Using charred timber in garden design has become increasingly popular. The striking deep black-coloured timber with incredibly beautiful textures is not only stylish but a sustainable way of treating wood for longevity.
The practice goes back to 18th Century Japan, and is known as Shou Sugi Ban. It was used as a wood preservation method for exterior cladding, making it resistant to sun, water, rot and fire. The process involves charring and brushing wood then coating it with natural oil. Traditionally, cedar was used because it could take a high temperature for a jet-black finish, but woods such as larch can also be employed. The alligator skin texture, grain pattern and colour will vary depending on the wood species.
The technique can be carried out by hand on site, and kilns are also now also used for mass production. This timber looks stunning when used as fencing, benches, outdoor kitchens or pergolas and is ideal for linking the indoors to the outdoors. It’s also great for exterior cladding for garden studios, where the dark exterior disappears into the space - striking at night when you still get a glow from the windows.
Garden designer Butter Wakefield is using Shou Sugi Ban in a current project. ‘We wanted a contemporary feel to the boundary treatment rather than a traditional trellis,” she said. "The garden is small with a pared back, minimal style, and we were looking for something with strong visual integrity and stand-alone importance. We are also using randomly-placed larch timber boards of varying widths on our rear boundary to create shadows and form a dramatic back drop to the immersive green planting and white silver birch trunks."
It looks as though charred timber is set to grow in popularity with those looking for something unusual and stylish.