This landscape project took a little better than two years to build, from start to finish. We planted new pots on the rear terrace for summer, in mid August. A client who is an avid gardener and naturalist with a large piece of property decided to take down her home of many years, and build anew. The building project had already been going on for better than a year before my first visit. The west half of the property, dominated by a huge pond and barn, was untouched by the construction. The pond was full of water lilies, and skirted by all kinds of bog loving plants. Old scotch pines, and densiformis yews of considerable size and age provided lots in the way of screening of the neighboring properties.
I never saw the original house and garden. Judging by what was left intact, it must have been lovely. Lots of plants had been heeled in as far away from the construction as possible. Discussions with my client confirmed her knowledge and interest in horticulture. Her keen interest in the landscape is every designer’s dream – a knowledgeable client with lots to contribute to the process. The old and the new would have to meld seamlessly. Fortunately we had plenty of time before we would put a shovel to the ground.
My first visit took place at that moment in the construction when every square foot was occupied by building materials, mud, machines, and mountains of unwanted dirt. It was very hard to imagine the landscape at this point, there was still so much work to do. It takes a certain courage and calm to take apart an established landscape in anticipation of a new house to be built. All of the hard structures would have to come first. Once the house is out of the ground, that elevation sets the grades for everything else-the driveway, the walkways, terraces, and in this case, a fountain and a pool. All of these architectural elements would dictate the tone, tenor, and placement of the landscape elements.. It was time for the first round of landscape design drawings.
The house was in the later stages of construction. The walls were up – some stone, and some brick. A sample of the brick color and pattern, still in the front yard. Most of the windows had been installed. The lion’s share of the work was going on inside. Pallets of the remains of the building of the stone walls-still in the front yard. Also visible here, a temporary air conditioning unit. The months of machines and men going back and forth across the dirt had compacted the soil, squeezing just about every last bit of air out of the soil. Even a moderate rain would produce puddles that would not drain. There would be drains installed by the contractor, and more drains later, by us.
There was much discussion between my clients, their architect and I regarding the location and size of the driveway and walkways – all of it good. Many of the decisions about the pool, the pool deck, and pergolas had already been made. Any client knows more about how they want to live than anyone else. They were keen for a low wall opposite the front door, the interior of which would have a fountain, and seating. I did a number of drawings of the possibilities. My primary contribution was to suggest a break in the wall to the north, which would permit easy access through from one side of the yard to the other.
Though there was hope that all of the stonework would be done by late September of last year, it wasn’t. In August, it all seemed possible. But a very rainy fall and an early appearance of winter weather meant that the landscape construction would have to wait until spring. The last of the hard structures would be a series of low walls and gates in wrought iron. The luxury of a long project is the time there is to think through every decision. A low curved wall drawn on paper is a different matter than the reality of the wall. Having the time to react, and perhaps change direction can be good. Beyond that, construction delays are inevitable. Heavy rains do not deter any activity on the inside, but can create lengthy delays on the outside. Multiple contractors means the prospect of poor interface multiplies.
One later addition – a fire pit. Adding a structure such as this in a landscape renovation happens all the time. But for a new house, waiting for all of the hard structures to be built before the installation of the landscape helps insure a a look that is deliberate and all of a piece. Hard structures can create issues with drainage. No landscape with thrive, planted in soil that cannot or will not drain. Taking time with this now means fewer problems getting a landscape to establish later on.