Fredericksburg Pool, Patio & Pergola Design

This week I stopped off to check in with a landscape design client in Fredericksburg, Virginia. This is probably one of my favorite projects of the year. I’ll do a more comprehensive post (showing plan and elevation drawings, etc)  in a couple of weeks when a few more details are completed, but I was too excited to wait.

The architect responsible for the addition figured out the orientation of a pool and the upper patio, and I ran with it from there. The homeowners were an absolute blast to work with, too.

The pergola is cedar, and was fabricated by The Cedar Store and assembled by the poolbuilder.

It makes for a pretty sweet outdoor space.

The plantings are still “too young for prime time” but it won’t take long till they look great. Give it a couple of years and this will be a swoon-worthy garden! Plantings were completed by Stadler Nurseries.



Formal Water Features in Landscape Design

Sometimes you want to wear flip flops and shorts, and sometimes you want to rock a more classic look. Formal water features never go out of style!

Gene Kelly is ALWAY classy.

Your garden feels the same way. How about some formal fountain ideas?

formal water features

Here’s a classic fountain. Concrete basin, carved stone or precast coping, and a statue. Very old school formal.

formal water features

The formal geometry of this fountain gives it formality. So does the way it sits in a very formal geometrically laid out garden, which unfortunately doesn’t really show in this photo.

formal water features

Reflecting pools? Almost always formal. This one sure is.

Don’t think that you have to live on a palatial estate with some grand home with turrets and a mansard roof to pull off a formal water feature. A formal fountain can be a great way of pulling some of the structure of the house way out into the garden. We design custom water features for our clients (like this Oakton Virginia water feature!) but you can also get a great deal on a fountain or water feature here. This is an affiliate link; I may get a commission if you buy from them. 


Wildlife and Water Features

One of the benefits of having a water feature is that it will become the cool watering hole for the neighborhood critters. I’m working with a landscape design client in northern Fauquier County to rejuvenate the existing decades-old landscape, and one of the assets I have to work with is a small water feature adjacent to the back patio.

As you can see, it’s really overgrown (but look at that Hakonechloa. Look at it!!!) but the local fauna still love it.

This cute little fella was hanging out and enjoying the warm sunshine. Yes, you will likely get the occasional snake around your pond. There’s water, abundant food, and big flat rocks on which to sun themselves. It’s ok, they’re no more interested in you than you are in them.

This little guy was chilling with a few of his friends. If you have a shallow, relatively still section of water you’ll create a great hangout for birds to bathe, and I’ve seen deer and foxes coming right up to backyard ponds. As we build out and slap houses on more and more habitat, we’re doing a good thing by creating little pockets like this for wildlife.

Using Dry Stream Beds for Drainage

Here in Virginia we have clay soils that don’t drain particularly well. We also get a fair bit of rainfall. When new subdivisions are built, especially in northern Virginia, the county-mandated drainage plan often moves water through everyone’s backyards towards a county storm drain. If you have a newer home, you may even have a legally designated stormwater easement on your survey plat.

What this means is that for many homeowners, you’re likely to have a fair bit of water moving through your yard during a storm event. When you moved in, the builder had probably sodded your backyard, and well-established grass stands up reasonably well to a decent volume of water moving across it.

Sometimes grass isn’t an option, though. Maybe trees have grown up and grass will no longer grow, and you’re experiencing erosion. Maybe your new patio or plant beds mean that water needs to be diverted. Or, as was the case for these folks, the slope was so steep that keeping the grass cut was a miserable experience.

So, the decision was made to turn the area in front of the downhill fence into a planting bed. Having all your mulch washed into a pile against the fence is never fun, so I looked at where the swale was most pronounced – this is where the water was flowing – and built a dry creek bed to carry the water.

We also used a number of plants to help hold the slope, including winter jasmine, cotoneaster, and pachysandra. As the birch trees grow up and fill out, this will be a nice little oasis in suburbia.

Fighting nature is hard. Working with it – whenever you can – is the better choice.


What Landscape Work Can Be Done in Fall and Winter?

I get this question a lot this time of year. I get my fall rush once the kids are back in school, it takes a few weeks to get through the design process, and suddenly we’re just past Halloween. Is it too late? It depends on what you’re doing.


Woody trees and shrubs can be planted almost year-round in Virginia. With the exception of last winter, I’ve had plants go in – and do well – all winter long. As long as the ground isn’t too hard for us to get a pick and shovel in, we can plant woody trees and shrubs. Perennials are another matter. They are generally too delicate to plant after about November 1st, because we’re pretty certain to get a hard frost after that point. I did a post a while back that talks about safe frost dates for northern Virginia.


Most asphalt companies in Virginia shut down sometime in December, and open up again in April. If we’re redesigning a driveway, we need to keep this in mind.

Concrete & Mortar

Concrete is going to be the happiest when the nighttime temperatures stay above freezing. That’s not to say that concrete work shuts down for the winter. On cold days, my masons have set up tents with propane heaters and laid stone all day long in t-shirts. At night, thermal blankets can be placed on flatwork to keep the temperatures high enough. Pointing up and cleaning can get slowed down a bit because the concrete stays “green” longer, but that’s not a problem as long as the mason knows what s/he is doing.


Pavers (and segmental retaining walls) can be tricky in the winter. The problem happens when you have a significant amount of rain, sleet, or snow on the base or sub-base. If this moisture is allowed to freeze, you can have long-term settling problems. The solution is to keep the area as dry as possible, and use thermal blankets or other means to keep the base material from freezing. Again, the work can be accomplished in the winter, it just requires a knowledgeable contractor.

Ponds and Waterfalls

These can certainly be installed in the winter, but temperatures below freezing can make working with water less fun than on a sunny, 70 degree afternoon.

Decks, Porches, Pergolas

As long as snow’s not a problem, these can be built all year long

And what if you’re just starting to think about the design process? Winter is a great time to start the design process. I’m currently booking December and January projects. If you have a project you’d like to start planning, send me an email and let’s get started!

Pondbuilding Basics

Cross Section of Pond

Looking to build a pond? That’s a great idea. There’s a whole industry that’s grown up around residential backyard ponds over the last decade, so it’s easier than ever to get your hands on quality components. The basic steps are the same as they’ve always been: dig a hole, make the hole hold water, install a pump and filter, and fill with water.

How deep should you go? It depends on a variety of factors, but generally you don’t want to go too shallow. If you’re planning on having fish, 24 inches is a good depth. If you want to have fancy fish like koi and you want to overwinter them in your pond, 30 inches is about the minimum depth here in Virginia. However, you need to be aware that in many localities anything over 24 inches deep is considered a pool, and you’ll be required to provide a barrier fence around the pond. The illustration above shows a pond with planting shelves, which is a common way of building a pond. Not only does it provide a place for marginal plants, it makes it easier for you and any critters that may jump or fall in to get back out.

The most common means of keeping water in the hole is to use a rubber liner. What I’ve found to work really well is to use a layer of sand, then an underlayment (fabric layer), and then lay in the rubber liner. Rubber liners give you way more flexibility than the hard plastic shells you see at many big box stores, and provide a much more natural appearance.

Your pump and filter are critical to the installation. Not only do you want to make certain that you’re using the best quality pump and filter, they need to be sized appropriately for the amount of water you’re turning over. I recommend avoiding the big box stores, and buying your pump and filter (and other components) from a reputable store that specializes in pond components. Even with the shipping costs, my preferred pond and water garden store is Tranquil Water Gardens. Yes, the owner just so happens to be my brother, but I go for knowledge and value first- so should you.

The last step, filling it with water, is the easiest, but it’s not even worth it if you haven’t planned and shopped appropriately. If all goes well, you can have a beautiful pond like the one I designed for a client in Fairfax County:

pond and waterfall