Japanese Transformation

Japanese Transformation


Z Outdoors GenericA clever blend of traditional Japanese design elements and modern Australian lifestlye features
Story: Justine Carlile
Photos: John Brash

The inspiration for this Japanese style garden was to create the dream of an Australian expatriate returning to Melbourne after living and working in Tokyo. Not only did the homeowner develop a passion for all things Japanese during his time there, he became so passionate about implementing his dream garden that he took a six-month sabbatical from the corporate world to involve himself in the garden’s construction.

As you could well imagine, every effort was made to source the appropriate plants for this work of love, which combined the intricacies of the finest traditional Japanese gardens with some Australian lifestyle elements such as a pool and areas for relaxation and entertaining.

This design brief was particularly interesting because of the owner’s passion for his theme. The challenge for me as the designer was the client’s attention to detail and his well-researched knowledge of the Japanese landscape. This required blending a number of Japanese themes such as ponds and streams, dry gardens, courtyards and stroll gardens. In fact, the stroll garden style became the dominant theme, incorporating a number of distinctive zones within the garden.

The small front garden sets the scene for the Japanese theme with a mix of traditional plants such as Japanese maple trees (Acer palmatum), liriope (Liriope giganteum), mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus) and azaleas (Azalea indicus) surrounding a meandering path of sandstone pavers leading to the front door. However, it’s on entering the rear garden that the extent of its theme is truly revealed.

Stepping out the door of the Californian bungalow-styled house onto the rear deck, the relationship between the house and garden is revealed. The first outdoor zone is the dining and entertainment area. The timber-decked area is surrounded by pleasant mix of dwarf magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’) with a backdrop of Oldhamii bamboo (Dendrocalamopsis oldhamii). Amid this foliage sits the outdoor pizza oven and barbecue tastefully decorated with topiary balls of box (Buxus sempervirons). The timber pergola extending from the house is framed with a non-fruiting Japanese grapevine (Vitis vinifera).

Adjacent to the outdoor dining area and bordered by the pool is the pond and stream section. A cloud-pruned pine (Pinus thunbergii) is the feature plant and this is underplanted with clivia (Clivia miniata), Japanese iris (Iris japonica), more azaleas and mondo grass, creeping ficus (Ficus pumica) and dwarf bamboo (Nandina domestica).

Moving along, the deck is a casual meeting area with limestone-clad retaining walls and a row of red cordyline (Cordyline rubra). A backdrop of jarrah fencing neatly incorporates an outdoor shower for those returning from the nearby beach — in this case, the owners and their two young children.

Leaving the verandah and crossing over the wooden bridge, you spy the 8m x 4m pool with a timber sun-deck and a backdrop of fine-leafed Himalayan weeping bamboo (Drepanostachyum falcatum). This sunny deck above the pool provides an ideal platform for the positioning of the sun lounges.

Adjacent to the pool area and across from the small lawn area under the shade of the multi-trunked Japanese maples is a more traditonal planting of clivia, hosta (Hosta undulatum) and star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides).

The rear of the garden again provides more rest and relaxation areas designed and constructed with a minimalist Japanese theme. There is the outdoor relaxation pavilion with the comfort of the benches and colourful cushions. Vegetation is retricted to wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) and weeping cherries (Prunus subhirtella rosea).

Adjacent to the pavilion is the teahouse, an important and traditional component of Japanese gardens and a feature of the famous gardens of Kyoto. The teahouse, furnished only with tatami matting and a futon, provides a tranquil setting overlooking the pool and adjacent planting.

Not only did the owner enjoy a great six-month sabbatical escape from the rigours of the corporate world, he was able to participate in the construction of his dream garden. The reward? The creation a beautiful Japanese garden with an Australian twist for his family to relax in and enjoy.

About the author: Justine Carlile is a Melbourne-based garden designer and founder of Justine Carlile Landscape Design.