Jo-Anne & Howard's London Home & Bonsai Garden

House Tour

Name: Jo-Anne Bichard & Howard Potter
Location: Deptford — SE London
Size: 800 square feet
Years lived in: 9 — rented/owned: a bit of both — UK program of shared ownership

This design anthropologist (Jo-Anne) and oncology nurse (Howard) have long lived in southeast London — from several years renting in New Cross to taking great advantage of shared ownership with this new build terrace house/millennium design in Deptford. The freedom to paint, build, and garden have really inspired this London couple, as evidenced with some killer interior details, a true party kitchen, and a serene bonsai garden.

Howard had a lot to share about the history and evolution of their garden, so the following is in his own words:

Most of the bonsai in the garden are native species to the UK. My father was always a keen gardener, and in the early 60s, he started to explore bonsai. At the time there were no English language books he could find, so he started by trial and error, taking seedlings and young trees from the New Forest in Hampshire. Some of the older specimens in the garden date from this early beginning. As a young child I remember going into the forest and watching as he dug up various species of pine. Several years before he died I started to learn the art from him, and when he passed on, I took over some of his collection. In a sense, the trees in the garden have been both part of my life for as long as I can remember as well as being a constant reminder of my father.

I also look in garden centres and DIY superstores for possible material. After all, anything can be made into a bonsai. I am particularly pleased with a cherry tree I bought 5 years ago. It is now a maturing bonsai that lights up the garden with its white blossom in February. I have also bought some 'ready-made' bonsais from a local specialist (Lee Verhorevoort). I get tempted when I visit his workshop to buy supplies of wire and soil. I have also used an internet store called Got Bonsai for various bits and pieces.

In terms of inspiration for the garden as a whole, a starting point has been the book Building Bamboo Fences by Isao Yoshikawa. It was a great way to begin to get a 'feel' for Japanese design. I have used UK Bamboo Supplies to source bamboo, palm string, etc. for the fences (I am just completing another fence at the moment). The granite and iron lanterns came from specialist merchants Japan Garden and Build a Japanese Garden.

Until I visited Japan, I relied on various internet sources for some general pointers about designs and concepts. I also joined the Japanese Garden Society and found their periodical Shakkei very useful. And now having been to Japan, I would recommend spending a day aimlessly walking around Kyoto - there are so many private and temple gardens everywhere. But in particular, I found the Shukkeien Gardens (Hiroshima), the Fushimi Inari Shrine, the Kiyomizu Temple, both in Kyoto, and the Yasakuni Shrine in Tokyo both inspirational and provocative.

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Our Style: a little bit of this and that (and a certain amount of partner restraint - if she had her way there would be more fairy lights, if he had his way they'd be sitting on rocks!)

Inspiration: Each other, other people, Karl Marx, Foo Fighters, Berlin, Japan

Favorite Element: currently it's a toss up between iridium and iron.

Biggest Challenge: moving the pond and getting large rocks through the house, ideas of an indoor garden trench, how to wire up the house for music (we're rubbish at that side of things).

What Friends Say: you should be in a magazine / photo shoot / film...

Biggest Embarrassment: stained carpet on landing for ageing cats vomit and poo

Proudest DIY: hallway, stairs and doors to the living room. The living room cheeseplant we can't take credit for, it does it itself.

Biggest Indulgence: soils for bonsais, one day that cedar tub! (husband says pottery fish but I would match that with fencing!).

Best Advice: go on try it - but don't replicate, give it your own twist but be prepared for it not to work!

Dream Sources: Russell Cotes house, Italian restaurants, random articles in newspapers, art that you could never live with but you like the thought of

Resources of Note:

PAINT & COLORS

    • used in entry/hallway and on stairs: Chinese 'nostalgia' pigment from the 1920s

ENTRY

    • case for snow globe collection, radiator cover: carpenter John Murray of London
    • oriental screen: Lombok
    • The three maps in the hall are all of the local area: a contemporary map, a print of Boothe's Poverty Map 1898, and a street map from the 1920s (Warwick Leadway Gallery, Greenwich, London). And underneath, a copy of Otto Dix's Gas Attack! - a wedding present.

LIVING ROOM

    • "cheese" plants: saved from neighbor who left it behind, and wired now to black stained batons affixed to the wall
    • plant stands: local thrift store (stripped and re-stained)
    • contemporary chair: Hong Kong, secondhand

KITCHEN

    • 1950s West German pottery fish: gifts and eBay
    • images/photos: all personal, from travel, etc.
    • frames: thrift stores and IKEA (stained and painted by Howard)

GARDEN

    • bonsais: Howard's father
    See additional resources in Howard's description above!

Thanks, Jo-Anne & Howard!

Afterthoughts from Howard:
Both myself and Jo-Anne have lived in different places (Chicago, Berlin, Accra, Wales, West of England) and have travelled a little (Gambia, Bukina Faso, Mali, Benin, Poland, Israel, Cuba, Spain, China, Japan, the politically charged Turkish part of Cyprus etc), and all these places leave their mark not only on us but on the material world that we live in.

Images: Heather Blaha

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