Finding an excuse to get outside has been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember. To breathe the air and feel the earth brings life to me whether it is in the mountains, on the water, or in my own back yard. The outdoors is where I feel complete and feel the happiest. At an early age participation in sports and later teaching tennis enabled me this coveted time. When I married, my husband and I could not wait to get home, change into out “grubs” and loose ourselves to yard work. A vegetable and small perennial garden were priorities beyond any indoor improvements.
Our yard staff quickly increased by three with children who immediately treasured their respective outdoor activities as much, if not more than their parents. “Family time”, ranged from weekly yard chores to pursuing athletic endeavors such as sailing, fishing, camping, and snow skiing.
Twenty- two years ago, a house with a wonderful setting presented itself…
large, mature trees and by today’s standards an enormous screen porch across the rear of the house. The first two years were spent cleaning up the overgrown fence-line and removing a huge amount of stacked rotting wood, honeysuckle and fairy rings of Hostas at the base of every tree. Overwhelming to some it was an excitement to us. It really did not seen like work because we truly enjoyed – I must admit it did have its “moments” – the family time and collectively reveled in the creation of such a transformation.
After living in the house for several years, the lack of access from the driveway and service area on one side of the house to the screened porch which has entrances to both the kitchen and den on the opposite side represented more than a “flow” issue. It did not maximize the collective potential of tying these three heavily used living spaces together. Creating a formal garden with a brick walkway through it seemed the solution.
Committing to this project was a major undertaking for us as most of the work to this point had been “hands on” and “do it yourself” projects.
Excited rather that intimidated, we proceeded with intensity rather than trepidation, turning a challenge into an opportunity. I bought books, asked thousands of questions from professionals, ripped magazine pages and created a design based on our exterior needs and how we used the space.
Mary Webb, my mentor and soon to be partner encouraged several principals… simplicity, low maintenance, and an evergreen anchor. To this day I repeat this same philosophy, for it has stood the test of time, proving elegance, beauty, and enduring enjoyment for those adhering to these principles of landscape design. When in doubt “simplify”! Use the existing lines of your home to dictate exterior spaces and repeat both the hardscape and plant materials that have been used satisfactorily in your area over time. Too many times one is inclined to try to make the hardscape “really interesting” and all-to-often end up with a hodgepodge effect. Any exterior work should compliment the design the house, have the proper scale and provide a flow to the entire perimeter of the residence.
Little did I know that construction of my garden was the first step in turning my passion for gardening and exterior home design into my profession. I am passionate in my belief that one does not simply have a house… and a yard… but by bringing them together correctly they meld into one.
Working with the contour of the land was our first challenge as the grade quickly fell off at the rear foundation and then gradually sloped back up to a natural woods line. To accommodate access from one side of the house to the other it was necessary to terrace a flat area for a walk. Pulling this area out from the house as wide as we could with a retaining wall allowed views of the garden from not only the screen porch but every room including our family room and second story bedrooms.
Working within the confines of this terraced area gave us many options for design but the one feature that was non-negotiable was a formal fish pond. Twenty years ago it was not as common and more difficult to get specifications. Fortunately, Dan Gray at Haller’s Pet Store and Nick Murphy, our talented brick mason all coordinated but ultimately we determined the depth of the pond by making sure that the water level was not above our 2,4 and 6 year old children’s heads ! Often when I am asked how deep the pond is I have to chuckle when recounting the story.
The cross paths into the yard provided the perfect location and my husband was thrilled to recreate fond memories of his grandmothers’ pond. Our greatest joy of the garden and pond is sharing the smiles it brings to our guests and the joy from the peals of excited laughter from children gingerly dipping their fingers into the water for the fish to nibble. It is a focal point at all times of the year whether it be the surprise of water lily in bloom, majestic koi and fantail goldfish rising to be fed, a candled chandelier which provides a romantic touch and a bit of drama combining elements of fire and water,or the the ice sculpture which is created by the spray from the fountain in the winter months.
The creation of the walk, pond and terraced gardens have been extremely rewarding. Not only is it functional but pleasing to view from every part of the house. Over the years we have made changes to the landscaping and have continued creating garden areas below the retaining wall. Joe has one side for his vegetables and I have the other for roses. These areas are not prominent in the winter time when the plots are fallow. On the other hand the upper terrace is anchored with boxwood and ivy which provides a pleasing anchor in the winter months.
My garden does not exist for its flowers. They are considered welcomed visitor and an infrequent adjunct to its beauty, a parenthetical grace counting as only one more touch to the general effect. The more permanent effects are obtained from the pond, the Korean boxwood and ivy, wide brick steps into the expanse of lawn and trees, and the multi levels of terraces. The areas are visually pleasant independent of the seasons.
An area overlooked by many is the driveway and service areas… a necessity but usually a display of elements that are down right ugly! Garage doors, Air conditioning units, garbage cans, and large quantities of pavement. A pretty awful sight and one that you family see several times a day. Painting the garage doors black made the cavernous opening recede and pots evergreens of different sizes and textures added a cool and lush relief to the hot pad of asphalt as well as disguised the garbage area. A lutyens bench boldly painted chartreuse bench at the end of the drive was added following a trip to the Caribbean and provides a bit of whimsy; an opportunity for wild annual colors and is a bit of an anomalies as it is inconsistent with the traditional and conservative style elsewhere. It is now an area that makes me smile due to its element of surprise and becomes invitation for those who enter the driveway to look beyond the folly to the serene hillside beyond and to the formal entrance to the terraced gardens.
Designing for others is a passion as well as a profession. It gives me great pleasure to help decipher a families needs and desires and then to create exterior spaces accordingly. As in art and music, there are certain axioms to follow to make a piece pleasing. To be on site is a necessity as it is imperative to implore all of the senses when evaluating a space. Creating exterior rooms require basic structural elements. but the fun comes when the personal touch is added.
How grateful I am every morning that I am able to go outside and play. Designing and advising for exterior spaces is truly my passion and a wonderful profession.