Zen and the Art of Frugal Gardening

With the recent burst of gardening enthusiasm sweeping the U.S., Japanese and other Asian-inspired gardens are among the most popular designs sprouting up in backyards everywhere. Picture a tranquil spot filled with lush ferns and cushiony moss, the soft trickle of running water, and ancient-looking miniature trees, and you’ll come to appreciate why Japanese-style gardens have been popular for thousands of years.

 weeping scots pine bonsai

But what many people don’t realize is that Asian-inspired gardens can be among the least expensive and most environmentally friendly gardens to create and maintain. Here’s what you need to know to get started.

Nature is the Nurture

Unlike many other landscape styles, Asian gardens are intended to replicate the natural environment. Asian gardens attempt to create the perfect natural setting; what you might see and experience by walking through the deep woods under perfect conditions. Most other types of gardens attempt to create an environment unlike any found in nature, with cascades of constantly flowering annuals, specialized specimen plants not native to the area, and adorned with manmade decorative objects. Because Asian-influenced gardens have their roots in nature, they can be far less expensive to create and care for than other garden styles.

Start with the Plants

Japanese gardens utilize perennials almost exclusively; that is, plants that live year after year, as opposed to annuals that need to be replaced each year. So each plant in your Japanese garden is an investment that should last for many years. Many plants found in Asian-inspired gardens (e.g. ferns, bamboo, irises, ornamental grasses, ground covers, etc.) are inexpensive to purchase and extremely prolific, creating more plants on their own or with a little help. While the plants listed above, for example, will spread naturally, you can also divide them with a spade from time to time and transplant the clumps around the garden to speed up the procreation process. Some plants, like bamboo, can be invasive, so plant and control them carefully. Most of the plants typically used in a Japanese garden require little if any man-supplied water, fertilizers, or pesticides.

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