Oriental gardens, and an English version

by Jane on October 27, 2021

I have been asked to design gardens with an Oriental influence recently, particularly from the Chinese and Japanese traditions. I haven’t seen these gardens in their home countries, but there are examples in the West that have inspired many.

My most recent clients were inspired by one in Vancouver – and so were two people whose own garden appeared on Gardener’s World recently; a single visit inspiring in all of them a lifelong interest, and the wish to create a beautiful garden. It is the Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese garden. A Chinese pavilion looks onto a lake surrounded by rocks, trees and a mosaic path. For Japanese inspiration (and boundless energy), see the gardens designed by Kazuyuki Ishihara, who has designed at least 14 Japanese gardens at Chelsea. He takes you round his own garden in Nagasaki here.

My clients liked the Japanese tradition of ‘stroll gardens’. These were designed for the aristocratic class to give owners and their visitors the entertainment of exploring a garden, rather like our English Romantic tradition does: to take a winding path to see different views and features round the garden.

I was commissioned to design a ‘modern take’ on a stroll garden with a ‘structured informality’, in a medium-sized garden. They basically had a large lawn surrounded by trees, with very little else. They wanted to make the garden more interesting, with new views to enjoy as you went through it, rather than being able to see everything from one place.

The Japanese garden next to a Buddhist temple in Milton Keynes inspired me to see what could be done. It isn’t a large garden, but still there is a path round a lake with different views at every turn, like a landscape in miniature.

The bridge acts as an entrance to your ‘stroll’.

When you come over the bridge, a different view, of clipped shrubs and rocks catches your eye.

Clipped shrubs in Japanese garden Milton Keynes

You look back during your walk for views of the temple reflected in the lake.

Temple near lake, Japanese garden Milton Keynes

At the end of the walk, you can look back to see the trees reflected in the lake. And during your exploration you can pause and sit on a rock, to take in the views. In this case, there is a view of the hill in Willen Lake park with the ‘Peace Pagoda’, also built by the Japanese monks here, in the distance. A lovely peaceful place to visit.

Lake in Japanese garden Milton Keynes

Many Japanese stroll gardens are centred around a body of water, but sometimes they use a ‘dry sea’ of stones and gravel instead. As water was not required, this ‘dry sea’ was my starting point, together with a circulating path.

Another source of inspiration were the Schnormeier gardens in Minnesota. These were designed and constructed by an American couple. I and my clients particularly liked this feature using multistem trees and stone paving of different sizes.

Multistem trees and rocks

For my client’s design, I used 3 multi-stem trees around an area with gravel and pebbles, with a stone path of larger, irregular stones. The trees were in two irregular shaped curvy beds with larger rocks, small shrubs and grasses.

Model of island beds with multistem trees

The back border will have a couple more layers of planting added: shrubs and groundcover. The outline plan of paths and beds looks like this:

Hand drawn plan of modern 'stroll garden'

I’m looking forward to designing the planting, for a modern, but Japanese-influenced look.


What is a Japanese Stroll Garden?

Dr Sun Yat-sen Classical Chinese Garden

A Garden Paradise with Kazuyuki Ishihara

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Thanks to my clients for the photos in this post.

The Design Brief

My clients had a long, narrow, flat garden laid mostly to lawn, in Beckenham.  They wanted more privacy – both visually and from the noise of the adjacent road.  They had just added a modern extension with bifold doors onto a patio, and wanted to improve the view from it.  They were a couple with adult children,  liking to sit outside, to entertain, hold occasional parties, not serious gardeners but wanted some space to grow vegetables. 

The garden faces northwest, so they liked the idea of a pergola or small garden building, halfway up the garden, where they could sit in the sun.  They needed a shed to hold the mower.  They also wanted a space for herbs near the house.

Garden before build The garden before the build.


In the photo you can see the shape of the design marked out.  I chose a diagonal design to make the garden seem wider.

Plan of new design

Here is the final design, with a small patio 2/3 way up the garden, where there is a pergola and also a shed hidden behind it.  There is an arch next to this patio, leading to the vegetable growing area and some meadow at the back.  There are extra trees to screen the view of neighbouring houses, and the fence on the left is a new acoustic fence.  I also recommended replacing the fence on the right with a featherboard fence to match.


Beds dug out

Beds were dug out and a hedge put in as well as a new acoustic fence added. 



Paths dugThen paths and patio were dug.  A small landscaping team of two started work in October..  The path to the right was stepping stones, so the holes had to be carefully dug out of the turf.




Then paving was put in, leaving gaps for the pergola posts, and working round existing trees.


pergola up 


The pergola went up first before the shed.







Then the shed was built from a kit, to fit almost behind the pergola – it would be hidden from view from the patio.







The lattice screen hid the remainder of the shed and provided support for climbing plants.




Garden so far


This is the garden so far, awaiting some shrubs and an arch.



Here is what it will look like eventually, when planted up and when the trees have established.




This is the view through the new arch to an urn, showing what became the shed and pergola on the right.


veg and meadow area


Here is the view from the back fence, looking over a meadow area, to a bench and raised vegetable beds, a relaxing solitary spot.



I hope you found this a useful step by step guide to what landscaping a new design involves.  So you know where the money goes!

If you have garden plans, best of luck this season in making them happen.



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