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Case Study: Virginia Landscape Design with Native Plants


Several months ago I got a call to do a Bristow landscape design project (for those not in the know, Bristow is a little town in Prince William County, Virginia). The client, Janice, wanted to take the boring expanse of soggy grass in her backyard and create a space that would be welcoming to her and to wildlife.


As you can see it was  a pretty bleak setting, even ignoring the late winter blah-ness of the day I took these photos. The back “landscaping” consisted mostly of lawn and a stand of trees that the builder preserved. Everything weak and damaged had long since been removed, leaving a large oak and a number of cedar trees.


We also faced the challenge of a poorly drained backyard. You can see in the picture here that there’s a low spot at the sundial, causing water to pool and not drain away. Additionally, the raised bed in the back corner prevents water from exiting at the lowest corner of the yard. We didn’t realize it till we started digging but the previous homeowner added one more drainage challenge: the downspouts on the back of the house ran into 4″ corrugated drainpipe that joined together and ended, just under the ground, right at the sundial. It was a mess.

Creating a low maintenance landscape plan and layout with native plants

Janice wanted lush, beautiful plantings and was realistic about the work that entails, but I still wanted to make this a garden that could be maintained without obsessive levels of effort. To accomplish this I decided not to make the entire backyard one big garden bed. Instead, I kept portions of the lawn intact to serve as easily maintained pathways around the planting areas.


I also changed the topography of the site. The far back corner, where we’d remove the planter, would be raised up just a bit to push water to a swale. Similarly, we’d add several yards of topsoil to the bed in the center of the former lawn area to help move water to the back of the property.


Janice requested that I use more native plants than non-natives. It meant striking a bit of a balance between natives and plants that weren’t native, but that I could be confident would do well here. After all. I knew there would be some spots that would stay wet. A Sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) was a native focal point in the central bed, and we included other moisture-loving natives like inkberry holly (Ilex glabra), Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), and winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata).

The finished Virginia native plants landscape design


Just a few short months after installation, you can see how well everything is filling in. We’ll be checking in on this project from time to time as we make small changes. No landscape is 100% finished at installation. Because plants are always growing and changing, we need to help steer things in the right direction – but mostly we’ll get out of the way and let Nature do her thing.


One Comment

    March 27, 2021 REPLY

    I love this garden!! What are the dimensions?

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