It is not possible or necessary to use all of the plants found in the gardens of Japan. Using Japanese plants does not make your garden a “Japanese Garden.” Rather, it is best to find locally available plants, match them to the site, and strategically place them in the garden to fulfill the proper role.
Tea gardens in Japan are used to evoke the feeling of a “mountain path” for practitioners of the tea ceremony. Typically, stepping stones meander through the tea garden from the outer gate to the tea house or tea room. But the beauty of tea-style gardens can also be imported into your garden, even without a tea house. One key to tea gardens is to create a lush, green atmosphere with an abundance of evergreens and/or broad-leaved evergreens. Aucuba is one such shrub that can fulfill this role.
The first thing to note about Aucuba japonica is that technically speaking it is a borderline plant for this area, the hardiness zone usually listed as zone 7-10, possibly 6. But in and around New York City, and northern New Jersey, especially in the confines of a tea-style garden, it may be worth the risk of winter damage. Many nurseries now carry varieties of this plant, and it is slowly becoming more widespread in landscapes.
Tea gardens tend to be enclosed, and to be shaded by some larger trees like Japanese maple. Aucuba is a shade-loving plant, and provides that deep green color and texture that make tea gardens what they are. Aucuba should receive the protection from cold winter winds within the tea garden, and if properly enclosed will also shelter this plant from deer.
There are a number of different varieties, including cultivars with yellow spots on the leaves, which are not as preferable as solid green cultivars for tea gardens. As always, consult with a local landscape expert about proper site placement and short-term and long-term care before deciding to use this plant.