Friday, August 18, 2006

The Japanese Garden

I love Japanese gardens, I always have. I've wanted to go to Japan to see the gardens and the temples for as long as I can remember. Sadly I've never had the opportunity but its definately on the to do list.
When I was approached to design this garden back in 1999 and told by my client that they wanted a traditional Japanese design I was both excited and apprehensive at the same time. It was a scary task.
The garden itself was 3 acres in size and I was given the task of redesigning about half an acre of that garden, that meant it had to tie in with the rest of the garden without looking out of place. I also had never designed a Japanese garden before (nor unfortunately have I since). Just about everyone who is a gardener knows what a Japanese garden looks like. Japanese gardens are simple gardens to look at, they are instantly recognisable due to their design principles but simplicity isn't always that easy to pull off. I don't mind admitting I was almost so overwhelmed by the task that I had to stop myself running back out the gates.
Looking at how the the garden has matured in the 7 years since its construction I'm glad I took the job on. Japanese gardens aim to 'borrow' the landscape around them and I was lucky in that this garden
had a stream flowing through it. So I 'borrowed' the water from the stream and made a pond. The pond itself is only a maximum of 12 inches deep, in some places only 6 inches. However due to the width of the pond and the placing of some stones in the centre it has the illusion that it is deeper.
I have to admit that I am particularly pleased with how this garden has turned out. It has matured nicely as the acers, ferns and mosses have grown. The fact that the client has felt no need to change anything and is content to just enjoy the garden is something I am pleased with.

Most of my clients usually have a fair idea of what they want their garden to look like but are overawed with the creative design process so they come to me to put their ideas on paper. It's rare for a client to come to me and say 'do whatever you like'. I have to admit that I would enjoy it if a client let me go wild with my ideas and gave me a budget to match but really that would be impractical for many reasons. Firstly I do not design for me, I design for my customer. Therefore I have to design something that appeals to them aesthetically. I must also design a garden that suits their lifestyle. There is no point in designing a garden that involves a lot of maintenance if they aren't keen gardeners or if they don't have the spare time to maintain it.
I don't believe in instant gardening, by that I mean I don't believe in buying specimen plants that are going to fill an area out. I believe that gardens should have a period of growth. Gardens evolve with time, they change with the seasons and mature.
The gardens I design (unless its a really small garden) usually take a period of 3 years to fill out and mature into the design I laid out on paper. Some gardens even take up to 7 years to mature. I tend to encourage my customers to spend less money on big showy specimen plants that instantly fill out the space and instead encourage them to spend the money on more plants that are smaller in size. There are advantages to this approach to gardening. With each passing season the garden will mature and change, giving the client something new to see. An instant garden will always look the same, it might look beautiful but without change it may become stale. Also if you buy smaller plants but buy more of them its looks more natural than just buying them in ones, twos and threes. Another advantage is that occasionally over time you see where plants might be better placed, its not easy moving big plants about but not only that if your garden takes 3 years to mature it gives you 3 years or more to settle on the plan that you want and not one the designer wanted. A plan can look great on paper but doesn't always translate so well in practice, even designers can get it wrong sometimes. I always advise customers to look to nature to see what will work for their garden. Nature has a way of showing the designer who is boss, noone does it like nature.
Below are some photographs of my own work. I've deliberately chosen gardens that have had time to mature so that you can see what is possible.
The Japanese Garden was my biggest client of 1999 a mere year after I started my business. The garden itself was 3 acres however I only designed maybe half or three quarters of an acre. I can't remember exactly what the size was now, and I probably didn't really know then. If I'm being honest sizes has never been my strong point. It has had 7 years to mature and the client hasn't changed the design since then which I have to admit I am proud of.
The terrace rock garden was designed in 2001, it was a problem area that the client was unsure what to do with. Originally it was a sloping garden with grass all the way down the slope but the grass proved difficult to mow because the slope was so steep.

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