The original location was far from Zen. The front yard was big, bare and devoid of privacy. But the client wanted a Japanese-style garden where he could spend quality time with his wife.

The result is an elegant waterscape filled with life, sound and movement — koi fish, waterfalls, rocky pathways, lush plantings and surprising views at every angle.

Poetry in motion

While Takendo Arii, ASLA, CCLA, was training under Juki Iida, a world-renowned Japanese gardener, he attended a formal tea ceremony.

“I sat in the teahouse and listened. Although you couldn’t see the stream of water running outside, you could feel it,” he says.

That’s when Arii recognized the most important element of a Japanese garden: the constant sense of movement throughout the project.

“An important aspect of a Japanese garden is simplicity, but not monotony. We can create movement by plants, rocks and water,” he says.

The property was a one-story, wooden structure on a hill with a 4-foot grade slope. Arii designed several levels: a mahogany wood deck adjacent to the house, a rock retaining wall, and a set of steps flanking a tranquil pond at the foot of the hill. A palette of seasonal plantings brings bursts of different colors and blooms throughout the year.

Here and there around the site, he inserted a boulder or a sculpted hedge. Multiple waterfalls trickle out of the rock wall, so sound is ever-present on the property. From every angle of the project, the observer spies a new view.

Hide and seek

When Arii first saw the property, he noted the huge, Canary Island pine trees scattered throughout.

“It looked a bit secluded, like being inside a forest. I wanted to keep that feeling,” he says. The homeowners definitely needed the privacy. Their living room, dining room, office and master bedroom all faced the street.

One popular concept in Japanese garden design that Arii uses effectively is the “hide and reveal.” Here, he placed a bamboo-and-wood fence directly in front of the house, cloaking it from the public road. The barrier follows the serpentine curve of the slope, but doesn’t enclose the entire property. Open slats in the fencing allow curious passers-by to peer through the gate into the garden inside.

“If it is completely enclosed, you cannot see anything. But if you can see part, you might be curious what kind of garden it is, where does the water go,” he explains. The reason he did not close it off entirely is traced to his theory about Japanese gardens. “You are creating a beautiful spot to be viewed and enjoyed by all,” Arii says.

In this case, wide paths are designed to take multiple guests through the highlights of the garden. Using careful changes in plantings or materials, Arii reveals points of interest such as a waterfall, a beautifully flowering tree, or a bamboo fountain to surprise and delight the eye.

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Credit: Takendo Arii