Garden Photo of the Day

Building a Japanese-Inspired Garden

The before and the after of a new garden

Today we’re off to Canada, visiting with Bas Suharto. We’ve seen Bas’s home garden before, but today’s garden is one that Bas created for a friend.

At the end of summer, I visited the garden I designed and built for a colleague in Orleans, Ontario. I designed it in 2019 after seeing her front yard as just a lawn, and one that was not easy to maintain. I proposed a garden idea that was a bit like a “Japanese-style garden” with gravel.

front of a house with a treeThe before picture shows just a basic, boring front yard, with lots of labor required to keep it mowed.

illustration of what house garden will look likeBas created this drawing to show the planned transformation.

planting beds taking shapeHere’s a new planting starting to take shape.

gravel being put downFor gravel, Bas used 3/8-inch river-wash stones. Bas finds that it is easy to remove fallen leaves from small gravel.

grown in garden bedIn the final garden, creeping thyme (Thymus praecox, Zones 5–8) makes a beautiful and functional ground cover. The dense foliage keeps out weeds, and the flower display is wonderful.

Japanese stone lanternThe Japanese stone lantern makes an eye-catching centerpiece.

thyme is a pretty ground coverEven out of bloom, the creeping thyme is a pretty ground cover that sets off the other plants.

CleomeCleome (Cleome hassleriana, annual) is a vigorous, tall annual that is easily grown from seed and makes quite the statement in this garden.

Red wax begoniasRed wax begonias (Begonia semperflorens, annual) bring color all summer, while the tall feather reed grass (Calamgrostis ‘Karl Foerster’, Zones 5–7) has a height that helps define the space and screen out neighbor views.

perilla plantMy colleague uses colluses of the leaves of the perilla plant (Perilla frutescens, annual), called shiso in Japanese, to make Japanese shiso juice. The foliage is also quite beautiful!

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  1. nwphilagardener 01/04/2022

    Are looking at a sprinkler in several of the images? It's great that the tendering made in advance can really help the homeowner visualize the design.. I'm wondering, if the view from the home is obscured by the conifer's lower limbs. Depending on it's height perhaps a few limbs removed would solve that.

  2. sagebird52 01/04/2022

    I wish all front yards were transformed to some kind of individual beauty.

  3. User avater
    treasuresmom 01/04/2022

    Wow! So pretty.

  4. user-5117752 01/04/2022

    I always think of Japanese gardens as tranquil but this one has such a lovely design with vibrant colors. How simply delightful!

  5. User avater
    simplesue 01/04/2022

    You have a great talent for designing gardens!
    Wow and even an excellent rendering of a plan for your friend to see what they are getting.
    It really works well with the house, and so much more fun to wake up and see each day!

  6. fromvirginia 01/04/2022

    Lovely outcome! So nice to see the “before” and “after”. Such a rich diversity of plants and texture in a small space. Also impressed with how quickly it filled out in a couple of years. Bravo!

  7. cynthia2020 01/04/2022

    ...thank you both for sharing your collaboration. I like the gravel plan and wondered about how time consuming the clean-up of e.g. leaves would be. I would enjoy walking past that garden every day.

  8. btucker9675 01/04/2022

    Love this Japanese inspired design - what a vast improvement! I did a similar thing at the end of our driveway - the area had become compacted by machinery when our pool was being constructed and I knew it would be next to impossible to ever loosen or amend it so we made it smooth, put in pea gravel, several sky pencil hollies, some large rocks, another shrub whose name I've forgotten right now - low and spreading and some stepping stones leading to the fence gate to the backyard. Other than pulling the occasional week or grass that pops up and raking the gravel if it gets messy, it's pretty much carefree and makes a nice entry to the back garden/pool area. It's along the side of our third garage and I built a raised bed along there that has gardenias and a trellis with clematis. There's a large Chinese fringe shrub right at the start of the gravel area. Isn't it fun to be creative in this way!

  9. bas_s 01/15/2022

    Thanks all.
    I let the sprinklers watering the flower bed area, it was so dry at that time. The spruce tree was going to be removed, I suggested to keep for screening the view from the living room to the street. The view from the front door is serene/simple with the japanese lantern.
    I am glad the owner also participated planting the creeping thyme from cutting and learn planting by cutting branches such: euonymus, sedum, etc, and prepared the annuals from seeds (Cleome) indoor in March. I planted the annuals after Canadian Victoria Day (tradition of Canadian farmer almanac to avoid night frost in spring).
    I find creeping thyme is easy to grow by cutting and grow well with liquid kelp.
    I travelled to Japan to visit various gardens and I read that japanese garden is about various shades of greens.
    I discussed with the owner for next warm seasons to plant more green shrubs: boxwoods, dwarf Korean Lilacs, Alberta dwarf spruce and other soft plants such: Pachysandra, Japanese sedge grass, etc. The owner also like to have 'a punch colour of annuals, wax leaf begonias etc.

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