Part 2: The Landscape

October 31 2015 022The previous owners of this property had done some work on the landscape. Notable were the evergreens planted one after another, in zig zag rows, on the long sides of the lot. I understand the need to create privacy, but that can be accomplished in a number of ways, not all of which involve a wall. The problem with rows of screening trees on a narrow lot is that they can make the property feel boxed in. There is no opportunity to borrow beautiful views from the landscapes beyond that evergreen wall. This landscape would have to generate a sense of depth from these arbitrary edges in. A design beginning with the perimeter trees that would move in varying degrees towards the center of the property seemed appropriate. That center was the driveway, which curves multiple times before it reaches the house. The distance from the road to the house was considerable. I wanted to offer any guest a chance to slow down and enjoy the view. My client was interested in a park like landscape that would feature a group of unusual or specimen trees. We were in agreement about a landscape concept. We began by transplanting a group of maples that had been dotted along the drive to the street side of the property.

October 9, 2015 047From the driveway, this massed group of red maples will define the eastern front edge of the property in a non linear way.  The maple in the left  foreground of this picture was eventually moved into that grouping.  It will be replaced by one of a pair of large caliper London Plane trees to be planted this spring that will flank the driveway.  The stakes in the pachysandra indicate homes for three new Norway spruce.

November 21 2015 025The long driveway culminates in a drive court immediately adjacent to the house. I did opt for a more formal and contemporary landscape here. This is a very contemporary house that I felt would benefit from masses and architectural shapes created by just a few species of plants. I did detail in a post last fall the planting of 15 pinus flexilis “Vanderwolf’s” and 18 pinus flexilis “Joe Burke”. The flexible pines we planted to screen a large generator, and provide screening to a lot line that came within 6′ of the drive court. All of the large evergreens in this picture are on a neighboring property. Our plantings are all under 12 feet tall.  Generous numbers of boxwood “Green Gem, the columnar taxus “Nova”, and taxus cuspidata spreaders would fill out the landscape.

November 21 2015 019 The round center island was planted in spreading taxus capitata, 24″, 30″ and 36″ tall.  The tall yews were planted on the perimeter, and the shortest group in the center. The whirling rhythm of all of those descending taxus branches was all about sculpture. Standing on the porch, there is a view to the distant landscape.

December 5 2015 062 - CopyVery late this past December, I drove over to take a look. Standing at the gate, a sizable tricolor beech is central to the view.  The old and thinning Norway spruce to the right-I could not bring myself to take this old tree down. Big and old, and of considerable scale is beautiful. Plants with age so greatly endow any landscape. A landscape with old trees is weighted, and can anchor new plantings. I planted a row of tall and massive American arborvitae in a large curve behind that old spruce. This adds a lot of green weight to the old spruce at the ground level. While the driveway angles sharply to the right, this simple collection of plants holds the eye. The leading edge of another old Norway spruce in the right foreground of this picture directs the eye into the composition.

December 5 2015 063The view from inside the gate pleases me. The new drive swoops right, and then left.  From the gate, the presentation of the house is all about a suggestion posited by the roof lines. The house sits down in the landscape.To the right of the drive, a single large columnar sweet gum answers the more substantial planting on the opposite side. Visually successful driveways appear as though the garden came first, and the driveway second.

December 5 2015 060The American arborvitae were planted rather high, and the ground in front was graded down to a drain. This view to the house is circumspect. This grouping of trees provides interest in the mid ground space, and partially screens the upper portion of the property from the road.

mud and guts (25)Three of the big beech we planted are seen in this view. 2 on the right of the drive, and one on the left. The spruce in the center back of this picture were existing, as were the evergreens planted near the lot lines on both sides of the drive. Bringing the landscape closer to the drive in select spots creates visual interest.  The rolling of the ground down to the drive is equally as interesting.

mud and guts (24)Halfway up the drive, the house is still only partially within view.  The roof lines are low and wide. I greatly admire how the house was sited. This was an architect who gave as much thought to how the house would sit, as its architectural quality.


mud and guts (6)Near the house, the driveway forks.  Right, for service.  Left, for company. The large evergreens to the left in this picture belong to the neighbor.  Here, we are borrowing views from an adjacent property. The low dome of grass in the middle of this picture, and grass sloping gently to the center on either side, sets the stage for the drive court garden. A large European green beech was planted in from of a group of three spruce.

December 5 2015 059 - CopyOn the right side of the driveway, we added a fastigiate hornbeam, a large multi-trunked kousa dogwood, several columnar Norway spruce, and a columnar Colorado blue spruce. Barely visible behind the beech is a gingko. I rarely plant blue needled evergreens in the landscape, unless there is an opportunity for them to be viewed at a distance. Blue needles up close can be a little jarring. But there was plenty of blue, suggested by the drive, and the flexible pines.

December 5 2015 050 - CopyAt the top of the drive, we added 3 large Serbian spruce. In the middle, a blue needled columnar Colorado spruce.  At the far right in this picture, the bluest of the blue needled evergreens, a Canadian white concolor fir – abies concolor “candicans”. There is a second white fir, on the opposite side of the drive.

mud and guts (21)The view from the front door is all evergreen. This is Michigan.  We have as many winter months as we have growing months. The idea was to install a landscape that would look good every month of the year, and be relatively low maintenance.

mud and guts (22)the taxus capitata spreader vortex, in a frosty winter state

December 2015 278The walk from the garage to the drive court.

mud and guts (2)The masses of boxwood on either side of this walk from the drive court to the garage sink the walk down. It is not visible at all, coming up the drive. As this is a service walk, I preferred that it not be prominent in the landscape.

December 5 2015 043 - Copyview from the service walk towards the road


December 5 2015 028The hedge of Hicks yews were moved here from the front of the house. At the left end, a columnar mugho pine. The deciduous trees are katsura, and gingko.

December 5 2015 031the drive court

December 5 2015 025looking across the service drive

mud and guts (4)view from the service drive

mud and guts (7)The landscape views going down the drive are so much different than what is seen on the way up. Only one columnar sweet gum is part of the view going up.  Going down, it is possible to spot the other one on the right side of the drive. There was plenty to see, despite the winter.




  1. debra phillips says

    your visions and your prose combine to create a magical environment. thank you for bringing us on this journey

  2. What an intelligent way to put down evergreens
    It looks beautiful like an artists painting

  3. I feel like a pest, but could you label the plants in the pictures? I am a plant geek, especially trees, shrubs and well, everything! I am trying to pick things out that you have talked about, but in some of the pics, I can’t figure out what’s what with the evergreens. If and when you have time; I know it’s an extremely busy time of year. Thanks so much for all your answers.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Karen, this post is more about the design than individual plants. If you google image the plant names from the text of the post, you will get all kinds of pictures. best, Deborah

  4. Maria Killam says

    Simply beautiful! Love the evergreens! Maria

  5. Jude Irwin says

    Nice design. But, for me, there would need to be at least a few spots of winter colour – the vivid stems of cornus alba, perhaps, or some shrubs with vivid berries. Modern or not, this looks a bit too…sombre.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Jude, the landscape would look far less sombre on a summer day. We do plan to plant shrubs, perennials, grasses and groundcovers in the rear yard this spring. best, Deborah

  6. It is a special day when I have one of your design posts to read. I spent a couple weeks, last year, reading every last post on your blog. Inspiring and educational is an understatement. Thank you so much!

  7. Rob Beebe says

    Here’s a landscape where I sense musicality. All those growing things in their variety, sometimes in dense repeating patterns, then sometimes with only sparse irregular planting, and then flowing out into very open spaces: such a nice variety of rhythmic patterns . I do like it!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Rob, so happy for your comment. You have put your finger on what was in my mind about this landscape. all the best, Deborah

  8. I love the use of all the evergreen material. Nice job on the hardscape also. Keep up the great work Deborah!

  9. Deb Reilly says

    Hi Deborah,

    Could you expound on why blue needled evergreens are jarring. I was thinking of adding one to my front landscape but now wonder if I should. I have one white pine out there that is quite old and assorted shrubs and grasses. I just lost a broom and was thinking about replacing it with a dwarf blue spruce. Thanks in advance for your reply. By the way, gorgeous work, a true artist and I felt your pain last post with the mud. Well worth all the trouble. I do hope you will show this work in other seasons. deb

  10. Love the feel of this garden. The evergreens are beautiful and there is a big soft spot in my heart for boxwoods. The more the merrier! It’s a happy day when I see there is a post from you. You have a fabulous eye for garden design and I try and gleam what I can. Wish you were close to me. Thank you for taking the time to post!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Ashley, we planted close to 800 15″ boxwood here. They are a tall ground cover in this landscape. As slow growing as they are, they will never over grow their space. I am so looking forward to this first spring and summer season. We have loads of work yet to do, but the big work is done. Best to you, Deborah

  11. Very architectural. Love the shapes of the plantings and the driveway. Spectacular. Complementary. Nothing takes away from anything. Nothing competes. Wonderful views. Placement is outstanding. Great example of “what can be done.” Thank you for posting.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Susan, I appreciate every word of your comment-thank you. “Nothing takes away from anything. Nothing competes.” I so hope this landscape achieves this. best, Deborah

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