This past fall I had a call from a great client from years ago. They bought a new house- recently built, and close to finished on the inside. The outside revealed a large piece of property with dirt as far as the eye could see. The contractor on the house recommended a landscape architect-a landscape professional I happen to greatly admire. My first visit to the site was during the installation of his complex and beautifully imagined walk from the driveway to the front door. A curved set of steps lead to a generously scaled landing, centered on the dining room window, and not the front door. Had the walk been centered on the front door, the landscape would forever have looked off balance and lopsided. A bump out halfway to the front door would prove to be a perfect spot for a bench. The curved walkway falls within the center space, defined by the front porch and dining room window taken as a whole. That walkway would be the dominant element of the front landscape.
My clients were a little uncertain about the complicated landscape that was additionally proposed. I understand that uncertainty. Any landscape involves lots of time and commitment. They were concerned that the landscape proposed was too involved, meaning it would be in need of frequent and ongoing maintenance. I understand this point of view. I reserve complicated gardens for clients who latch onto the idea of a complicated garden as if it were all they ever wanted from their life. Other clients, who love the landscape, may have kids and demanding jobs that drain time away from maintaining an intricate landscape.
Consideration of the maintenance was a key part of the design for my own landscape at home. I would make regular time to take care of my containers, and dead head a few roses. But I also wanted to relax in and enjoy my garden when I got home from work. These clients were of similar mind. They both are busy working people, and they are raising a family. A very simple landscape that would look put together and elegant every season of the year would respect the lives of my clients. By way of contrast, a simple landscape would visually reinforce that stone walkway as the dominant element of the landscape.
Of great importance was the fact that the house was built on rather steeply sloping ground from side to side. A stone retaining wall encloses that space, and isolates the remainder of the property from the front yard. The landscape would have a clearly defined space in which to be. As evident in the drawing in the first picture, the landscape beds are rectilinear and opposite in direction from the walk. The visual read is as though the landscape came first, and was overlaid by the walk.
Laying out all of the spaces in advance is the last step of a design. What is drawn on paper only rarely translates to the actual space perfectly. My drawings are not perfect, as I draw by hand. I have also had more than a few surveys with inaccurate dimensions. Trying the landscape on for size before you plant is a good idea. Once the plants are purchased, they may not be so easy to return.
No decision was made immediately as to what would go on either side of the walk leading up to the porch. There was no need. Those spots could be handled in a number of different ways, each of which could be good. I had a plan to suggest different pots for the porch, and move these urns to the side. I would bring the new pots out, so they could try them on.
We did cover the new limestone walk with plywood and tarps. There was no reason to put put any more dirt on that walk than necessary. As we did this job fairly late in the fall, the temperatures were chilly, and we had had a lot of rain. We had a need for a considerable amount of soil to bring the grade up to the grade set by the walk. The pipes for the irrigation had already been set. The irrigation contractor would finish the job just before we were ready to mulch the planting. We use ground hardwood bark fines, which deteriorates fairly quickly, and adds much needed compost to the soil. The mulching will need to be done every year.
We did plant three Venus dogwoods-small trees. The geometry of the ever green planting was strong enough from the start that larger trees really weren’t necessary. I like planting smaller trees. They take hold quickly and put on weight fast. The center rectangle would be grass. As the grass would go right up to the trunk of the tree, it would have to be clipped by hand around the trunk.
My clients did decide on four Jackie boxes from Branch-2 rectangles, and two squares. The area between the box and the front wall was planted with white tulips, and will have annuals in the summer. The area underneath the window was planted with white variegated hosta.
The area in front of the wall will be planted in the spring. Either a low sun tolerant ground cover, or perennial-or mix of perennials. A low wall is a challenge to work with. While the base of it needs softening, a beautiful wall should be visible. I have a few months to think that through.
We did have time to squeeze in some winter pots. It is a little tough to see in the photograph, but the rectangular bvoxes sit on decomposed granite, for ease of maintenance. I would not object however, to alyssum growing in the gravel.