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 homeowners to traverse. A previous hip injury caused concern for possible fall hazards on the existing algae-covered, irregular bluestone pathway and steps.
Natural and Tamed
While working on the hillside, the homeowners wanted to see a continuation in the natural stream that wrapped from the upper slope northeast of the house 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 an important objective; Drost took special care to minimize the impact on the existing trees.
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. The slabs formed a straight shot from the house to the dock to create an easier descent. Natural fieldstone and weathered cedar stump accents were used throughout to match existing walls and streams and to give the new additions an organic feel. Grindstone steps were also utilized to 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, which 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 we worked our way up to the highest elevations while subsequently working our way out.
On-Site Design Adjustments
A new challenge presented itself shortly before we began work on setting the new steps: 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 quickly, and the hardscape elements began to come 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 irregularities created by the hardscape elements, the homeowners waited until the hardscaping was complete before finalizing a planting plan. With the initial hardscape and grade-shaping work completed, we began designing. The homeowners wanted to continue the theme of colorful, deer resistant perennials from the upper planting areas to the rest of the landscape. After much deliberation, the homeowners decided on a simple, nature-inspired planting plan in hopes of minimizing maintenance work in the new area.
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 by the hardscaping. 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’ were used to frame the new planting area and add gold color around the house. Close to the home, we tied in a few colorful ornamental plants to match with the existing landscape. Key positioning of the ornamental plants between the house and stream help to deter deer from browsing there.
As the plantings progressed down the slope, they quickly transitioned to low-maintenance ground covers and a more natural, native feel. A few ornamental plants, like peony, 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 followed the stream to mimic a natural look and clusters of ferns were strategically placed in the more wooded areas.
Tranquil Beauty The Easy Way
The homeowners were 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 have matured and crowded out the weeds. Level areas in the lakeside landscape permit both enjoyment and ease of maintenance. The new direct stairway is a much safer and easier route for enjoying the lakefront. The new surrounding water features are stunning to watch, mimicking nature with the sound of water rushing over falls. The streams and the plantings foster a deep sense of peace and tranquility.