University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Perennial Publications : Book of the Month

Garden Plants of Japan

Ran Levy-Yamamori and Gerard Taaffe. 2004.  Timber Press, hardcover, 440pp.

Whether you're interested in ornamental garden plants in general, or plants specifically for a Japanese garden, this book is sure to be of interest and use.  Featured are both plants that are native to Japan (such as Astilbe), as well as those that have been incorporated into gardens of Japan (such as the Japanese Anemone or chrysanthemum, originally from China).  Many are used in our gardens, even if not Japanese in theme.  Several thousand species and cultivars are described, with 775 beautiful photographs from the authors.  The range of ornamental plants are grouped by type, from trees and shrubs to herbaceous plants, even ferns and mosses-- the latter so crucial in Japanese gardens. 

The book open with an introduction into Japan--its climate, political regions, history, and the use of plants in culture and gardens.  Hardiness zones are defined in degrees centigrade, and descriptions throughout give dimensions in centimeters and meters.  Following the introduction are chapters on trees and shrubs, climbing plants, herbaceous plants, bamboo and Sasa, grasses, ferns, and mosses.  At the end is a conversion chart of dimensions to American feet and inches, glossary of terms, and index of plant names.

Most of the book is descriptions of plants, accompanied by very crisp photographs either close-up of leaves and flowers, overall plants, or plants in their settings.  Within each chapter, plants are listed alphabetically by their scientific names.  Following are the names in Japanese, common English names, and other plainly written botanical information such as family, distribution in Japan or elsewhere, and plant traits.  Scientific terms are used, but defined adjacent.  Cultural information is then given including soil, light, pruning, propagation, and hardiness.  Design and other information follow, finished with cultivars or related plants to consider for similar use.  Of most interest to me are the Japanese names, which one rarely sees in texts, and the interesting points such as traditional uses, and origin of the name.

The authors are both fluent in Japanese and quite conversant with the country, plants and culture.  Yamamori, from Israel, has written on nature for various Japanese publications, as well as a couple books.  Taaffe, with high level training in the U.K., also writes a regular column on gardening in Japan, and teaches landscape design there.

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