The tea garden, according to Kawachi, is part of the Japanese tea ceremony. Before going into a tea room, guests symbolically wash their hands in a water basin.
There's also a waterfall that pours into a spa with stone around the perimeter, another stone lantern, pygmy palms, jasmine and cape honeysuckle.
Gravel is used as a ground cover, and the stepping stones are flagstone, to blend with the concrete and flagstone patio. There is a 3-inch drainage pipe installed under the rock and gravel to prevent standing water.
Gravel and rock add contour and texture to Japanese landscapes, but they can also be symbolic, according to Kawachi. Gravel may be used to symbolize an ocean or a river, he says. And pebbles along the edge may symbolize a beach.
As for water use, "most of the plants that we use in the Japanese garden do not require too much water . . . but at the same time, they would take much more water than a cactus," according to Kawachi. He also says that most of the plants used are deep-rooted, which makes them more drought-tolerant.
Hira says that while Japanese landscapes are thirstier than ones with California native plants, they require considerably less water than typical California yards with expanses of lawns.
And what about the ponds and waterfalls? All of these have recirculation systems so that water is filtered and reused. It's also important to keep in mind that the waterfalls are only turned on occasionally. While some water is lost by evaporation, most is retained. Susan Coleman, for instance, says that their water usage is down this year from last year, because she is careful about other water use.
The Lights' landscaping cost more than $25,000, including the spa.
Plants in a Japanese garden can be expensive. Many, such as the black pine and junipers, have had a bonsai treatment over many years, training them to a particular shape and size. Black pines can start at several hundred dollars.
Japanese stone lanterns can also be expensive. The ones in the Lights' yard were $1,000 and $1,500.
The Colemans' front yard was about $30,000, and the Yamashiro's landscaping was between $150,000 and $250,000, according to Carol Yamashiro.
And while Barbara Light loves her yard, she has had a maintenance problem.
"If anybody wants to have a landscape like this, they're going to have to take care of it," she says. "This is low-maintenance, but it requires selective pruning."
She says they have had five gardening services in the last four years. The problem was, she says, that the gardeners just didn't understand what was needed. The yard was allowed to become a bit overgrown in spots and some plants were killed by the wrong fertilizer. She plans some replanting this summer.
They have had success, however, finding someone to maintain and trim the bonsai trees. It's "almost like they're trimming it needle for needle. It's that precise," she says.