The Finished Landscape

landscape 2015 (4)This post is the last in a series of three about the renovation of a landscape. The fences and gates were finished just in time for our garden tour last Sunday. It is remarkable how much they contribute to the landscape. Though I say the landscape is finished, of course there are spots that could be improved.  But for now, the landscape has presence, and is healthy. The back yard feels like a secret garden-which is what my clients sought the most from their landscape renovation.



lead containers


landscape 2015 (3)The view from the driveway culminates in a peegee hydrangea on standard.


landscape 2015 (5)A 12″ tall retaining wall on the far side of the pergola made it possible to level the ground in this area.  The pergola is planted with the climbing rose “John Davis”.

landscape 2015 (6)The view of the yard looking north benefits from the landscapes further up the street.  The long view here is quite lovely, even though the setting is an urban neighborhood.

DSC_1861The south side yard

landscape 2015 (7)The tricolor beech has some companion plantings.


DSC_1865a small perennial garden

landscape 2015 (8)

landscape 2015 (11)

Q landscape (4)


landscape 2015 (9)The pergola from the front yard has gates and a fence to go with. Planted between the Venus dogwoods-hydrangea “Bobo”, and pachysandra.

landscape 2015 (10)Planted on the fence, sweet autumn clematis. The emerald green arborvitae are planted on the fence line, while the hedge of Venus dogwoods curves forward.  The two hedges overlap in a visually interesting way.

landscape 2015 (12)Emerald green arborvitae provide screening on the driveway side.

landscape 2015 (1)The gates

DSC_1873The generator is not screened from this view, yet.

DSC_1317at the end of the driveway, an old bench flanked by a pair of pots.

DSC_1226The end result – a simple formal landscape in front that makes much of the classic architecture of the house, and three beautiful and mature concolor firs. In the back, a very private landscape and garden that will only get better with time.



The Renovation Of A Small Landscape

landscape renovation (5)Last September I consulted with a client who had just purchased a jewel of an old home on a small property.  Extensive renovations to the interior were just about done.  The existing garage had been enlarged, and a living space above it has been added.  The neighborhood is lovely.  All of the homes are in close proximity.  They had gone so far as to install a new blue stone walk to the front door. A new landscape plan had been proposed, but she was hesitant about it.  My advice to anyone seeking the services of a designer is as follows.  If you have any reservations, sort them out before there is any arrangement to start the work.  Right off the bat, I loved the lollipop crab apples in front, but I disliked how they covered the beautiful bow windows, and the view to the outside. Plants do grow.  A good designer will site plants such that they do not grow into the elephants in the front yard.

landscape renovation (9)A beautiful sun room was faced down by yews and boxwood that were not doing well, a kousa dogwood which was obviously unhappy, and a random collection of knockout roses. The bed line seemed out of touch with the arrangement of plants. Idea 2: if you have bed lines in mind, cut them before you plant, and arrange the plants to repeat that line.  If you plant before you have a bed scheme in mind, your job is tougher.  You may need to plant a series of plants that reinforce the shape you have established.  Bed lines are a very powerful visual force in a landscape. I always set them first, before I go on to a planting scheme.

DSC_3107The back yard had a privacy fence, and a row of bradford pears. The trees had not been tended to much in recent years, and were in poor condition.  A new blue stone terrace had been set at the correct height out the rear doors.  The ground dropped dramatically to the fence line. I spent a lot of time looking over those trees. Could they stay? My clients previous landscape proposal called for keeping these trees.   My clients were happy with the neighborhood, but wanted some privacy in the rear yard. But these trees?

DSC_3116Landscapes can get away from a property owner so fast.  Plants die from this or that. Trees deteriorate. Other trees grow out with abandon-the result not so desirable. There are gaps, and spaces that contribute to a weary and untended look. My client brought lots of treasured garden ornament with her to this new home.  They needed a home.

DSC_3130A new lawn went a long way to banish the blues.  But the space was asking for a landscape that was beautiful, and functional.  Small properties are great for lots of reasons.  I love that my city lot and a half is manageable.  But a small space means there is no room to fudge.  Every square foot needs to be part of a plan that works.  A good designer listens to a client-first and foremost.  They need to design to the client they represent. Occasionally they need to step out, and suggest a different approach. Next a designer, or a gardener designing for themselves, needs to draw the landscape from edge to edge. That drawing is a benchmark.  The reality is where the spade meets the dirt. What works out on paper needs a sure hand to interpret the intent of the benchmark, once the landscape is being laid out, or underway.

DSC_4772The  over anxious landscape company before me sheared the backs off of these trees, with the idea that arborvitae would be planted under the power lines. I will say I have never seen this done before. I believe this is why my client contacted me. I could not imagine how trees in poor health to begin with would take to this kind of pruning. Nor did I believe arborvitae would prosper in the one wedge of sun they would get at noon every day.landscape renovation (6)Once the Bradfords were gone, it became obvious that the wood fence needed repair.  We shored up the leaning panels, and covered the deteriorated pickets at the bottom with a new cedar reinforcing board.

landscape renovations (4)Of course we painted the fence. That was easy and fast, given we had no obstructions to work around.

landscape renovation (4)The garage wall was big, and bare.  A trellis panel from the previous owner was set in the corner, to hide the electric service. My client placed her charming lead fountain in front of the wall.  Charming as it is, the wall overwhelmed it.  This wall needed a new idea. And the fountain needed a smaller more intimate location.

DSC_3109A generator is a big appliance which is not so great looking. In a small yard, they seem gigantic. The idea to celebrate it with a giant graveled area edged in granite block did not seem like such a great idea. Both the wall and the generator area needed some green relief.

DSC_5256Once my client approved the new plan, we set the bones of the front yard. We added a small gravel path from the walk to the drive.  And we designed a large steel pergola some 20 feet long which would be a better scale for the house. The new pergola would balance the sun room on the opposite side. The older wood arbor would be completely refurbished, and relocated to the entrance of the smaller and more intimate rear yard.  That structure will be beautiful in a space where it can be better appreciated.

landscape renovation OctoberWe did replace winter damaged yews, and boxwood.  We added more boxwood, in a formal square.  Between the boxwood and the yews at the sidewalk-a row of Little Lime hydrangeas. The new front landscape is respectful of the beautiful concolor firs, arborvitae, and the low wall at the walk.  We were underway with the renovation.


At A Glance: 6 Weeks Later

finished landscape renovation
On June 1, my landscape superintendent Dan and I walked through a project we had been working on since mid April, and decided we were done.  A whole lot of work got done in those 6 weeks. To follow are pictures of how that project looked this morning, 6 weeks later.  And following this, the story of that renovation.

July 5 2015 (26)from the street

the landscape in July (11)renovated front landscape

the landscape in July (12)the front porch

the landscape in July (13)the entry to the rear yard

the landscape in July (14)rear yard landscape

the landscape in July (9)seat wall and stairs- the feature of the mid ground space

2 tiered gardenhydrangea garden

the landscape in July (5)rock wall garden detail

the landscape in July (2)Annabelle and Limelight hydrangeas planted in a curved block

the landscape in July (3)the view back to the house

the landscape in July (10)new terrace

the landscape in July (6)the terrace landscape

the landscape in July (7)terrace landscape

the landscape in July (15)the birch in tall grass

the landscape in July (4)birch in tall grass

A New Landscape For An Old Property

a new landscape (2)Last August I had the opportunity to consult on a landscape renovation for a lovely house and property dating back to the 1920’s. The current owners added a sizable addition to the back of the house, solved many of the problems that old houses are heir to, and had redone the interior to suit them. They were ready to tackle the landscape. A mixed planting of privet, viburnum and Annabelle hydrangea on the sidewalk was healthy, but disorderly.  The bark path was not centered on the front door of the house.

August 23 2014 (1)The landscape at the front door looked congested.  A pair of kousa dogwoods were placed in front of the windows.  The boxwood had been planted right next to the walk to the front door. This placement all but obscured the front porch.  Planted behind the boxwood, a run of All Summer Beauty hydrangea, and a longer run of privet. There was a lot going on here, none of it especially friendly to the architecture of the house. Shrubs and trees growing up and over the windows of a house-not a good look. A landscape that overpowers a house looks like neglect, even when a property is being very well looked after. Funny, that.

a new landscape (1)A large block of Annabelle hydrangeas facing down the sun porch were planted in a little bit too much shade.  The bloom was spotty, and green. Carpet roses that had been planted in front of them were in altogether too much shade. In the left background of this picture, an old concolor fir that was just about gone.

a new landscape (3)An old blue stone terrace in the back was becoming overwhelmed by the plantings. All of the plants were robust and healthy.  The relationship of the plants to the terrace-uneasy. My clients wanted a terrace large enough to be comfortable both visually, and physically.

a new landscape (4)As in the front yard, there were a number of big old trees that were nearing the end of their lifespan.  Some had been severely damaged by lightening, and disease. Others had suffered considerable storm damage. Some were just at the end of their lifespan.

a new landscape (5)An informal perennial garden with a rock border had too many dirt spaces created from plants that had been lost. The garden did not have enough presence to be seen from the terrace.  The weeds were beginning to run wild. This is a very large property-where to begin?

DSC_8098We began with a plan. The landscape plan for the back was simple. The original terrace would be taken up, and relaid level. A border of old reclaimed brick would add a good deal of space to the terrace, and repeat the brick on the walls of the original house. the ground adjacent to the terrace would be regraded to slope away from the house, and would culminate in  long low brick seat wall, punctuated by wide steps that would lead to an upper level lawn.  The terrace garden would be planted with Nova yews, and boxwood. The trees that could not be saved would be taken down, and that upper level spot regraded to produce a large flat area suitable for touch football and the like. Flanking the lawn, a pair of triangular shaped meadow-like beds with multi trunked Himalayan white barked birch. If my clients liked the look of those shapes of long grass, we might at a later date formally plant it as such. The shape of these beds had everything to do with the unusual shape of the lot.  At the back of the property, the boulder wall would be redone in a curved shape.  Soil would be added above the wall to create 2 levels of plantings.  Above the wall, a mass of Annabelle hydrangeas that would cascade over the wall, backed up by a hedge of limelight hydrangeas. Hydrangeas would be in bloom from June through September.  On the lower level, an improved perennial garden.  Anchoring that garden at either end, a pair of the same birch. Last fall’s project-tree removal.

DSC_9551In April, we moved every shrub from the terrace garden out of harms way, and heeled them in. Given the cool rainy conditions, we also moved all of the Annabelle hydrangeas, privet and viburnum from the garden at the street, and behind the boxwood in front. The viburnums and privets would be relocated along the driveway to provide more privacy from the neighboring house. The Annabelles would go to the new garden in the back. By this time, the installation of the new terrace was underway. We were fortunate that the weather was perfect for transplanting. We got everything moved before it leafed out.  We moved well over 100 shrubs, and did not loose a single one.

May 11  2015 023The finished wall is 90 feet long, and features a staircase to the upper level.  This is the mid ground feature of the landscape.

DSC_0604We only had to add one pallet of rock to complete the new wall.  Better than 20 yards of soil were added behind that wall, and feathered into the existing grade going up to the rear lot line.  Loads of soil were used to level the lawn area.

IMG_0282Teddy and Beau got right in to the project. There was no keeping them out of the dirt.

DSC_0065In May, the landscape of the rear terrace was installed, and the ground leveled in preparation for sod.

DSC_0070A pair of fan shaped apple espaliers will eventually cover this large wall.

DSC_0661A pair of Palabin lilacs on standard that had been on the terrace were relocated out away from the house, where they would have all the room they needed to grow to a substantial size. Old Palabin lilacs on standard are impressive.  Once the irrigation was installed, we were able to work on the finish grade.

DSC_0657Shrubs that had been relocated to various spots on the lot lines were outfitted with their own irrigation rings.  A property this large cannot be watered by hand.

DSC_0672The final step was to have the upper rear yard hydroseeded.  The grass seed is mixed into a slurry of recycled paper.  This acts as a mulch for the seed, and helps to make sure that the seed has the access to moisture that it needs.

DSC_0680We protected the trunks of the birch, and some newly planted spruce from any over spray of hydroseed with landscape fabric, although this turned out to be unnecessary.  The seed was very precisely applied to the ground.

DSC_0679A snow fence kept Teddy and Beau out of that upper level.  It would be a few weeks before the seed would germinate, and a while after that before the new grass could tolerate foot traffic.

DSC_0675The lawn in front was spot hydro seeded in those areas where the grass was thin. The boxwood from the rear terrace was replanted across the front of the house, for a simple and continuous look. Only four new boxwood were needed to complete the hedge.

DSC_0676The sun porch garden was planted with shade tolerant hostas, brunnera, and forget me nots, set in pachysandra. There is nothing here that is unduly tricky or fussy to maintain.  Both of my clients are busy professional people.

DSC_0684The shrub bed at the street was redone in lawn.  The kousa dogwoods had long since been moved to the back yard, where they would get a little afternoon shade, and have the room to grow large. The architecture of the house can be seen from top to bottom, and side to side. I like to think the austerity of it is in keeping with the period and style of the house.  The boxwood were backed off of the front walk, so the entire porch is visible. In celebration of that porch, a pair of vintage wood champagne crates were placed there, and planted with pansies. We managed to finish June first. They have a whole summer and fall ahead of them, to enjoy the change. I like leaving a landscape renovation at this point. Once my clients live with it, they may decide what they have now is enough. Or they may decide to take the landscape a step further. But for now, there are some good bones in place.