essex, near London.

Sawara cypress

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Tetragona Aurea’

East Meets West

The striking color of this conifer’s golden foliage makes it a year-round focal point in the garden.  Since Asian gardens depend on foliage texture and color and plant structure for interest rather than seasonal flowers, this is a good selection. 

Asian Garden Characteristics:

The color and texture of this specimen make it a focal point in the garden; its location at an entry indicates to the viewer that there are more interesting things to find in the garden.  In the winter landscape, it provides welcome color and also serves as a backdrop to the interesting contorted limbs of the dwarf Japanese maple in front of it.  As a favorite of bonsai practitioners, it provides a miniature version of an iconic Japanese landscape tree.

Fast Plant Facts

Chamaecyparis obtusa is native to Japan, where the species trees grow large and are important sources of timber, as well as iconic landscape trees.  Fast plant Latin:  ‘obtusa’ refers to the blunt, rounded tips of its leaves, ‘tetragona’ to the pyramidal shape, and ‘aurea’ to the golden color of the foliage.

Pygmy bamboo

Pleioblastus pygmaeus 

East Meets West

Bamboo plants are synonymous with Asia—it is used for houses, mats, fences, foods—just about anything humans need for food, shelter, and warmth!  Its foliage texture and familiar segmented culms (stems) are an important part of Asian gardens, both as a growing plant and as building material.  Note the bamboo fence across from this clump!

Asian Garden Characteristics

This dwarf form makes a good groundcover in heavily eroded areas, and its evergreen foliage and familiar texture remind the visitor that this is an Asian garden.

Fast Plant Facts

Like all bamboos, this plant spreads by underground stems (rhizomes), and can become invasive if not managed.  The Missouri Botanical Garden notes that ‘fertilizing this plant may be tantamount to throwing gasoline on a fire.’  Its compact size and evergreen habit (in warmer southern climates) can make it a useful garden addition. 

Yellow-groove bamboo

Phyllostachys aureosulcata

East Meets West

Bamboo plants are synonymous with Asia—it is used for houses, mats, fences, foods—just about anything humans need for food, shelter, and warmth!  Its foliage texture and familiar segmented culms (stems) are an important part of Asian gardens, both as a growing plant and as building material. 

Asian Garden Characteristics

Bamboo groves in Asian gardens are used for texture and screening.  The sound of the leaves rustling in the wind and the swaying of the tall stems add elements of sound and motion to the garden, especially in winter.

Fast Plant Facts

Like all bamboos, which are botanically grasses, this plant spreads by underground stems and can become invasive if not managed.  The term ‘aureosulcata’ refers to the pronounced yellow groove found on opposite sides of young stems. 

Ginkgo

Ginkgo biloba ‘Magyar’  (on the eastern edge of the lower Asian Valley)

Ginkgo biloba (in front of Bloemendaal House)

East Meets West

Ginkgo originated in China, and it is one of the oldest known living plants, thought to have appeared about 300 million years ago.  It is instantly recognizable, and, like bamboo, evokes a sense of ‘Asian-ness.’  It is the national tree of China. Tthe fan-shaped leaf form often appears in Asian art and decorative objects:  the leaf is the symbol of the Urasenke school of the Japanese tea ceremony.  It was first described by Engelbert Kaempher, a German naturalist and physician, in 1690 in Japanese temple gardens.  It has been commonly cultivated in North America for more than 200 years.

Asian Garden Characteristics

The imposing size of mature ginkgos, their uniquely shaped leaves, and their spectacular golden fall color add year-round interest to the garden.  Their iconic status as an Asian plant makes them shorthand for ‘eastern.’

Fast Plant Facts

Ginkgos are dioecious—male and female flowers appear on different plants, and both must be present to set fruit.  Female ginkgos produce soft fruit whose smell is variously described as ‘dog vomit’ or ‘rotten.’  In Asian cultures, the seeds are removed from the flesh, cleaned, and roasted as a delicacy.  The Garden’s large female ginkgo at Bloemendaal House has recently been treated with a hormone to reduce the amount of fruit—with some success.   

For centuriesginkgos were thought to be extinct in the wild, but they are now known to grow in at least two small areas in Zhejiang province in Eastern China, in the Tian Mu Shan Reserve. However, recent studies indicate high genetic uniformity among ginkgo trees from these areas, arguing against a natural origin of these populations and suggesting that the ginkgo trees in these areas may have been planted and preserved by Chinese monks over a period of about 1,000 years. Whether native ginkgo populations still exist has not been demonstrated unequivocally. 

The species was initially described by Linnaeus in 1771, the specific epithet biloba derived from the Latin bis 'two' and loba 'lobed',  referring to the shape of the leaves. The “Ginkgo” comes from the older Chinese name for this plant and means silver fruit.

Katsura tree

Cercidiphyllum japonicum ‘Pendulum’

East Meets West

Katsura tree is a graceful smaller tree that has found a home in western landscapes.  ‘Pendulum’ is a graceful, weeping form.  Native to west China and Japan.

Asian Garden Characteristics

Katsura trees provide year-round interest in the garden, from the bronze-purple emerging leaves to light or blue green mature foliage, and then turning a rich yellow in the fall.  The bark provides an interesting texture all year round. 

Fast Plant Facts

In the fall, the fading leaves have a spicy smell that reaches throughout the garden.  It is dioecious—male and female flowers appear on different plants, and both must be present to set fruit.