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Finding inspiration for a Japanese garden design in a vintage kimono fabric

Coming up with a design concept is one of my favourite things about being a garden designer. A concept can be inspired by just about anything, but it needs to be meaningful to the site and the client.

My latest garden design project involved coming up with a concept, masterplan and some planting ideas for a garden in Richmond, London. The house was contemporary, with expansive views over the garden from large windows and doors. The clients wanted a Japanese theme, some form of water feature, dining for 6-8, an area for sunbathing and storage for gardening tools and two bikes. Some large rocks were already in the garden.

The site and house were an unusual shape. Normally I would design to a grid, which is based on features of the house, such as windows and doors. However, the curves of the site and house did not really suit a grid system.

Although the garden needed to be contemporary (to suit the architecture of the house) I looked for inspiration in traditional Japanese culture. I found a vintage kimono fabric with some lovely traditional features that, in typical Japanese fashion, reflected elements of nature - plants that the Japanese love. The fabric design featured ‘oogi’ or fans, which provided some wonderful curved shapes that really suited the shape of the site. I overlaid the fabric onto the site plan in order to get the garden structure, and used the plants on the fabric in the planting ideas for the garden.


The finished design features a dining terrace off the house, which incorporates the existing paving on the site, and an expanse of lawn leading to a planting bed. The planting provides some privacy for a timber sunbathing deck behind it, but does not completely block the views to the end of the garden. In front of the planting is a peach specimen tree, for some traditional peach blossom in spring time.


A shed is situated near the gate to the street, for easy access when using the bikes. Along the side of the house runs an existing paved path. Beside this path runs a Japanese dry rock garden, with light gravel that contrasts with the black paved path and sections of polished black stones. Contrasting with the smooth paving and stone texture are several sections of contemporary rough cut stone slaps and large rocks. The main area of gravel is raked into curved patterns that mimic the sinuous waves in the kimono fabric. A cloud pruned Japanese black pine provides a traditional touch in this part of the garden, and the rest of the planting is green and serene.

A pool winds down the length of the garden, and can be enjoyed from the rock garden, the terrace, the sunbathing area or areas of lawn. Stepping stones are another traditional Japanese touch, leading from the paved terrace to the sunbathing deck, and from the deck to the rear of the garden, which has a gate leading to woods. The rear garden fence features fan shaped panels and has a circular window that provides a glimpse to the woods beyond.


This was a really fun garden to design, particularly because I was able to create dynamic shapes out of the kimono design. This gives the garden a great deal of movement and interest - a real contrast to a formal, symmetrical design, which can be very ‘static’ and predictable.



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