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Landscape Design: Woodland Craftsman

Safety First

This landscape design project started with the homeowners’ need to have an easier and safer way to access their lakefront dock and patio. The house sits on a steep slope above the lake, and the slippery old bluestone walk and steps were becoming dangerous and cumbersome for the homeowner to traverse. A previous hip injury caused concern for possible fall hazards on the existing, chipping, algae covered, irregular bluestone pathway and steps.

Natural and Tamed

While working on the hillside, the homeowner also wanted to continue the natural stream that wrapped from the upper slope Northeast of the house, around to the lower level of the house, ending in a small pond. The new plan involved changing the plumbing of the pond, creating a waterfall from the side of the pond retaining wall, and continuing the stream along the south side of the house where it could meander down the hill over multiple waterfalls and under the proposed steps on its way toward the lake.

The homeowner also desired an easier way to maintain the appearance of the landscape and walk around the lakeside of the house without worrying about the steep slopes and the weeds continually popping up in the short fescue grasses that populated the lakeside landscape. Keeping the native trees for slope stability and lakeside screening was also an important objective; Drost took special care to minimize the impact on the existing trees.

Hardscape Installation

The project started by setting the hardscape elements on the steep hill. We chose an even width and rise snapped black granite slab step for longevity and resistance to chipping. Installed slabs formed a straight shot from the house to dock at the homeowners’ request to make for an easier climb. Natural fieldstone material with weathered cedar stump accents was used to match existing walls and streams and to give an organic feel. Grindstone steps were utilized to also tie in with the existing steps on site.

The first brainstorming task involved getting the hardscape materials to the lakeside of the house without machine access and the steep slope. At first glance, we thought we might need a costly barge service to get the materials to the lakeside, but further client discussion revealed that we could use their vacant lot next door that had limited access to the lakefront and cut through to the main property with minimal loss of natural vegetation. The pond and walkway hardscaping started at the lowest elevation north to south and worked to the highest elevations subsequently working our way out.

On-Site Design Adjustments

A new challenge presented itself shortly before we began work on setting the new steps when we uncovered a buried irrigation valve box hidden in the hillside grass. We quickly realized we would need to slightly alter the course of the stairs from the conceptual design because the original irrigation mainline also ran through that spot. To prevent compromising the functionality of the irrigation system we made the decision not to move the box or adjacent mainline. With a few on-site plan adjustments, progress resumed beautifully, and the hardscape elements began to weave together.

Making Nature More Durable

When it came time to connect the existing stream and pond, the water was allowed to flow into the new pond and stream through a custom-designed hollowed out log carefully reinforced with pond liner underneath to prevent leaks in the new waterfall area. The stonework and log accent features were added with great attention to detail, trying to mimic nature with an artisan style.

Landscape Design In Phases

Because of the complexity of the nooks and irregular areas created by the hardscape we agreed with the homeowner to wait until the hardscape completion before finalizing a planting plan on site. With the initial hardscape and grade shaping work completed, we began working with the homeowners’ design concept ideas of carrying colorful, deer resistant perennials through from the upper planting areas. After much deliberation, the apologetic homeowners rejected the initial plan and requested a simplified, more natural planting plan in hopes of minimizing maintenance work in the new area. The homeowner loves maintaining the landscape on the property but realized that this new work added a large area to maintain.

Planting For Low Maintenance

After agreeing on a new, low maintenance concept, planting began with the placement of evergreen and deciduous specimen trees and shrubs for height and interest in some of the different nooks created from the hardscape. The new design borrowed from the original concept, tying parts of the planting through from the existing landscape around the house. Chamaecyparis pisifera filifera ‘Nana Aurea’ are also utilized to frame the new planting area and fill gold color around the house. Close to the home and stair from the main level deck, we tied in a few ornamental colorful plants to also match up with the existing landscape. Key positioning of the more ornamental plants between the house and stream also helps deter deer from browsing there.

As plantings progress down the slope, they quickly transition to low maintenance ground cover and start to have a more natural, native feel with only a few ornamental plants like Peony to add seasonal color and height interest. Finally, we transitioned to large swaths of native Carex pensylvanica grass for a beautiful flowing look on the hillside. Pockets of Iris siberica ‘White Swirl’ and Iris versicolor follow the stream to mimic a natural look and clusters and masses of ferns pop up in the more wooded areas.

Tranquil Beauty The Easy Way

The homeowners are delighted with the functionality and the finished appearance of the project. They were thrilled to see how it all came together, and the project surpassed their expectations in many ways. They have been able to keep up with the maintenance as the new plants mature and crowd out the weeds. Level areas in the lakeside landscape permit both enjoyment and ease of maintenance. The new direct stairway which is a much safer and easier route for enjoying the lakefront. The new surrounding landscape water features are stunning to watch, creating great sensory feelings mimicking nature with the sound of water rushing over falls. The streams and the plantings foster a deep sense of peace and tranquility.

The craftsman nature of the project was exactly what our client was looking for, and they were ecstatic with the results.

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