A New Landscape

A client who built a new house was not so enamored with the landscape that resulted. I understand that what it means to be in that spot, as I have watched it happen plenty of times.  Building a new house calls for lots of decisions, and incredible focus. The decision making on the landscape for a new house comes at a time when the client is exhausted from the effort of getting the interior spaces built and liveable. It is hard to maintain that concentration and energy to the very end of any project, much less a project of this scale. It can make sense to stand pat with a landscape until you have lived there long enough to figure out what you want from it.  Once her house was built, she was interested in revisiting the landscape. I think she was surprised by how keen an interest she had in the out of doors.  She walked out to meet me with a set of plans a year ago March.

The landscape in place was simply not to her taste. She wanted a much more formal design, with plantings in multiple layers. She wanted some punctuation with less formal elements, like roses and hydrangeas. I was fortunate in that she had spent a good deal of time collecting pictures of landscapes she liked. I client who can articulate what they like in one way or another is a good client. To my mind, there were two issues that stood out. It is a very large house positioned very close to the driveway. And the grade dropped dramatically from the front door to the drive, and from the south end to the north. The house was uncomfortably perched on top of a hill. The driveway location was a given. I thought the landscape needed to provide an ample space for the house to sit, and create a sense of depth.

My plan called for a pair of long rectangular parterres on either side of the front walk. The right hand parterre would dead end into the angled garage wall. To my mind, this creates the illusion that the landscape came first, and the garage second. An additional landscape planting on the far side of the drive court would repeat that linear run of evergreens from the house side, and would include a large sweeping bed of Little Lime Hydrangea.  But the most dramatic change would be in the installation of low brick retaining walls with limestone caps. These walls would enable a flat space in front of the house, upon which a formal landscape could be built.

It is tough to spot those walls in the drawing, but this construction picture explains it. I very rarely design projects that we do not build, but my schedule was already booked out for quite some time. Her landscape and maintenance contractor is a very well respected company that I was confident would build the project with the same care and precision that I would. I was also interested in her interest and commitment to a beautiful landscape. So I took on the design portion, and turned the plans over to her contractor.  I actually was surprised to find how much I liked having a project that I could watch come to life, without having to participate except in an advisory way.  Schecter Landscaping did a terrific job of the layout, construction and planting.

I did go by on occasion, and I did draw some of the smaller areas with greater detail that I would have were I doing the installation. But all in all, I was delighted having a design only role.  I took my crews several times to see the progress on the installation. The retaining wall on the lower left in the above picture is almost 3 feet tall. The house no longer feels like it is sliding down a hill.

Once the block wall was up, the planting was able to proceed. I like the preponderance of evergreens in the front, as the landscape will read every month of the year. The house has a number of complex shapes and angles, so the locations of the vertical arborvitae were determined by the shape and size of the parterres.  Those trees are far enough away from the house that they do not obstruct views from the inside out.

The steps were replaced with rock faced limestone slabs, and the existing paver bricks were taken up and reset.

The evergreens read just as well from the house side as they do from the driveway. The empty space on the right in this picture eventually got 48″ by 48″ brick landings for a pair of large pots. The rest of the space has a single row of roses.To the bottom left is the walkway and steps which bisect the right hand parterre, and lead to the side door entrance.

The walk to the side door culminates in a small radiused terrace, large enough for a bench and a pot. The trio of wood boxes sit in a bed, which now has been planted with a collection of small stature summer blooming perennials.

All of the planted elements of the landscape were in place last summer. She was very pleased with the outcome, and so was I. We did install a collection of pots, which we planted both for fall and winter. But it would take a year before she would see anything of the hydrangeas.

They came in to bloom just a short time ago. The parterres are planted with hydrangea “Incrediball” – one of her favorite varieties. The opposite side of the drive is planted with Little Lime hydrangeas. It is already possible to see that the landscape has multiple layers.

The car park is flanked by 2 rectangles of ground reserved for seasonal plants. Elements of the landscape from the house side are repeated here, so the overall volume of landscape exceeds the volume of paving.

It is great fun to be at a this point with a big landscape project. And even more satisfying to have a client who is happy with the outcome.

view from the car park

front walk

the view out

The view from the road is what I hoped it would be.


  1. Jeffrey Prasse says

    What annuals did you use? Beautiful color combination.

  2. Sharon Sullivan says

    Very pleasing overall effect reminiscent of an Old English manor. Only difference is the English manor would have a crushed limestone drive and parking area.

  3. Jennifer Taylor says

    Deborah! What a joy to see one of your big masterpieces from start to finish. This defines transformation. You took a beautiful home and elevated it to an entirely new and probably unimaginable (to the homeowners) level. Your work is lasting and stunning. Once again, WOW! Beautifully done. You truly are an artist.

  4. Another wonderful landscaping design!

    It announces a lot about this home. Beauty, refinement, elegance, warmth. I’m imagining those characteristics are reflective of these homeowners.
    So inspiring!

  5. Robert Beebe says

    The drawings of those garden plans are remarkable, and for me, the best part of this project. As always, Deborah, your fine drawing skill and artistry are at the highest level!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Rob, thank you for your letter. I just want to make clear that I drew my landscape redesign onto and over the original landscape plan generated by the original landscape architect. My overlay is very simple. The original drawing was not mine. Happily, my client is pleased with the outcome. best regards, Deborah

  6. Incredible! How about pictures of the back? And thanks to you and the homeowner for allowing us all to enjoy this. I’d love to look out on this view every day!

  7. Landscape plans can be almost as fun to look at as gardens. Your drawings are lovely. Thanks for posting them and the wonderful result brought to life.

  8. Ruth J Wolerry says

    This is amazing. At first I was uncomfortable with the landscaping. Now is is balanced beautiful to go with the lot and the gorgeous house.

  9. Julio Zamora says

    Thank you for sharing this amazing garden. I love the simple color scheme, and everything flows so well. Classic elegance, beautiful.

  10. lisa narozanick says

    Lovely! And how nice of you to do the design portion only and let someone else handle the dirt-work! I don’t know many designers who would do that. That was thoughtful on your part. The design is just incredible. Can you tell me what is the mixture of low flowering plants you planted up to the front door?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Lisa, I planted 3 colors of petunias, and lime licorice, going up to the front door. The car park annuals were the same-with the addition of a tall purple angelonia, and tall florist’s ageratum. all the best, Deborah

  11. Yes, it is very beautiful. There’s a lot of anticipation in gardening, that should teach me about patience! I really enjoy the planting choices, excellent!

  12. Lisa at Greenbow says

    You made the house look larger and so well placed. Those front steps look so inviting. The house now has a personality and looks like a lovely home. Good job! One of my favorites of your designs.

  13. WOW!

  14. In the hands of an incapable designer, this could have gone so wrong. Instead, it is splendid. Easy on the eye. It has a bit of the Classic Italian Garden look, which works well with the house. As always, well done!

  15. Laurin Lindsey says

    I love your work! A beautiful inviting garden : )

  16. GREAT transformation!! The brick wall with limestone caps really made the garden blend into design of house! What is the low growing evergreens? I’m looking very small shrubs for my front area. Thanks


    Love the transformation

  18. Marguerite says

    The brick walls really “embrace” the house and bringing it forward and integrating it so well with the front landscape. Such a gracious design that still allows some flexibility for seasonal fun. This client is so lucky to live within your client area! thank you for sharing this loveliness

  19. Mary Brown says

    Espaliers! Brilliant.

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