Berms, Bark and Boulders


Suburban landscapes can be bleak.  I sometimes think they are more about what has been replaced on impulse, or places that are just left blank when something dies, than a design.   This landscape was suffering considerably from what I call  “berm, bark and boulder”  blight.  Mini- mountains of soil are studded with rocks, and a collection of plants are installed. If there was a big design idea here, I cannot spot it.  After planting, the entire area is covered in bark, usually deep bark.  But what baffled me the most here was how every plant was pruned into ball shapes, without regard for their species,  habit or culture. My client spent a lot of years raising her kids, and then more years redoing the interior of her house-which by the way is beautiful.  When she got to the outside, she called me.  Looking at a landscape on a cold March day can be sobering.  There are no leaves,  flowers or sunshine dressing up problems so they aren’t so obvious.  The first order of business was to engage a new maintenance company that knew how to prune properly. 

berms2The house sits on a piece of property that is very high and steeply sloped.  The berms only exacerbated this precarious look; the second order of business was to grade.  We dug up as much plant material as we could, and heeled it in.  We cut the berms down, and filled in the slope to soften it. We added many more yards of soil.  The existing plants we were able to save we grouped together, so every plant had like company, and replanted in another area of the yard.  

berms3The bermed soil right up to the drive edge meant dirt and debris on the drive, non-stop.  Any design needs a component that addresses ease of maintenance.  I am happy to attend to the maintenance of my pots every day.  Needing to sweep debris off a drive every day is annoying.  This kind of thing can make people dislike gardening for no good reason.  

berms4Once the grade issues were addressed in a way that worked, we laid out the design.  My client likes white, simple and dramatic.  She wanted to drive up to that, love it,  and then go to her back yard garden to spend time.  This first element of drama came from the grading. 

berms5The irregularly sloping and steep ground was graded to slope gently on a consistent angle to the street.  Particular care was taken to insure that the view from the house to the street would feature ground with sculptural appeal.

berms6For anyone who likes white, dramatic and simple, Limelight hydrangeas are a logical choice.  The dark green yews, and the sleekly trimmed arborvitae make great companions to all the profusion to come.

berms7The walk was redone in chocolate, or lilac bluestone.  This is an unusual color, but great looking with the color of the house.  The walk is bordered in annuals in the summer, and white tulips in the spring. 

berms8This new look helps to focus some attention on the architecture of the house, and features the front porch.  We enlarged the front porch, and repainted all the trim and wood on the house.  Sometimes a landscape project can spill over into another area of design.  In this case, a new landscape helped generate changes to the house, lighting, and porch.

berms10A pair of large contemporary French faux bois pots flank the front door; what a handsome view this is now.  Very friendly formal, I call this. She calls it a blast.