By combining many traditional Japanese garden
construction techniques with a little contemporary flair, an inner suburban
courtyard in Melbourne is transformed into on an extension of the dwelling's
From a design and construction perspective, this small (25m2) site
was very challenging. Small courtyard gardens (Tsuboniwa) also have an inherent
weakness in that they reveal all their features at a single glance. In this
case, the relationship between the rear courtyard and the house is apparent
upon entering the house, as there is a clear view through the house from the
front door to the rear courtyard, with only two large glass panel doors acting
as the physical barrier between the two spaces.
This relationship was also reflected in the clients' brief. The clients, who are
both interior designers, wanted to create an area to complement the
contemporary style of their home, and they wanted it to be viewed 'as part of
the living space'.
They wanted something simple, with a Japanese feel, and they wanted moving
water, discreet storage space, and access to rear parkland that provides a
visible backdrop to the courtyard.
THE ART OF EMPTINESS
One of the key design philosophies for this garden is the Zen concept of Mu
(nothingness). Inspiration is drawn from the thread of simplicity (less is
more), which is present throughout centuries of the Japanese aesthetic. By
reducing the number of structural elements and plant varieties, and by the use
of subtle shades (of fencing, paving treatment and screens) the abstract appeal
of a limited space is greatly intensified. Zen logic: The items you omit from a
design are as important as those you include.
Given the constraint of a small courtyard, the scale and placement of all garden
elements are of the upmost importance. The granite Natsume style water basin
(Chozubachi), offset to one side of the area, acts as a visual point of
reference. Rock placement, plant type and position, bamboo screens and paving
layout add to a sense of line, uniting the individual elements within the
garden and creating an illusion of greater space.
MANIPULATION OF SPACE
From any point within the house the walls, floor and ceiling form a framed view
of the garden setting so that whether the glass panels are open or closed, the
garden appears as part of the living area. The side panel fences and the offset
bamboo screens have been constructed at a height that takes full advantage of
the parkland trees adjacent to the rear of the property. This borrowed scenery
(shakkei) leaves no hint of the urban surrounds. The bamboo screens also
provide a hidden storage area, for rubbish bins, bicycles, etc.
The clients are thrilled with the utilisation of 'space' that has been achieved
and are enjoying the tranquillity of the garden: 'It's a place for reflection
and respite in our busy lives'. They agree that a coherent overview at the
design stage is essential.
Fences: Cement sheet over a timber frame, texture rendered and painted 'buff'
to create a visual extension of the interior walls. Joints are masked with a
cedar timber strip and capped with large diameter 1/2 section bamboo. Screens:
Constructed from small diameter bamboo poles within black-painted timber
frames. Bamboo and timber detail across the top, and bamboo rails tied in a
Cedrus atlantica var. 'Glauca' (trained pendulous habit)
Pinus mugo 'Mops'
Random sections of exfoliated Darwin granite, with a Torquay gravel inlay.
South Australian quartzite, placed in upright and reclining positions.
Granite Natsume-style water basin (Chozubachi) sits on a mudstone base, over a
hidden sump. The sump is constructed from exposed aggregate (Torquay gravel)
and houses a submersible pump, overflow and cistern float switch. Water
reticulation is via a bamboo flume. Fawn coloured Indian granite pebble
surrounds the feature.
A small seat adjacent to the side fence is constructed from exfoliated 'Darwin'
granite, with a black painted timber frame.
Sprinkler system, pump and lighting are all automated.
Landscape Design: David Marshall
Landscape Contractor: Zen Landscape Design and Construction
Project completed: January 1998.
Article published: Landscape Australia Issue 4 1999