stone-walkway.jpgThis past fall I had a call from a great client from years ago. They bought a new house- recently built, and close to finished on the inside. The outside revealed a large piece of property  with dirt as far as the eye could see. The contractor on the house recommended a landscape architect-a landscape professional I happen to greatly admire.  My first visit to the site was during the installation of his complex and beautifully imagined walk from the driveway to the front door. A curved set of steps lead to a generously scaled landing, centered on the dining room window, and not the front door.  Had the walk been centered on the front door, the landscape would forever have looked off balance and lopsided. A bump out halfway to the front door would prove to be a perfect spot for a bench. The curved walkway falls within the center space, defined by the front porch and dining room window taken as a whole.  That walkway would be the dominant element of the front landscape.


stone-walk.jpgMy clients were a little uncertain about the complicated landscape that was additionally proposed.  I understand that uncertainty. Any landscape involves lots of time and commitment. They were concerned that the landscape proposed was too involved, meaning it would be in need of frequent and ongoing maintenance. I  understand this point of view. I reserve complicated gardens for clients who latch onto the idea of a complicated garden as if it were all they ever wanted from their life. Other clients, who love the landscape, may have kids and demanding jobs that drain time away from maintaining an intricate landscape.

096Consideration of the maintenance was a key part of the design for my own landscape at home.  I would make regular time to take care of my containers, and dead head a few roses. But I also wanted to relax in and enjoy my garden when I got home from work. These clients were of similar mind.  They both are busy working people, and they are raising a family. A very simple landscape that would look put together and elegant every season of the year would respect  the lives of my clients.  By way of contrast, a simple landscape would visually reinforce that stone walkway as the dominant element of the landscape.

Of great importance was the fact that the house was built on rather steeply sloping ground from side to side.  A stone retaining wall encloses that space, and isolates the remainder of the property from the front yard. The landscape would have a clearly defined space in which to be. As evident in the drawing in the first picture, the landscape beds are rectilinear and opposite in direction from the walk. The visual read is as though the landscape came first, and was overlaid by the walk.
Laying out all of the spaces in advance is the last step of a design. What is drawn on paper only rarely translates to the actual space perfectly. My drawings are not perfect, as I draw by hand.  I have also had more than a few surveys with inaccurate dimensions.  Trying the landscape on for size before you plant is a good idea. Once the plants are purchased, they may not be so easy to return.
099No decision was made immediately as to what would go on either side of the walk leading up to the porch.  There was no need.  Those spots could be handled in a number of different ways, each of which could be good.  I had a plan to suggest different pots for the porch, and move these urns to the side.  I would bring the new pots out, so they could try them on.

DSC_6022We did cover the new limestone walk with plywood and tarps. There was no reason to put put any more dirt on that walk than necessary. As we did this job fairly late in the fall, the temperatures were chilly, and we had had a lot of rain. We had a need for a considerable amount of soil to bring the grade up to the grade set by the walk. The pipes for the irrigation had already been set.  The irrigation contractor would finish the job just before we were ready to mulch the planting. We use ground hardwood bark fines, which deteriorates fairly quickly, and adds much needed compost to the soil.  The mulching will need to be done every year.

DSC_6023We did plant three Venus dogwoods-small trees.  The geometry of the ever green planting was strong enough from the start that larger trees really weren’t necessary.  I like planting smaller trees.  They take hold quickly and put on weight fast. The center rectangle would be grass.  As the grass would go right up to the trunk of the tree, it would have to be clipped by hand around the trunk.

DSC_6256A tree set in the lawn without a ring of mulch is a maintenance headache, but given that the rest of the landscape would take very little work to maintain, I splurged on the look.

DSC_6250My clients did decide on four Jackie boxes from Branch-2 rectangles, and two squares. The area between the box and the front wall was planted with white tulips, and will have annuals in the summer. The area underneath the window was planted with white variegated hosta.

DSC_6028The look coming up the walk-simple, but lush. The house has particularly beautiful architectural details.  The landscape will never obscure any of those.

beautiful-stonework.jpgThe area in front of the wall will be planted in the spring.  Either a low sun tolerant ground cover, or perennial-or mix of perennials.  A low wall is a challenge to work with.  While the base of it needs softening, a beautiful wall should be visible.  I have a few months to think that through.

LH winter 2014 (24)We did have time to squeeze in some winter pots. It is a little tough to see in the photograph, but the rectangular bvoxes sit on decomposed granite, for ease of maintenance.  I would not object however, to alyssum growing in the gravel.

DSC_6262Part 2 is set to come next year. But for now, the front of the house is entirely presentable.




  1. What an interesting project. I love the discussion of maintenance levels of gardens fitting the needs of the homeowners. These are my favorite kinds of posts on your blog, those that follow and explain the process. I bet the homeowners are very happy with the progress so far.

  2. Wow. Interesting tutorial on design elements. Although I will never live in Michigan nor have such a grand home, it is fascinating to me how it’s done and the thought process involved. Please continue to educate us

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear JoAnne, good design practices apply no matter the home and property. I will never have a house like this either, but I think my small landscape is well designed. Thanks, Deborah

  3. Leigh Greener says

    Debra – I love how full this looks even though immature. I have a garden design business in Virginia and I am curious about your use of yews. Are these greenwave? I have so many issues when I plant multiple yews here in Virginia. We lose them randomly. Drainage is usually an issue but some thrive and others do not in the same location. Do you do any particular preparation when you plan in masses like this? Thank you for your imput! Leigh Greener

    • Deborah Silver says

      Leigh, these are straight densiformis. When yews die, too much water is usually to blame. They are easy as pie to grow, provided water does not sit on them. I am also fussy about where my yews come from. My supplier carries yews grown at Fairview Nursery-their plants are first rate. best, Deborah

  4. Love those Jackie boxes!

  5. Deborah I love how you shaped the design of this landscape. Typically, you will see a lot of people going for the round or oval look. Instead, you went for the rectangular shapes. I think that this gives the area a sort of depth that would have been lost otherwise. And when those dogwoods grow, they will be beautiful.

  6. What a great post! Thank you for sharing!

  7. Annie Shultz says

    I am 70 and wheelchair bound and would just love a garden but instead really enjoy reading your very interesting posts – thank you my dear

  8. I love your posts, Deborah. Especially since the “winter blues” are setting in as I count the days until spring. It is so interesting to hear your thought processes for planning a new garden space. The “before and after” pictures and your drawing show how much planning and thought goes into each of your designs. You’ve given me some ideas for my garden. Thank you!

  9. Love your ideas, Deborah! Thank you so much for sharing your Landscape Gardening tutorials. I always learn, and I enjoy the conversational way you write.

  10. What a gorgeous home now with amazing landscape to match. Beautiful job as usual!

  11. Fun to ‘read’ the plan & installation so far. Knowing exactly whence the curved step came from.

    And, your ‘process’, “I have a few months to think that through.”

    Was recently asked, on a site with acreage, to place flags for new trees. The plan was not completed told her I needed to complete the plan, let her peruse it, tweak, then place flags. Owner was miffed. Received email the next day, she fired me.

    Best, yes? Yes !!!

    Feels good to have 3+ decades of experience & know my skills/talents are not for every one. Nor to misuse my skills/talent and not honor my muse.

    Enjoy watching you in relationship with your skills/talent/muse.

    Great vanishing threshold with this garden. Would like to see views from inside, to outside, when you’re done.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Tara, a good relationship with a client depends on being able to generate and feel a rapport. That doesn’t always happen. Better to find that out at the first rather than down the road when there is time, work and money between you. good to hear from you, Deborah

  12. Deborah, Thanks for all the great information. I love the way you explain step by step along with large, easy to see images. Very informative, I’ll be back for sure.

  13. Simple, understated and elegant. You can tell a lot of thought went into this. Let’s hope the beauty of this design doesn’t get blurred with superfluous mixed flower beds, for instance. That would really be a distraction. Nice work, as always!

  14. peter owen says

    Hi there Deborah.

    Fantastic job! Was curious with the mass planted yews how they are to be maintained.

  15. I’m always embarrassed to even offer suggestions on your blog, as it’s a little like offering Martha Stewart a recipe…but I just had to chime in that I think lavender would be so stunning planted beneath that low wall! And would be so perfect with that house! I have a low wall like that and tried to plant lavender around it, but have the opposite problem as it’s simply too shaded and wet. I knew that when I planted it, but had to try anyway!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Stephen, you are so funny! Lavender doesn’t do well for us, as our soil is such heavy clay. But the look would be great-I agree. Thanks, Deborah

  16. Deborah, your work never ceases to amaze me! Your unique style has truly inspired me! I just wanted to thank you for sharing your amazing creations! You are the BEST!!! 🙂


  17. I love what you do! I moved from a very small garden that I created by myself to a very large dream yard, but I am dealing with taking the former owner’s vision and making it my own…You are my inspiration: I love your bold and elegant landscape designs! When I am over thinking my yard ideas, I keep myself in check by visiting your site.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Alexandra, happy to oblige. This blog is meant to reach gardeners who are out their working through all the issues-with another point of view. That you allow yourself to be challenged and inspired is 2/3rds of the work. all the best, Deborah

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