A New Landscape In Detroit

Our garden cruise July 17 raised $14,470.00 for the Greening of Detroit. Nine years of tours means we have raised $107,500.00 in support of their mission; I could not be more pleased about that. One of the landscapes and gardens on tour this year is a project we have been working on for several years. It was finished just days before this year’s tour. My clients support and identify with The Greening-who has had their eye on the reforestation of Detroit, sponsorship of urban farms, and education regarding the environment since the mid eighties. I should preface my remarks about their landscape design with a few more words about my clients. They purchased this house built in the 1920’s with their eyes wide open about what would be required to restore the house and the grounds. It has taken some time, but they stuck with it start to finish. I admire this about them. They are young people, with loads of energy, and a commitment to the city of Detroit.  Their neighborhood, known as Palmer Woods, is on the north side of the city. A raft of old homes built in the early part of the century are now owned, prized, and looked after by a diverse group of people who love the old homes and graciously sized properties. They are a group of people whom I greatly respect.

DSC_7533I did post about the installation of their driveway some time ago. Should you be interested in that earlier post, type  A New Gravel Driveway  into the search line. It was difficult to convince them to install a drive court in front of the house.  They were concerned it would take up too much room. That it would be the beginning and the end of the front yard landscape. I was not concerned about this, but explaining to a landscape client what drives your design is part of the process.  It is a long way to walk from the street to the front door. The driveway to the the rear is narrow, and is only useful as a way to get to the garage. My clients have lots of friends, and entertain regularly. The front yard was large enough to take a house side parking area.  I know they like it now, as they and their guests are using it. The landscape from the street side does a great job of screening that drive court from the road, without obstructing the view to their beautiful home.  The shape of the bed mimics the shape of the parking area, which features a long shallow curve in the middle. The curve is planted with dwarf red barberry on the street side, and allium “Millenium” on the inside. This is my first time ever specifying dwarf red barberry. The color perfectly responds to the color of the brick on the house. At a maximum height of 24″, they endow the view of the front of the house. That barberry atropurpurea nana traverses the front yard from the north drive to the south drive. The lawn area on the street side is just that-lots of lawn, punctuated by a pair of katsura trees.

DSC_7624The interior of the drive court reveals what the street view conceals.  There is ample space for parking to the left. To the right, a driveway that makes it possible to to drop off guests or packages at the front door, or continue on to the right, and through the port cochere, to the garage.

RR the finish 2016 (3)The front facade of the house is anything but symmetrical. The oversized front walk centers the view on the front door. At the out skirts of that walk, a quartet of Jackie boxes made by the Branch Studio further emphasize the entrance. The treatment of the front door organizes the space. The red and lime color scheme-a request from my clients.

RR the finish 2016 (2)The landscape near the house is largely handled by big blocks of boxwood, and an outside frame of Nova yews. The dwarf and feathery Allium senescens is planted on the front edge of a pair of gorgeous classically styled concrete benches, while blocks of allium Millenium frame them on either side. Allium Millenium is a carefree perennial with gorgeous foliage all season long that deserves a spot in any perennial garden. The massive planter in the side yard is planted with an equally massive banana. That banana is all the more striking, in textural contrast to the hedge of DeGroot Spire arborvitae planted behind it on the north side lot line.

RR the finish 2016 (4)The gravel driveway that goes under the port cochere to the garage switches to concrete aggregate, in the back of the house.  Going in and out of a garage, and the walk from the garage to the house asks for a material that can withstand lots of backing up, and moving forward, traffic, and snow removal. Concrete aggregate is a favorite material used in concert with contemporary homes, but it is equally friendly with homes of great age. It has the look of gravel, with the serviceability of concrete.

RR the finish 2016 (5)A new brick wall separates the garage, and the coming and goings of several vehicles, from the back yard. Any landscape design needs to address the need, while treasuring the look. This is not always so easy. It is important that the landscape be just as functional as it is beautiful. The back yard is screened from the garage and pavement by a substantial brick wall. That brick wall was original to the house, and in great disrepair when my clients signed their purchase agreement.  Given that the wall would have to be rebuilt, we changed its contours to fit the new landscape.

RR the finish 2016 (6)My client was about to install a small rectangular terrace off the back of the house.  I asked that they consider another idea. I suggested that they go big and wide with the rear terrace-a substantial terrace that would not only include the entrance and exit from the kitchen, but also a way to access the screened porch. I am happy that they went wide. A generous gesture in the landscape always gets noticed, and appreciated.

RR the finish 2016 (7)This is the first round swimming pool I have ever designed. It seemed right for the space. At 20 feet in diameter, it would not overly dominate the landscape. The ground rose naturally from the house to the rear lot line. The yard is formally terraced into two levels by the pool, and stairs on either side. The garden behind the pergola sweeps around to the right, and falls naturally on a gentle slope to the grade set by the house. This past year was all about the design and fabrication of the wall, pool, pergola, spa, and the house and pool terraces. Late last fall, a hedge of American arborvitae were planted on the rear lot line. Buck and his group at Branch fabricated the pergola you see in the distance.

RR the finish 2016 (8)The rear of the pool deck is spacious enough for lounges. The circular center area under the roof is large enough for a table and chairs. The floor of the pergola is gravel. This made it easy to plant clematis on the front poles, and grapes at the back.  The lattice panels on the pergola provide another layer of privacy. My client chose the location for the pair of pots planted with hydrangeas on standard. Next year, the hydrangeas planted in front of the arborvitae, and behind the pergola will make a strong visual relationship to the hydrangeas in pots.  We will plant them in the ground for the winter season.

RR the finish 2016 (14)All of the furniture was chosen by my clients, as was the chandelier.

RR the finish 2016 (9)the view from the screened porch door

RR the finish 2016 (19)raised planters for vegetables and herbs

RR the finish 2016 (16)the view from the pool terrace to the house

RR the finish 2016 (17) dining table and chairs outside the screened porch

RR the finish 2016 (20)sweet autumn clematis on the pergola

RR the finish 2016 (21)The view from shade garden towards the front yard

RR the finish 2016 (1)the view to the street

2016 garden cruise (3)This could be my favorite feature of the landscape.  The stone contractor created this walkway to the back yard from limestone and brick original to the house.  I call it the history walk. Every time I see it, I am reminded of how much my clients did to restore and preserve this historic building, and add themselves to that mix.














  1. Considered design, always function before form, always beautiful. Well done again, Deb. I hope your family is all well and happy.

  2. WOW! Would I love to just have a cup of coffee… glass of wine, sitting there enjoying the view and taking everything in. Magnificent!

  3. Thank you for this post and thank you for organizing another garden tour, which I look forward to every summer. Would you please tell me what kind of hydrangeas were planted next to the arborvitae along the back fence of this property?

  4. Breathtaking design. I enjoyed following your adventure on this project. Can you tell me the material used to fabricate the raised vegetable beds and the approximate size. Thanks for your inspirations.

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Dianne, the raised beds are 4 by 7 feet, and are fabricated from galvanized and patinated steel. best, Deborah

  5. Hi there
    How do you care for your planters- everything is so beautiful

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Jane, you have to water even when you don’t feel like it! And plants in containers need food. We use algoflash, and sometimes miracle grow bloom booster. all the best, Deborah

  6. Good god that backyard looks incredible!!

  7. Dear Deborah, What a fabulous Garden Cruise 2016 was. All the gardens were special in their own unique was. This home was of particular interest as we have been following the progress in your blog writings. The planter with the big banana took my breathe away when I saw it for the first time. Is the gravel floor under the pergola just regular gravel, by that I mean what size and kind of stone did you use. I liked the sound of it when I walked on it.
    Thanks for putting on such a good show. I was very happy to be there. Best, -g

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Greg, so pleased that you made it to the tour!! The gravel is a crushed stone, probably a half inch and smaller. This is bigger than decomposed granite-it doesn’t stick to your shoes or tires. all the best, Deborah

  8. mollie duvall says:

    Magnificent! I’m just a tiny bit jealous, LOL! Those old homes in Palmer Park are so elegant and old world. Congratulations to you and the homeowners for creating such a vision.

    I must ask; is that a calf statue in the shot of the raised vegetable beds?!?! How very whimsical and a perfect way to “lighten up” a formal landscape. LOVE!

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Mollie, a friend loaned the cow to my client for the tour. It is perfectly whimsical, isn’t it? best, Deborah

  9. Shirley says:

    It’s so good to see older homes being restored and history preserved. The landscape design is conducive to entertaing large groups but I can see how it can feel intimate for just the family. Beautifully done and congratulations on the fundraising!

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Thanks, Shirley. The Greening is pleased with our efforts on their behalf. all the best, Deborah

  10. Silvia Weber says:

    Dear Deborah,

    Your Garden Cruise was great, a highlight of our summer, as always!
    Very happy to learn you will continue next year.
    The Greening of Detroit organization must be thrilled as well.


    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Silvia, I so enjoy this tour. So pleased that you and Gerry made the trip from Cleveland. best, Deborah

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Silvia, I so appreciate that you and Gerry made the trip from Cleveland for the umpteenth time for our cruise. All the best to the both of you. Deborah

  11. That is gorgeous!! Great job to you and the owners!

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Karen, this project was every bit of two years in the making. My clients-they are the best. thanks for writing, Deborah

  12. Cheryl Ellenburg says:

    I love the history walk. I have seen pictures of this as a drive way. Do you think it would work?
    Love your ideas.

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Cheryl, I have never seen paving like this before, nor have I see it in a driveway. I do not think it would tolerate vehicular traffic very well. best, Deborah

  13. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    One of my favorites that you have shown. WoW. The car park gives it an old world feel that I love. I can imagine family and friends standing out there watching the children going off to prom in their fancy attire and/or the bride and groom setting off on their honeymoon from this area with well wishes. The huge planters really set off the various areas.

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Lisa, I do believe that a successful landscape drapes itself around a life. thanks, Deborah

  14. Andrea Martone says:

    A Beautiful & thoughtful plan.
    Very few landscape designers (and architects) seem to consider and execute a design that is both practical & aesthetically pleasing – These should always go hand in hand but requires effort and training to get it right.
    My only other thought is this home looks rather austere and a bit cold with all that red brick and hard lines.
    Perhaps as the landscape softens and matures it will patina naturally.

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Andrea, part of the austerity relates to the fact that my clients are busy professional people. Another part of the austerity is a gesture I like. But you are right-once the shade garden in the rear yard, and the shrubs overall grow in,everything will warm up. Thanks for your letter, Deborah

  15. Jennifer Taylor says:

    What a magnificent landscape! I don’t want to leave. This is a perfect example of what inspired landscape design can do to maximize the beauty of a home. Congratulations to the homeowners and to you and your team Deborah.

  16. Juliet Barash says:

    Awesome design in every way!

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Juliet, love your enthusiasm for this project! It was such a pleasure for me to design and install this landscape. best, Deborah

  17. Spectacular. The scale of everything works so very nicely. Love the connecting pathways, brick walls, and the plantings. Flow is superb. Nice seating and patio areas. Wide pathways and patios are a must (IMO) especially for a large home and property. A round pool – never seen one but this works well. Beautiful. Thank you for the tour.

  18. Perfect! All the hardscape as well as the lovely plants and flowers everywhere work together beautifully. The gravel right up to the house reminds me of the beautiful old chateaux in France where the gravel drive becomes a wide and spacious courtyard which goes right up to the foundation. The whole scheme is breathtaking.

  19. I enjoyed the Garden Cruise very much. This was my favorite property on the tour. All the properties had their particular charms, this one just resonated a little more than the others. The pot next to the port cochere is a fantastic piece. Looking forward to next year.

  20. This was stunning, probably the favorite of our group. Kudos to the owners! Could you tell us about the unusual pines that lined the driveway? They were lovely.

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Linnea, they are Pinus flexilis “Vanderwolfs”. So glad you enjoyed the tour. best, Deborah

  21. laura Tonar says:

    Stunning! Love the commitment , process, and final results. the final pic of the walkway is my favorite feature as well.

Leave a Comment