We began working with our clients when they purchased what remained of an original dairy farm house and working barns in Richmond, Massachusetts, in 2010.
The former farmhouse was now a 2-unit apartment building and the milk house and large barn were in stable condition.
We worked closely with our clients, Ken and Cathy, to create a master plan for improving the property over a 10-year period. That way, as funds allow, different projects can be built from an agreed upon plan. Features included in their plan:
- Easy vehicular access using an elliptical driveway.
- Site drainage around the house (there was none in place)
- Garden spaces that echoed a farm house ethos and worked amongst the towering Sugar Maple trees on the property.
- Emphasis on spring-summer-fall display gardens.
- Use of display pots to provide consistent, bright, vibrant color palette.
- Swimming pool and pool house on the upper portion of the property.
Phase I projects included a total renovation of the farm house with an addition built into the hillside for a family room with master suite above. The architectural designer, David Potter, owner of Green River Design, created an open floor plan within the farm house. Gregg Wellencamp and his crew completed all construction.
Our firm completed the landscape design and construction on a design-build basis. Claire Eurich, Stepping Lightly Gardens, maintains all the gardens and designs the annual displays with Cathy each spring.
An interesting architectural feature is the conversion of the original milk house into a one car garage, painted bright red with white trim.
A future article will focus on the Phase I projects. This story is about the “Scissor Step Garden.”
Scissor Step Garden
As the swimming pool and pool house were being built simultaneously in Phase II projects, we embarked with our clients in 2013 on a design for the sloping gardens and pathway leading to the pool, after the main house and gardens were completed.
The pool house is sited to be in the farthest upper corner of the triangular property. The pool and terrace are in front of the pool house. All face southeast and are in full sun. The grading design created a raised level area for these components with the intention being to have to pool be invisible from the house.
The pool house was an original design concept of mine to have it built into the slope and echoing a Nantucket shed with a wood shingle roof. David Potter completed the final design and Gregg Wellencamp and crew built it. That can be another story!
A gentle slope from the pool down to the main house was all lawn. We slightly extended the grades out to create a sloping display garden with a central pathway. The clients wanted to keep the perennials somewhat low in this new sloping garden so the original barn and parts of the main house would be visible from the pool and pool house.
Ken and Cathy were very involved in the design of the pathway and entrance gate for the pool fence. I first worked up a few hand-drawn sketches showing various ways the pathway could be configured.
An initial inspiration for the garden steps is using large, irregular native stones like this Alford garden that we designed:
Here are some of my early plan sketches:
As the pool house was being framed and the roof was visible I created a quick sketch and emailed it to our clients as a PDF:
We finally settled on a pathway design that stepped up the slope in a “scissor or crisscrossing” manner…now how to figure out how to build it!
We used in-stock split face bluestone steps from Herrington’s Stone Yard in Hillsdale, NY. Each was hand-selected for its color and face edge trueness. The installation was by Stephen Harding Fine Landscapes LLC and his crew. Steve set up an ingenious system of wood boxes that matched the sizes of the stone steps. These were used to determine the pattern of the scissor steps running up the hillside with our very patient clients. We also placed some potential perennials onto the boxes for scale.
These were not easy to install and took about 4 weeks to get just right. Each step has a narrow-thick bluestone lentil under each face. This is to prevent the crushed stone base from creeping out onto its sister step below. After the steps were installed and backfilled with crushed Bivi chips from John S Lane Stone in West Stockbridge, the garden soils were brought in for the sloping hillside gardens.
As the steps and gardens were being built, the owners designed a metal “Peony Gate” for lower entrance to the scissor steps and up to the pool. Fabricated and installed by John Graney Metalsmith, the gate is self-closing and its openings meet pool code. The rest of the pool fence is a technique we use frequently which we call an “invisible pool fence”. The posts are pressure-treated wood 4 x 4. The wire mesh is black, vinyl coated with 1” x 1” openings and is 48” tall. The wood posts fade to grey and the black mesh disappears in the landscape. This meets pool code.
This metal gate is very heavy and required a massive-deep concrete footing with woven metal reinforcing rods to keep it level. Stephen Harding designed and built this footing.
The gate was installed as the hillside perennials were being installed by OL Ltd.
The perennial design is intended to:
- Have very low groundcovers and succulents (1-3” tall) between the triangular spaces between each scissor steps. Plants include Wooly Thyme, Sandwort, Sempervivum (“Hens & Chicks”), Sedum ‘Angelina’, Stonecrop Sedum.
- Flank the sides of the steps with dramatic summer perennials; we used Nepeta for its consistent deep lavender color. Plus, it can be cut back and it will bloom again later in the summer.
- Be maximum 18-24” tall for foliage; the actual flowers rise to 30” maximum. This is to keep the long views down to the fire pit, main house and barns down each side of the scissor steps.
- Have bright summer colors that coincide with the use of the swimming pool (June through September).
Low groundcovers between each of the steps:
Hillside garden perennials and their percent of the plantings in the two flanking beds include the following:
- Coreopsis ‘Cosmic Eye’ (Yellow w burgundy face flower, 10%)
- Geum ‘Blazing Sun’ (Warm orange flower, 15%)
- Geum ‘Totally Tang’ (Bright orange flower, 15%)
- Echinacea ‘Pow Wow’ (dwarf, Bright red-burgundy, 30%)
- Stella Dora Daylily (dwarf, warm yellow, 30%)
On each far side of the hillside garden we installed Dwarf Ornamental Hameln Grasses (30”) to screen the view and Zebra Grass (tall ornamental grasses, 7-8’) to screen another view.
Since the pool, pool house, scissor steps and gardens have been installed, they have hosted numerous family gatherings, a rehearsal dinner and now have a new grandchild in the family.
Here is a picture shot from one of Ken and Cathy’s daughters, Chloe, on her iPhone a few weeks ago…