Gardens Illustrated

Japanese-style planting in an award-winning courtyard garden

Published: November 2, 2021 at 3:20 pm

In Bristol Artisan Landscapes have created a calming tranquil space that invites the owners to immerse themselves in its cool, textural greens. Words Juliet Giles. Photography Jason Ingram.

KEY ELEMENTS

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What Award-winning residential garden. Where Bristol. Size 60 square metres (9m x 6.5m). Soil Sandy clay loam, with newly incorporated soil, mulched annually with well-composted bark for structure. Aspect Northeast-facing. Special features Calm, Japanese-style planting surrounding a Corten steel water feature. Designed by Jamie Innes of Artisan Landscapes (artisanlandscapes.co.uk).

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Hidden from view from the house, the seating terrace is embraced by softer planting, including Alchemilla mollis, Cenolophium denudatum and the grass Melica ciliata, while the ferns and the multi-stemmed Cornus kousa help to link the planting back to the lusher greens near the house.

When you live in one of the wettest corners of the UK, and are forced to spend more time looking at your garden than sitting in it, you really want a space that will bring joy on those dull, rainy days.

The courtyard garden that Renate Larkin inherited was never going to do the job. “It was just two levels of granite paving, with two retaining walls, and small planting strips at the back and in the space between the retaining walls. And that was it,” recalls Will Cooke of Artisan Landscapes, the Bristol- based design and build studio Renate asked to give the space some Japanese-style calm.

“Renate loves Japanese plants and wanted to create a lush, immersive oasis that could almost transport you to another world,” adds Jamie Innes, Will’s partner, who looks after design while Will oversees the build. And although Renate had some specific requests – two trees, a Corten steel water feature and to retain some plants – she was happy to allow Will and Jamie to come up with something fabulous. “Renate was very giving,” says Will. “She jus tasked us to ‘do our thing’, saying that she trusted us to design a planting scheme that would work.”

While the brief gave Will and Jamie pretty much a free hand to put their mark on the garden, the build wasn’t without its challenges. The garden is enclosed by high walls that create a lot of shade. And limited access through the house meant that everything – plants, trees, topsoil and the 200kg Corten steel water feature – had to be hoisted over those 3.5m garden walls.

At the centre of the garden, the Corten steel water feature sits happily among a mix of green foliage that includes Tricyrtis formosana, Kirengeshoma palmata, Digitalis lutea, Dryopteris wallichiana, and grasses Hakonechloa macra and Melica altissima ‘Alba’.
At the centre of the garden, the Corten steel water feature sits happily among a mix of green foliage that includes Tricyrtis formosana, Kirengeshoma palmata, Digitalis lutea, Dryopteris wallichiana, and grasses Hakonechloa macra and Melica altissima ‘Alba’.

The water feature now fits snugly between the existing retaining walls, which have been clad in a stylish charred Accoya. To keep down costs, the original granite tiles were reused on the upper level and on the steps, while on the lower level the tiles were replaced with a ThermoWood decking that forms a near-seamless transition to the flooring inside. A sweeping curve, carved into the decking, creates a large, mounded area for planting around the water feature and a multi-stemmed Betula nigra, and brings the planting so close to the house it almost seems to spill in through the windows.

strantia major with its pale, pinkish tones provides a spot of colour among the contrasting foliages of Persicaria virginiana var. filiformis and the fern Dryopteris wallichiana;
Astrantia major with its pale, pinkish tones provides a spot of colour among the contrasting foliages of Persicaria virginiana var. filiformis and the fern Dryopteris wallichiana

Here Jamie has kept the planting relatively low so that it embraces rather than engulfs the water feature. The mainly green palette offers a rich mix of textures, from the large- leaved Rodgersia aesculifolia to the beautifully delicate Disporum longistylum ‘Night Heron’ with its nodding white flowers. Other flecks of colour come from tellimas, epimediums, astrantias, peonies, the hot-red thorns of Rosa sericea subsp. omeiensis f. pteracantha and the tiny, white flowers of the airy grass Melica altissima ‘Alba’ that Jamie has woven throughout the garden.

On the upper, sunnier seating level Jamie has catered to Renate’s desire for more colour with softer, meadowy planting that is dotted with seasonal flowers and some plants from Renate’s original garden, such as Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’, while a Cornus kousa balances the river birch near the house.

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Renate’s trust in Will and Jamie more than paid off, and she is so pleased with the result she has asked Artisan Landscapes back to transform her front garden as well – this time designed by Artisan’s Alice Ferguson. “There’s almost always one of us outside now enjoying the space,” says Renate. “It’s really changed the way we live. Even if the weather’s not great, we can at least just sit in the living room, look out at the garden and listen to the water.

The Planting

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