azaleas in a Japanese garden path.

KotoJazz 20: Flowers of Japanese Gardens

Ikebana
Like bonsai, the art of Japanese flower arrangement, or Ikebana, derives from Zen aesthetics and design. Carefully placed flowers are arranged elegantly with a combination of grasses and flowers. Some of these flowers are described below.

Japanese Irises
Irises are a classic – like cherry blossom and chrysanthemum, you’ll often see them in Japanese crests. Irises are used in water gardens, around the edge of a pond – or in dry gardens (rock, moss or gravel symbolizing a pond). Irises planted around the edges expand on the image of a pond or dry gardens as the sea or ocean. Unlike the western bearded irises, Japanese irises are commonly smaller, thinner, more delicate, and not bearded.

Chrysanthemum
Chrysanthemums, the national flower of Japan are symbolic of long life and health. The flower also symbolizes the autumn season. Native to China and Japan, chrysanthemums are hardy flowers, able to subsist in zones 5-9. Flowers include red, orange, yellow, white and lavender.

Lotus
Japan holds the lotus to be sacred, which comes from Hinduism and Buddhism. The lotus flower is likewise represented as sacred in Buddhism, symbolizing the progress of the mind toward Enlightenment. It grows from muddy depths through the waters of experience and “blooms in the sunshine of enlightenment,” according to Religion Facts. Lotus can be white, pink, red or blue. Some lotus can be perennials; survive cold winter months.

Azaleas & “Rhodies”
Part of the same evergreen family, azaleas and rhododendrons have similar leaves and blooms. However, azaleas, like the ones pictured above lining the garden stone steps, are much smaller in size. These are popular shrubs used in Japanese gardens. White flowering azaleas and rhododendron are used the most. Both of these flowering shrubs can be white, pink, red, orange and purple in color.

“Hana ni arashi” (literally translated means “a storm over blossoms”), is a shortened version of, “Tsuki ni muragumo, hana ni arashi”. ” These popular Japanese proverbs mean “Life often brings misfortune at a time of great happiness” or “Nothing is certain in this world”. It is reminiscent of the popular phrase “shikataganai”, meaning “it can’t be helped”. This is the fatalistic nature of the Japanese people; fatalistic, maybe not from a western perspective of the meaning, but a general acceptance of the inevitability of things to come.

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