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.
I walk by this wall whenever I walk to the post office in downtown Culpeper. Walls like this are pretty common in older neighborhoods like mine. Leaning and generally unhappy walls are, sadly, pretty common as well. So what gives? Why do these walls look like they’re ready to flop over on the sidewalk?
There are several possible explanations. The first is insufficient footer, or failure to tie the wall in with the footer. When building a masonry retaining wall in Virginia you generally want to dig down 24″ below grade, so you’re below the frost line. You then pour a beefy footer (thickness varies depending on application), often with rebar coming up from the footer to tie the wall to the footer. Our home was built in 1906 and renovated in the 1950s, and I can tell you with certainty that there was not a lot of digging to frost depth being done way back then.
Another possibility is insufficient drainage behind the wall. Water is a wall’s worst enemy. Hydrostatic pressure is a major cause of wall failure. The way we avoid a buildup of pressure is by using a “drainage chimney” of clean gravel behind the wall, along with periodic weep holes.
What makes this wall great for illustrative purposes is the fact that the wall likely started to fail because of hydrostatic pressure (water buildup behind the wall). This pushed the top of the wall forward, creating a gap between the wall and the slab. What’s right above the slab? Downspouts! So not only do we have a gap, we’re pouring gallons upon gallons of water behind the wall with every storm. Awesome.
So how would I fix this wall? I think we’re beyond the point of fixing something like this, and it needs to come out. Improper construction is hard to correct, and when it gets this bad – there’s no Band-Aid big enough.
We often think of shapes as two-dimensional: squares, rectangles, circles, and triangles. This isn’t how we perceive them in the landscape, however. We see them in three dimensions, like cubes, spheres, and cones. Shape (or form) in the landscape can even dictate how a space feels.
This is a backyard I did for a client in Phoenix, Arizona (sorry, pygmy date palms aren’t going to work in your McLean landscape design). As you can see the shapes are all sinuous curves with nary a straight line in sight. This gives the yard a much more casual, relaxed feel.
Here, you see a lot more angularity of design. This house is a very dominating, simple, rectangular shape, so it made sense to carry those lines all the way to the street. In so doing, you can see we also used the principle of unity (part of harmony). It all ties together!
Part of the reason that I think it’s important to discuss shape in the landscape is that I see a lot of folks forgetting that the shape of their home is a dominant part of the design. Everyone wants flowing curves on everything. Well, I wish I could wear a paisley suit jacket, but I’ll never be able to rock that look. Such is life.
Unless your home was designed by Frank Gehry (or you live in an igloo), your home is a box. Or it’s a grouping of a few boxes. Regardless, the dominant form is rectilinear. That doesn’t mean that you’re limited to a simple rectangular patio, for example.
In the photo above, the house is a massive, two and a half story brick edifice. The client initially wanted big sweeping curves on the patio. I tried, but nothing worked. It was as wrong as sticking a trucker cap on the Queen of England’s head. So, we did a stepped edge on the patio to break up the profile and allowed all the plant beds to swoop and curve and blend the landscape design into the woods. The design finally worked, and what’s even better – the client loves it.
Shape’s fun to play with. It’s one of my favorite parts of landscape design.
My name is Dave Marciniak and I hate Leyland Cypress. It’s unattractive before it fills out, it’s no prize once it does fill out, it gets way too big (30′ wide and 50-60’+ tall) for the suburban lots on which they’re planted, and bagworms consider them a tasty snack.
I’ll admit that Leylands are, in part, an easy target for my ire because they’re often used in a really boring manner. I get that you have an unattractive view you’re trying to screen, but lining up as many of a single plant as you can plop in the ground is just boring. Emerald Green Arborvitae is another plant used this way.
See? One more reason not to browse the web on your phone while driving – you might have just fallen asleep and wrecked your car, thanks to this photo.
It’s the same problem at any scale. Our friends over at a local winery wanted to put up an evergreen screen along an edge of their property that they may end up sharing with some new neighbors. Can’t say that I blame them. Who would want to give up a view like this?
Anyhow, a local nursery recommended throwing a row of White Pines across the property line. Yawn. You’re a nursery, do better! So I developed this plan for them:
Let’s look at each plant I used here:
1- Cryptomeria japonica ‘Yoshino’: I’ve talked about this one before, as it’s a favorite. With an eventual height of 30-40 feet and a spread of 12-20 feet, it’s a well-behaved tree that will hide a multitude of sins in the neighbor’s yard. It’s a quick grower, too.
2- Black Pine: A tougher pine than the common builder’s favorite, white pine, the black pine will easily grow to 20-30 feet or more, with a similar spread.
3- Deodar Cedar: Bluish-green foliage and a height of around 50 feet make this tree an interesting specimen to mix into an evergreen screen.
4- American Arborvitae: this is a great choice for narrow locations too. Overall height ends up around 25-40 feet, with a spread of 10-15 feet.
5- Kwanzan Cherry: Now wait, you say, this isn’t an evergreen! And that’s true. Part of eliminating a problem view is blocking it; but another component is misdirection. When these trees get covered in their gorgeous pink blooms in springtime, no one’s going to be looking at what’s beyond.
6- Maple: We actually used a Commemoration Sugar Maple, which gets a great blaze orange color in the fall. At 50 feet tall and 40 feet wide, this will be another great foreground tree throughout most of the year. These and the cherries allowed us to create a layered planting, which makes it look more like a farm windbreak and less like a suburban “hide the neighbors” screen.
The bottom line is that just because you have something you want to hide from view doesn’t mean that the best way to do it is with a single, straight soldier row of the same boring plant. Play with texture, play with color, and use some tricks that not only block the view but give the eye a reason to look somewhere else.
Unsure of where to start? Give me a call or email to set up a consultation, and I’ll help you get started.
Green Giant Arborvitae are another great alternative to Leyland trash trees!
No quick hit and run posts with him. You want to know about pieris? Oh, he’ll tell you about pieris. It’s a blog with lots of great photos and plant info, probably more info than you were looking for. But wow- check it out!