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A client came to us recently, looking for new design ideas for a pair of garden terraces overlooking Central Park in New York City.

The client  wanted one of the terraces to express a Japanese aesthetic, and the other terrace to have a Chinese aesthetic.

We wanted to make sure our designs made a clear enough distinction between “a Japanese” and a Chinese” aesthetic, while also maintaining a nice complement between the two. As if each were a different side of a coin, we toyed with the notions of yin/yang and the tension between opposites that mirror each other or are in many respects integral aspects of each other — height and depth in terms of elevation, water and stone in terms of featured elements, shaped versus random forms in the foliage, visual or alternately, auditory sensations,  the passage of time and timeless stillness, and the opening and closing of space.

To the Japanese garden we assigned visual precision in a sand pendulum sunken in a raised mahogany deck with a formal, circular motif as the sand bowl,  and on the other end carried over the complementary elements  with random, flowing foliage edging a river-stone paved floor, and a raised, upright topiary wall.

Alternately, we designed the Chinese garden as exploring the contrast between stasis and flow, with the primary elementals of stone and water. At one end the pattern was regular and rectangular,  the foliage formal and stead. At the other end these motifs were complemented by an irregular carved circular stone-basin surrounded by mosses and prostrate dwarf shrubs planted in a semi-circular raised planter over decking and backed by an upright half-moon arch from which an ancient iron bell could be hung.

Original Chinese Garden Design

You can see from the elevation studies below how the two gardens complemented each other in various ways. They had raised walls at either end of each other, but in the Japanese garden design the raised wall was opposite the circular focal sand feature, whereas in the Chinese garden design the raised wall abutted the semi-circular planting holding the stone circular stone water basin. In the Japanese garden, the focal sand feature was sunken below the deck-floor grade, in the Chinese garden, the focal water feature was raised above the deck-floor grade.

Elevation Study - Japanese Garden Original

Elevation Study - Chinese Garden Original2nd Design Chinese Garden

Our client loved these ideas, and had the drawings framed as a conversation piece — but they wanted to explore a more nuanced, and less permanent installation, that was simple to build and easy to take apart. We created two versions of the major themes we had started as illustrated in the two pairs of drawings below:

 

2nd Design Japanese Garden

2nd Design Chinese Garden

3rd Design Japanese Garden

3rd Design Chinese Garden

 

Eventually we specified the terrace gardens to be installed inside custom-manufactured copper pans that would function both as trays and as inserts that would define the patterns of the garden.

Custom Copper Trays

 

We added custom-built planter boxes and all-weather granite containers to complete the layouts:

Layout for Japanese Garden

Layout for Chinese Garden

The client then chose a granite lantern as the focal feature for the Japanese garden, and a stone basin to be part of the Chinese garden.

 

Lantern for Japanese Garden

Stone Water Basin for Chinese Garden

We designed mosses attached to a woven-wire substructure to create a lush,  undulating effect.

 

Final Japanese Garden

Here you see the stone basin set on the river rock. To the right, the client set a fantastic “scholar stone” nestled into the woven-wire moss ground cover. The wood benches were located where the client’s bonsai collection could be placed during clement weather. (See the individual bonsai below.

Final Chinese Garden

Ficus Bonsai

Philippine Tea Bonsai

Threadleaf Maple Bonsai

Cypress Bonsai

This was a fun project, working with the client on design development and sharing a wide range of ideas was enjoyable for all of us. We learned a lot, and really appreciated the way the terraces came out, with a simple, but elegant feel. Simple is not always easy! But together with the client’s help and creative eye, we made elegance look simple and timeless.

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