Pond with Stone Bridge

Memories of Japan Inspire Creative Landscape Design

Design inspiration can come from anywhere. Sometimes, it comes from an aesthetic you admire, a place you’ve been or a particular plant you’ve always wanted. Sometimes the site just tells you what it wants. Every once in a while, sources of inspiration converge quite beautifully. I was reminded of that fact on a recent visit back to a garden I designed four years ago. When I looked at how fantastically the garden has developed, it was hard to imagine its rough beginnings.


I arrived at my new client’s home in a woodsy suburban enclave with a vague request for new plants at the front of the house. My expectations were set on “typical foundation plantings switch out.” The site and the clients quickly shook me out of that ho-hum mentality. As I assessed the current condition of the property, I was puzzled by a deep depression with an electrical outlet in the center of the front yard. The depression and most of the yard were overgrown with weedy brush, but the depression appeared to have been purposeful. As the depression narrowed to a thin channel, a small wooden bridge had been placed over it to provide access to the front door. The scene conjured the image of a pond and a stream flowing through. I asked my clients if there had been a pond at one time. Not being the original homeowners, they didn’t know, but clearly the inspiration caught on.

The idea of a pond tapped into a fond memory. Several decades ago, the couple had been stationed in Japan. At their residence there, they enjoyed a beautiful Koi pond. As my clients told me their story, photos of the old pond came out, and reminiscence turned to inspiration. We would create the pond and stream worthy of the memory but fitting the woodland setting in the front of the house. Construction on the pond, a new walkway and a woodland garden lasted only a couple of weeks, but it produced a complete transformation. The overgrowth was removed and a garden was built to marry the house to the wild landscape around it. Plants with varying textures and small mature sizes provide a woodland feel without overwhelming the front porch. A large stone integrated into the pond edge replaces the old wooden bridge. Bright goldfish swim through the shimmering water.

Pond in Shade Garden

After The Pond Was Installed

To ensure that the pond looks as natural as possible, we utilized the existing grade without building up any soil to create a larger waterfall. The result is more like a quiet stream than a mini-golf extravaganza. We also paid special attention to details that would add the kind of variation—random yet repetitive—seen in the wild. For example, we used multiple sizes of river stone in the bottom of the stream, transplanted moss existing in other parts of the site to edges of the walkway and planted effusive perennials and ferns all around the edges of the pond. While my crew and I were very proud of the garden we produced, it’s all the more special because the homeowners have made it their own. Every time I visit the garden, it looks improved. Plants have grown in, grown together, been added and been moved. The fish—at first in constant peril and now beloved by grandchildren—have thrived thanks to some ingenious engineering by the homeowner that keeps them from washing downstream.

Pond in Shade Garden


The care given to, and the pleasure taken from, the garden are obvious. I’m very pleased to know that my efforts were just a starting place for making many new memories for years to come.