Sometimes landscaping is about creating a nicer living space, or improving curb appeal. Sometimes it’s about adding a much-desired feature like a swimming pool or outdoor kitchen. And sometimes, it’s about meeting a unique and personal challenge. It’s about taking a troublesome space or unfortunate situation and transforming it through design, like a pumpkin turned into a magical carriage for a princess!
Cinderella references aside, good landscape design is a way to create a happily-ever-after ending for homeowners with specific needs and challenges.
These are just a few of the unique scenarios that have come up, and proof, in the words of our clients themselves, that you don’t have to be a fairytale princess to experience a little magic in your life.
1. Steep Slopes
Here in the northeast it’s not unusual for a home to be built at the top of a hill with a yard that slopes steeply to a street or even a lake or wooded area below. Conversely, it’s not unusual for a home to be built at the bottom of that hill, with a yard that grades up just as unforgivingly.
Fortunately for homeowners who find themselves in this situation, there’s a lot that creative landscape design can do to address the unique challenges of what might seem to be unusable space.
Building in tiers is one way. Start with a deck or patio, then build stairs to another level of deck or patio… and even another! Even if you don’t have a ton of space, there may still be room for a porch-like area at one or more levels, each of which can contain some plantings and even a seating area for you to enjoy multi-level views.
For Karen and Leland, clients with a steep upward slope, they had ideas of their own… turn the entire area into a magical waterfall! Here’s how they describe it.
Faced with an unusual back yard – a steep slope behind our house to an embankment above – we wanted a sizable waterfall to focus the views from our house and back patio while drowning out the sound of passing cars from the adjacent road.
For a complex water feature like ours, perspective and proportion emerge only gradually as the large stones are put into place. Although the lack of plans made us a little nervous, we trusted Jay’s experience and sense and that trust paid off in spades. We can’t imagine everyone will want a 1,000 gallon feature with a 10,000 gallon-per-hour pump lifting to a total height of 20 feet in three distinct streams – but we can assure you that no matter what your desired water feature looks like, Jay has the keen design sense and the skilled crew to make it amazingly natural.
2. Personal Tragedy
Sometimes landscaping challenges have nothing to do with the space, and everything to do with the history of that space. Natural disasters from floods to fire can devastate the land and leave even deeper emotional scars. When that happens, the challenges can be both literal, like restoring soil integrity, and existential, like creating a safe space from a traumatic one.
Landscaping a damaged space requires attention to many details, including whether or not any of the trees and foliage can be restored, whether there are hazards such as deeply burned trees or imminent mudslides, or if the soil has been compromised by toxic materials being burned or from sewer runoff.
It also requires sensitive attention to homeowners who need to be reassured that their space can be renewed. Integrity, honesty and kindness are not often thought of as elements of landscape design, but they can be especially important in just such scenarios.
Here’s how Andrew and Tina experienced recovery after a fire.
Our first pond and all of the area surrounding it was, sadly, destroyed by a fire. We would look at the mess outside and think that we would never be able to restore what we previously had, but we were very wrong. We called Grounds Keeper, and Jay came over and helped us to make what we had envisioned become a reality, and even better than we could have imagined! Jay and his team are so knowledgeable, and you can tell that they truly love what they do. It was a pleasure having them at our home, and watching them transform the mess in our backyard into a truly beautiful and tranquil oasis for us. We now have a pond and landscaping that people tell us should be in a magazine. And we spend all the time we can outside enjoying it. We love to watch our beautiful fish, and all of the birds and butterflies that the pond and surrounding plants attract.
Lennie experienced a similar recovery after Hurricane Sandy.
After Super Storm Sandy, not just houses were destroyed, but all of the landscape surrounding those homes, as well. I told Jay from Groundskeeper that I’d like a little rock garden in front of my home. He created a beautiful rock garden (covering the entire front of my property) and sculpted me a new back yard complete with new grass, a lovely assortment of trees and shrubs and flowers all of which are butterfly and bird friendly. Thank you for the incredible job and for giving me a place to relax and enjoy my morning coffee again!
3. Pets And Kids
The grownup humans in a home may have certain ideas about how landscaping should be done but sometimes the needs of the young and the furry take precedence!
That can mean spaces to play, run, or taking safety measures to protect more vulnerable members of the family.
One of the many wonderful aspects of a naturalistic landscape is that it’s Mother Nature’s playground. No need for fancy jungle gyms or expensive toys that spend more time in the shed than in the hands of your kids. Nature provides the perfect play space in the form of rocks to turn over to explore the squirming life beneath, streams to splash in, tree stumps to sit on, butterflies to chase.
And science is on your side: kids’ play has been shown to be more diverse and imaginative when they’re engaged with nature. There is always something new to explore and to engage the various senses – sight, touch, smell, sound. Include taste if you’ve got an edible garden!
Here’s what the Matawan World of Gardening said of their pond rebuild:
Many people can tell you how this area looked before. It was in dire need of help. The entire pond was raised up with a retaining wall around it, making it difficult for kids to see the fish. Slate surrounded the pond, which was constantly on the verge of falling into the water. The waterfall that was there was more like a trickle of water, as opposed to the normal cascade. The fish were swimming in about two inches of greenish brownish sludge, kicking up clouds of it as they swam around the pond. Thanks to quite a bit of planning, they now live in this habitat… the fish love their new home; I haven’t seen them swim around this much ever… Children can literally sit for hours, watching the fish or turtle swim by them… almost everyone who works here takes a few minutes to unwind each day, not to mention the countless customers, and the little ones who are in awe.
And Kathy and Harry were delighted with their young niece’s response to their new pond:
All our visitors love the pond, even my 2 year old niece who after swimming in the pool asked her mother if she could go to the park. She meant the stream; she wanted to walk in the waterfall.
Remember, kids aren’t the only ones enjoying your outdoor space! Four-legged friends need a place to play and need to be kept safe as well. That can mean planting the right materials, including those that won’t harm Fido or Fluffy if they nibble on the foliage. It can also mean ensuring enough space to romp away from hazards, by adding fencing around pools or creating barriers from a busy street.
That’s exactly what Joan and Vic appreciated about their new landscape:
This area has also become a safer and nicer place for our dogs to romp. Before the court yard, we had no place for them to play without them getting into trouble or wondering onto the road.
4. Small Spaces
Stunning landscapes can sometimes feel like the domain of those with sprawling acreage and plenty of space for elaborate swimming pools, winding pathways or lake-sized ponds. But even the smallest postage stamp of a yard can be an incredible place with the right design. It’s all in how the space is used.
There are myriad ways to make small spaces look larger, from strategically using color to create depth, including arbors and archways to create the illusion of a space beyond the space, and scaling seating, gardens and other elements appropriately.
In a very small space, it helps to think beyond the typical idea of a “land” scape and remember that you always have vertical space. Trellises, tiered walls and more can make excellent use of the three-dimensions that are available to you.
Small spaces often have another challenge: privacy. Your yard may abut a neighbor’s, or you may be so close to the street that the traffic noises disrupt your afternoon tea.
Privacy concerns can also be mitigated through design, whether in the form of a wisteria-covered trellis along a property line, a screen of bamboo to create separation, or a bubbling water feature to drown out annoying sounds by replacing them with soothing ones.
Aliza and Paul worried that their small space would prove difficult, but were pleasantly surprised by the result.
Our space was an enormous challenge, small with a multitude of requirements: the need for privacy, desire for beautiful planting, storage space for bicycles, etc. Jay orchestrated the entire development of our backyard from excavation and demolition (of an existing, unattractive deck), through patio building, shed design and building, accessory selection, landscape lighting, and planting. In the end, our small space has been transformed from a drab experience to a storybook atmosphere.
Janet and David were particularly pleased with how an eyesore was disguised in close quarters.
I particularly appreciate your idea to create a small garden area by the back door and fence off the garbage area. It’s terrific! I really like seeing the pink roses and the wisteria on the fence when I come and go from the house.
These are just four examples of challenges that turned into opportunities – opportunities to experience the joy of spending time outdoors. We hope they’ve inspired you to think about how creative landscape design can turn everything from seemingly insurmountable problems to small inconveniences into something unexpectedly beautiful.
If you’d like to talk about your unique challenges or needs, contact us for a consultation. We’re here to listen to your concerns and turn them into the outdoor living space of your dreams.