Made By Hand


My crew superintendent bought a house some 5 years ago featuring a small garden overrun with vining plants. The sweet autumn clematis was threatening to completely engulf the back door. The porch steps were deteriorated and rickety.  A pair of giant wisteria were draped over and crushing a metal arbor never meant to carry such a load.  A few poorly maintained trees were kept company by overgrown yews, languishing spireas and countless daylilies.  It was perfect. He knew no matter what landscape came with the house, he would want to design and install his own.  He also had the interest in doing the work himself.        

Those deteriorated porch steps and an attached deck were replaced first with natural cedar.  How he learned to work wood I am not really sure, but people who are determined to do for themselves usually take the trouble to aquire the skills and tools that permit that.  The pergola was his next target; the sturdy cedar pergola will shoulder the load of the wisteria-and a newly planted pair of grape vines.  The wisteria in the back is making quite a comeback, after having been chopped to the ground last year.   He built forms for the 3′ by 3′ concrete tiles, and cast them himself.  He somehow persuaded his good natured spouse to help him set these tiles in the lawn.  The heft and scale of both the pergola and the tiles is so effective in this small space.      

He dug the hole for this fountain himself-last year.  That hole sat, until he finally decided that it might be good for someone else to pour the concrete shell.  Albaugh Masonry was happy to oblige, and go on to side the pool in steel; he was half way to a fountain. In the meantime, he installed a fence of cedar boards run horizontally around the back yard.  His design takes relatively inexpensive materials and makes something unusual and beautiful from them.  Columnar serviceberry-or Amelanchier ’Cumulus’, is a perfect scale for screening a small space.  They take up little room in the yard, and provide great screening for his second story windows.        


The fountain is an amazing piece of work.  Not only did he design it, he built wood forms, and cast the pot and pedestal in concrete. He tells me this is his first foray into concrete sculpture.  The form was constructed entirely of straight pieces of plywood, some of which were sealed with duct tape.  The pedestal has a wide base that sits on the fountain basin floor that tapers as it rises out of the water.  The interior of the fountain pot is an exact replica of the outside. The pedestal is tall; water falling from the rim has a long way to go to the surface of the pool .  This makes for lots of visual action.
This fountain reservoir is very shallow; the sound of the water from the jet hitting the surface makes for lots of splash, and really great sound.  I see he must have thought this all through.  Deep water in the reservoir would absorb the enegy of the water from the jet; it would have less action.  No photograph can convey the sound that water in action makes, but the sound coming from his fountain is strong and musical.   

The pergola is small; there is just room for a table and four chairs.  But what makes the space so effective-beyond the pergola itself, is the switch of paving materials.  The brick under the pergola sets the space apart from the rest of the yard.  Cozy.

The view out is more than entertaining.  It is well put together, and satisfying to the eye.  I am sure that at the end of the day, most landscape professionals have no interest in a landscape that demands lots of their hands on attention. If you do all of your own gardening work yourself, it’s important to consider the maintenance.  This back yard has a pergola, a fountain, a lawn, a terrace, landscape and pots-all working together in a graceful way.  There is a lot here to enjoy.     

Today was the first time I had seen the yard in a long time.  As you can see, it was a very rainy day, and we were in the neighborhood.  How he transformed a disheveled jungle of a garden into this lovely space-I was very impressed.   


He is thinking of extending the screen porch visible on the far right up to the back doors.  Sounds like maybe a sleeping porch is in his future.  I have no doubt he will build the porch addition himself. It is impossible not to admire people who make things happen with their own two hands.