I have some areas that I rake and others where I let the leaves gather just like they do in the neighboring woods. A great place to go for ideas of what to plant are botanical gardens. UC Berkley Asia garden website has images and plant lists and includes cryptomeria, azaleas, and hydrangeas. Are you familiar with the James Irvine Japanese Garden? The images are fantastic. And, here’s a guide to making your Japanese garden drought-resistant and tips and plants that will help make it low maintenance. The Sonoma master gardeners have a list of deer resistant plants.
Thanks for writing!