Every client wants a landscape that boasts a unique appearance. When we met our clients Richard and Karin, they asked us to work creatively on their newly built home where rough grading had just been completed. They also wanted us to integrate into the design a large supply of boulders that were dug out during the excavation of the house foundation. Additional requests included:
- Making the septic field disappear;
- Enhancing an existing old apple orchard;
- Creating an unusual entry court with pathways that linked it to the house; and
- Keeping things easy to maintain for their seasonal home.
First, a master plan of the nine-acre property was developed to scale, along with a cost estimate. I always encourage our clients to develop a master plan that lays out stages of the projects for the next one to ten years. That way, as funds allow, different stages can be built from an agreed-upon plan.
The large boulders were all in one big pile. I had the excavator and mason, Scott McKnight and his crew, lay them out so we could look at each of the boulders and select the best ones. These boulders happened to come from an old gravel pit area on the site, so they were more rounded than the typical angular boulders one encounters in the Berkshires.
Starting out with a blank slate at the house, we went to work in this order:
- Laid out the driveway that ran to the house from the common driveway that passed by the property.
- Built, using boulders, a retaining wall to raise the driveway grade just along the septic field. We created a hot-summer garden between the top of the wall and the garden. In it we planted only masses of Rudbeckia and Russian Sage.
- Graded and shaped the septic field, using heavy equipment. Then we seeded it with a mix of wildflowers and sheep fescue.
- Carefully installed individual boulders in key locations along the house as “accents”, informally placed. With boulders, I like to have at least one-third of the rock underground so it literally is “grounded” and not sticking up. It seems to look more natural that way. Any pockets in the boulders were placed upwards so tiny groundcovers could be planted in them.
- Using very large Goshen Stone pavers (from Goshen, Mass.), built walkways leading up to the mudroom porch (their everyday door) and to the front door (the more formal entrance). The accent boulders and the Goshen Stone pathways now defined the landscape beds along the house.
- Installed multi-stem River Birch trees off key corners of the house. A large Stewartia tree is the featured tree along the mudroom path. Then we planted large transplanted apple trees from Valatie, NY, to fill in the old apple orchard grid in the lower field.
- Delivered large loads of river stone, 6-10” in diameter and carefully placed them by hand on heavy geotextile road fabric in an 8-10” layer. The mostly rounded river stones create an undulating feature throughout the landscape beds. This is an unusual solution versus the typical bark-mulched beds. One challenge for the maintenance of these is that any leaves must be blown out and hand removed to prevent their getting imbedded among the river stones.
- After the river stone was placed, installed individual flowering shrubs and oversized perennials in dug-out locations. Because Richard and Karin use their house primarily in the summer and fall, we selected plants that would flower during those two seasons. The plants we used included:
- Hydrangea shrubs: ‘Endless Summer’; ‘Little Lamb’, ‘Pinky Winky’ used with the assumption that they will be pruned down tight in early spring to keep them compact and dense;
- Full sun perennials: Creeping Thyme, ‘Red Will’ (which literally is crawling over the river stones); Daylily, ‘Strawberry Delight’ and ‘Chicago Apache’; Echinacea, ‘Pow Wow Wild Berry’ (a new dwarf variety); Rudbeckia, ‘Little Goldstar’ (a new dwarf variety); Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’; Sedum ‘Red Rubin’ (low growing with greyish leaves and deep red flowers);
- Shady Perennials: Lamium ‘Purple Dragon’; Anemone;
- Installed seeded lawn areas, but kept them to a minimum, around three sides of the house for easy access. The wildflower meadow comes up to within 30’ of the front of the house.
- Further enhanced the entry court by installing a large Sugar Maple tree to screen the garage. Then we installed Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’ ornamental grasses below the tree.
- Installed custom light kiosks to provide pools of light along the driveway.
- Then, as a final touch, positioned just under the large kitchen sink windows a very large planter box crafted by the home designer and builder, Connor Homes, Middlebury, Vermont. It is set up high, to allow tall perennials to grow from below and for pendulous annuals to cascade down. Plus, it is easy to water from the kitchen sink.