Debra Lyn
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JGardening in the Desert

I live just above the Las Vegas valley (USDA zone 9) and would like to create a Japanese garden in my front yard. What resources are available to guide me in my choice of appropriate plant materials?

Thanks!

The Helpful Gardener
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The thing to remember here is J-gardens don't need plant material at all! The most visited garden in Japan is the Ryoan-ji, and there is only a little polytrichum moss around the base of the stones, the rest is rock and gravel. Look at some pictures of Japanese gardens to get ideas and don't fall into the "I must use Japanese plants" trap; there are NO deserts in Japan! Plants like mormon tea and Joshua tree might not be Japanese, but I could sure see them in that setting...

Scott

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I live in Phoenix, AZ. I have been considering creating a Japanese garden. IMO the best bet for us desert dwelers are dry-landscape gardens. They are simple, beautiful, and best of all it requires little to no plants.
Live for today, plan for tomorrow

The Helpful Gardener
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True

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Scott, so is this part of your philosophy, and correct me if I'm putting words into your mouth, that the essence of Japanese gardening is creating a mirror of the local natural setting, but within certain aesthetic principles?

So that if you are in the desert, it doesn't make sense to recreate a garden from Japan, but rather, to recreate a desert garden while adhering to the principles behind the gardens that you would find in Japan?

Is that correct?

I am going by the great article about the underlying principles of [url=https://www.helpfulgardener.com/japanese/2003/design.html]Japanese Garden Design[/url]that you wrote.

The Helpful Gardener
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Exactly. The garden as a representation of native landscape is a recurrent theme in Japanese gardening. While sometimes seashores were represented in mountain areas and vice-versa, the basic thought was to simulate a familiar landscape. While red rock would be considered gauche in a Kyoto garden, it seems far more fitting in Scottsdale.

The plant pallette can change in the same manner. While pinyon might be a bit coarse in a purely Japanese setting, again, most fitting in Arizona. Stephen Morrel is teaching some courses this spring on just this topic. Considering some of our worst invasives are Japanese, it's a thought...

The core principles in Japanese gardening remain negative space (open areas or water read as negative), rock arrangements ("planted") for stability, and a paucity of well-tended plants as accent. Learning the "rules" allows for translation, but a study of the history of it has been as important to my development as studying gardens. If you know where you're coming from it's much easier to know where you are going...

Scott

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