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When you get eleven of the world’s best designers together, give them the same brief and more or less the same conditions – limited budget, two weeks to build and source the plants, and a Japanese contractor with translator – it’s a fascinating insight into the way different nationalities approach the same challenges.
The best of the gardens at the Gardening World Cup in Japan were simply superb. There were five gold medals this year: each of them, in their own different way, interpreted the theme of peace with intelligence, subtlety and thoughtfulness: all the more extraordinary given the constraints they were put under.
Lim in Chong chose an Islamic garden to corner the Best in Show prize, but the four other gold medal winners took different approaches, taking inspiration from the path of a bullet to water as the source of life to Japanese castles.
Xanthe White: Regenerating through the water
(Best Design)
Xanthe’s sunken garden envelops you the moment you walk in, with its burnt-wood pergola and enclosing planked walls. Orchids and bright yellow daisies cascaded down green walls and dark pools dripped with ferns and broad-leaved petasites
The planting was lush and green, with water in two black pools edged with rock and wood: this garden was unmistakeably New Zealand, but with a Japanese accent
…and the planting on the living wall outside was just ravishing

James Basson: Dulce et Decorum Est
(Best Interpretation)
Taking inspiration from the Wilfred Owen poem Dulce et Decorum Est (Pro Patria Mori) James’s garden took the passage of a bullet through solid material as its theme: the small hole in the back wall widens through to a jagged wreckage in the front, also symbolising the terrible effect of war from a small cause to devastating consequences

Soft planting of sanguisorbas, grasses, eupatorium and chocolate cosmos soothed the blasted concrete and emphasised the role of nature in healing
Kazuyuki Ishihara: An Alcove Garden
(People’s Choice Award)

Ishihara is already a familiar name for his regular gold medal winning forays to Chelsea: this time he’s on home turf and designing an uncompromisingly Japanese landscape, with tea house, cascading pools and a maple just turning bronze
This is the lower pool, covering the width of the garden: the upper pool, overhung by a low branch from a nearby pine, is fed by a bubbling cascade

Behind the pine is this moongate – or perhaps moon window – let into the stone walls lined with moss and sedum,
a wooden carving of dragons set across it

Hiroshi Terashita: Peace Blooms in Forest

This was a garden which looked as though it had been there for centuries. The sweeping walls are in the style of ancient 16th century Sengoku castles, constructed with sloping walls to keep the enemy out: each stone was hand carved by Japanese stonemasons working on the garden in slippers
Planting was simple and understated: I loved this sweep of white-flowered water plants skirting the edge of the wall. Birches, ash and konara oaks (Quercus serrata) sheltered the ferns and moss beneath
…and there were little details like these hand-carved stone dragonflies set into the paving which just caught at your heart. Exquisite.