Normally to travel from the Netherlands to Japan to see a garden there, you’d have to cover a distance of more than 5,700 miles. But for my Dutch Bonsai friend Ramon, a trip to Japan is as easy as stepping out into his own backyard. While the distance is short, it took Smit over eight years to complete his journey. This is the amazing story of Ramon’s stunning Japanese Garden told in his own words, which he created himself from a blank canvas.
Almost 10 Years ago we decided to buy a house with a garden. We were living in an apartment on the 11th floor at the time and we started looking for affordable houses with a garden. We found a house in a place called Gouda an old red brick house from the 1920s (Yes the place famous for its cheese) with a very nice backyard ( 20m x 7m and by Dutch standards, that’s quite large). Even before we signed the contract I already made a drawing of the garden I had in my mind and was certain it must be a garden in the Japanese Style. My girlfriend was ok with it so (after I promised to make her a sunbathing spot) we did some work in the house and then broke the old garden down and started from scratch.
Above facing our house: The plants I did not want were dug up and taken by the old owner. (I only kept the boxwood shrubs). I dug out all of the grass and started to excavate the stream. I did this all by hand. I turned the grass upside down to make small hills and added the excavated soil. It took some time to finish because the stream was to be 30 meters long!
Below: The stream ends in a small canal that runs behind my garden (lucky me!).
Now it was time to buy some plants. I had done some research in my collection of Japanese garden books so I knew exactly what to buy – maples, azaleas, ferns, pine, hosta, Ginkgo and a 2-meter-tall yew Cloud Tree (which I shaped into a garden bonsai) so bought as much as my car could carry and planted them in the garden. Only to find with all the plants planted in the ground, that the garden looked still empty. I had only a small budget so it took a few months of saving before I could buy some more!
Now I needed rocks and stepping stones … a bridge, maybe a small lantern or two? It took me a few years to collect them but with some help from friends and my boss I bought everything wholesale. The rocks, all 10,600 kg I got thanks to my boss for half the price that a normal person would pay. The bridge and steppingstones I got thanks to my friend who owns a Bonsai studio (Bonsai is another hobby of mine & it’s thanks to that hobby that I became interested in Japanese gardens).
The rocks were delivered to the front of the house. My girlfriend and her mother carried most of the 10,600kg of rocks into the garden by wheelbarrows, except for the bigger ones which I carried into the garden and laid into the still-dry stream’s banks.
Below: I built the whole Japanese garden around the stream and tried to make it as natural looking as possible!
And I built a new terrace made of wood which expands over the stream and the garden!
And here are some more pictures of the whole Japanese garden and I hope that you like what I have created!
Here is a list of plants I used for the garden (most of the plants I bought – some of them I dug up out of the gardens of family and friends).
Rhododendrons, Lavendula, Cedrus Atlantica, Ginkgo Biloba, Japanese Azaleas, Acer Palmatum ‘Katsura’, Japanese Acers including Acer Palmatum Atropurpureum, and Acer Palmatum ‘Crimson Queen’, Buxus Sempervirens Globes, Pinus Sylvestris, Pinus Mugho, Abies, Astilbe, Taxus Cloud Tree, Ophiopogon Japonica, Ferns, Moss, Hosta, Juniperus, Equisetum Japonicum & Wisteria.
I pruned most of the plants into ball shapes. I pruned the azaleas and boxwood with a hedge clipper after the flowers were gone. You can do that until the end of August (because most azaleas produce new flower buds before winter). You can trim Boxwood maybe 3 times in the growing season followed by a hand of organic fertilizer on the roots.
Planning to Create a Japanese Garden from scratch in your own backyard?! My trees are shaped into garden Bonsai cloud shapes or as the Japanese call it ‘Niwaki’ (I chose to give it a try myself). Japanese Cloud Trees which can be purchased already shaped are expensive because of their age and the many years of work involved.
My inspiration comes entirely from Japanese garden books and pictures of Japanese gardens and natural scenery, like streams and waterfalls I found on the internet. The rest is all my imagination ….I’m just really fascinated by Japanese Gardens and I love the tranquillity and the serene looks they radiate …. hoping I could only come close to the real work of Japanese gardeners. I have a green background- I studied to be a gardener but never worked as one … so it’s just a hobby! I hope you enjoyed this little trip through my Japanese Urban garden?!