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 modem interior.

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.

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.

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 traditional manner.

Planting Regime
Nandina domestica
Cedrus atlantica var. 'Glauca' (trained pendulous habit)
Pinus mugo 'Mops'
Ophiopogon japonicus

Random sections of exfoliated Darwin granite, with a Torquay gravel inlay.

Feature Rock
South Australian quartzite, placed in upright and reclining positions.

Water Feature
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

Home Profile Portfolio Contact