A sim­ple, Ja­panese-in­spired aes­thetic brings tran­quil­lity and co­he­sion to this com­muter-town plot

Gardens Illustrated Magazine - - Small Garden -

When gar­den de­signer Gemma Diks first saw the gar­den of this new-build ter­raced house in Den Dolder, a com­muter town out­side Utrecht in the Nether­lands, it was in many ways the ar­che­typal sub­ur­ban gar­den: a patch of lawn hemmed in by other build­ings, some nar­row perime­ter beds and a ba­sic strip of paving that the owners, a young fam­ily, had tried to en­liven with a se­lec­tion of pots.

“It was such a flat, two-di­men­sional space,” re­mem­bers Gemma. “You re­ally only no­ticed the fenc­ing. The owners had cho­sen some nice plants, but they were strug­gling to achieve the sense of unity they wanted.”

Gemma’s brief was to make the space more ap­peal­ing and to in­clude two seat­ing ar­eas and a large stor­age chest. The owners also asked her to keep the plants they had al­ready se­lected – a liri­o­den­dron, a liq­uidambar, a cor­nus and a choisya. “The liri­o­den­dron is re­ally far too big for the gar­den, but it did hide an ugly neigh­bour­ing wall, and they loved it so much, we had to keep it,” says Gemma.

Not­ing the owners’ love of Ja­panese cul­ture (bam­boo and gravel gar­dens had been men­tioned, and the hus­band prac­tises aikido), Gemma took this as her in­spi­ra­tion. “For me, it was a clear case of less is more,” she says. “In or­der to cre­ate the har­mony and tran­quil­lity the owners wanted, I knew we had to use a rel­a­tively lim­ited pal­ette of ma­te­ri­als and plants.” She painted the fenc­ing black and per­suaded the owners to lose the lawn in favour of two dis­tinct ar­eas – a con­crete, paved ter­race large enough to

ac­com­mo­date a din­ing ta­ble, and a more in­for­mal gravel area. To marry the two, she also used con­crete pavers, al­beit of a dif­fer­ent shape, in the grav­elled area. “They give a more solid tran­si­tion from the house,” ex­plains Gemma. “They also add in­ter­est, as well as be­ing eas­ier to walk on.”

To tackle the flat­ness, Gemma planted a bam­boo hedge of Far­ge­sia Red Panda (=‘Jiu’) in the cen­tre of the gar­den. “Peo­ple are used to plac­ing hedges at bound­aries,” she says, “but I knew this was the thing that would give the gar­den struc­ture.”

The same bam­boo is re­peated along one side of the gar­den, abut­ting a tall hedge of an ex­ist­ing Prunus lusi­tan­ica, which was also re­tained. Run­ning at right an­gles into the gar­den, it helped cre­ate a path­way through the space, as well as pro­vid­ing a neatly hid­den spot be­hind it for the stor­age chest.

The hedges, teamed with sev­eral ev­er­green plants in­clud­ing Asarum eu­ropaeum, As­ple­nium scolopen­drium and Ilex cre­nata ‘Con­vexa’, give the gar­den colour and struc­ture all year round, and there is also a suc­ces­sion of ever-chang­ing sea­sonal high­lights – far more than you might ex­pect in a gar­den of this size. In spring, epimedi­ums give way to anemones, fol­lowed by the beau­ti­ful au­tumn tones of the liri­o­den­dron and the liq­uidambar. Mis­cant­hus sinen­sis ‘Malepar­tus’ flow­ers from July to Septem­ber, and in win­ter has beau­ti­ful seed­heads, rimed with frost.

In keep­ing with the owners’ wishes, Gemma also spared the Cor­nus kousa var. chi­nen­sis, al­though she moved it from the shade of the back fence to a sun­nier spot where it is now thriv­ing. “Be­fore it was over­looked; now its form can be ap­pre­ci­ated,” she says. The same could be said of this sim­ple, yet highly ef­fec­tive, gar­den.


Fac­ing page A key fea­ture of the gar­den is the bam­boo hedge. Planted in the mid­dle of the gar­den, it adds height and in­ter­est. This page from top This el­e­gant Cor­nus kousa var. chi­nen­sis was moved from a shadier spot by the back fence to a sun­nier po­si­tion where it is planted di­rectly into the gravel. Gemma used the con­crete kerb stones that she used for the bor­ders to make paving slabs, which she fixed into the gravel. The long, thin con­crete pavers cre­ate a tran­si­tion be­tween house and gar­den. Echo­ing the con­crete of the ter­race, they also unify the two parts of the gar­den. 87

88 Fac­ing page To unify the space ma­te­ri­als and plants are kept to a min­i­mum and re­peated through­out, from the two bam­boo hedges, to the con­crete of the ter­race, pavers and edg­ing, and the black-painted fence at the back of the gar­den and ad­ja­cent to the house. This page from topHy­drangea as­pera ‘The Ditch’ is one of Gemma’s favourites, as much for its del­i­cate, airy flow­ers as its form, which can be ap­pre­ci­ated as a mul­ti­stemmed shrub by re­mov­ing its lower leaves. Grow­ing up to 2m tall, Mis­cant­hus sinen­sis ‘Malepar­tus’ makes quite a state­ment, es­pe­cially in a small gar­den such as this. The glossy, wavy-edged, ev­er­green leaves of As­ple­nium scolopen­drium make a good con­trast with more feath­ery plants such as bam­boo and grasses.

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