The steep slope along both sides of this home really restricted access to the back yard. That plus the fact that the deep shade that covered the area most of the day made for quite a “slippery slope” when it rained. We built timber framed steps and put in a datk blue dresser trap rock inside the frame. In order to keep any soil or gravel from washing out through the bottom of the timber on to the next step down,we installed a weep barrier (usually of 2×6 treated wood) right underneath each timber step.
The upper lawn originally started to slope down hill at about the corner of the house, where it turned in to weeds and brambles. Our client wanted to neaten up the area and extend the yard, so we brought in several loads of good black dirt and extended the lawn about 230 feet where we constructed a boulder wall where it dropped off.
Almost done with the wall
After opening up their back yard to accommodate a new deck, patio and future hot tub, some wall construction was in order. This home is located in the country, and the the field stone pictured here occurs naturally in the area, so it fit the bill nicely. We always like to use materials that are native to the area if we can.
On walls of this size, I like to use stones that are consistent in size and install them with the flat side out. Although it takes longer to construct, I it gives the wall a more “hand crafted”, quality look.
The wall is backed by a thick layer of felt-like material , which both keeps the soil from settling and the face of the wall clean. Behind the felt is a 12″ layer of gravel that drains the water to prevent water pressure from building up (possibly pushing the wall out), and down to a drain tile that empties out at the end of the wall and flows downhill, away from the house.
New house, steep slope
Fill for the new parking
A spot to park a third car. An easier way to get from the upper side deck down to the back yard. Less mowing on the steepslope along the side of the house. All three conditions were issues that were addressed for these homeowners in their newly built country home. We started the process by hauling in fill to create level spot for the extra parking. We then used brick pavers to construct a landing next to the upper deck and walkway along the side of the garage. We then installed a timber framed step system with three landings, which fit the contour of the hill, and also provided “resting” places. with the intent of putting a small wooden bench on the larger landing. The owner had a pile of field stone from the basement excavation, so we recycled them and constructed some low boulder retaining walls which also serve as planters. We also installed another larger wall (not pictured) to support the raised grade along the garage for the parking space. We decided to make the newly leveled area larger than was needed to park a car, in order to plant shrubs, perennials, and a Japanese tree lilac to visually soften things up and “anchor” the wall.
A while back I drew up a landscape plan for Emmaus church after they had constructed a new addition to accommodate their growing congregation. The plan included birch and crabapple trees, shrubs, a paver patio, and flower beds for several varieties of annuals and perennials. Grove Landscaping crews did the heavy machine work, patio construction, and planted the larger trees (clump birch and crabapples). A church day was scheduled to install the remainder of the plan. Several volunteers showed up that Saturday and did a great job of finishing the landscaping. They planted the shrubs, laid sod, installed a drain tile along the parking lot and in the back yard, pruned, planted annuals and perennials, moved a large boulder, and spread shredded bark. It was finished in one day, which shows you how hard everyone worked!
Yellow leaves can be a sign of iron deficiency. Chlorosis is a common problem of many acid loving trees and shrubs in Minnesota, particularly in urban areas. Chlorosis is caused by a lack of micronutrients, resulting in the inability of the plant to produce chlorophyll, which is essential to the plant’s survival. It can cause the decline of the plant and eventually its’ death. The leaves show the first signs of chlorosis, which will start to turn a pale green or light yellow. It will start out in blotches, progressing to a bright yellow and spreading to the whole leaf, except the veins.
The plant that gets the most attention concerning this problem is the Pin Oak. It is commonly found in trees improperly planted in heavy clay or poorly drained soils which lock up the micronutrients, most commonly iron. The lack of magnesium, zinc, or copper can also cause the same symptoms. Construction damage is also a common cause due to soil compaction and root damage.
Chlorosis is a sign that something is wrong underneath the ground, and not in the leaves. . Planting the tree in the right spot is the best “cure” The soil should be acid, in the ph range of 5-6.5. Avoid planting the Eastern strain of Pin Oak. The northern pin oak is more resistant to chlorosis.
If doing a new construction project, make sure the roots are protected against compaction or damage.
The soil can be acidified, but not all at once. Drill a hole about 2’ apart and 18” deep, and fill it with a mix of soil sulpher and sand. You will need to repeat this treatment in the spring and fall, continuing the treatment even after the leaves regain their normal color, because the sulpher can leach through the soil.
Spraying the leaves with an iron chelate solution will give the leaves a quick green-up, but is not a good long term solution because it doesn’t address the real problem, which is in the soil.
A low flagstone wall enclosing a raised planting bed seemed to be a natural fit as I considered options for for front of this home. The height of the front porch and concrete steps leading up to it made the front entrance look heavy and imposing, and needed some toning down. The lower wall comes out 6-7 feet beyond the steps to help push them visually back, helping to minimize their size. We chose to leave the
existing flowering crab, which gave us a chance to leave it on the lower level and have its own small space. We also integrated two large flat stones into the wall to add some points of interest. A magnolia on the far corner of the house helps balance off the crab tree. Because of the raised grade, we found it necessary to install window wells as needed for the basement windows. The area under the crabapple and along the driveway will be planted with low ground covers
Before we could landscape the back of this home on a corner lot, we had to solve a drainage problem due to inadequate sloping for channeling rain water away from the foundation, and a heavy clay soil resulting in poor drainage. We installed catch basins at the bottom of the two downspouts at both corners of the house, and used non-perforated drain tile to carry excess water away from the foundation to a point about half way to the back property line, where it exited onto the back half of the lawn and continued on the surface to a common swale that ran between the two properties. We were then able to begin our landscaping.
In addition to planting along the foundation I planned in two berms at each of the two property corners, plus the berm you see pictured here, which I decided to sweep out and around an existing red maple tree. When the plants mature, this berm will do a good job of the tall corner and with it’s steeply pitched roof .We included a small clump magnolia tree, native-style grasses, butterfly bushes (Asclepias), yellow coneflowers, and ground cover. A large glacial boulder was included for added interest. The plywood is one of two “plywood paths” that we laid down to protect the lawn from the loader tracks we used when placing the large stone.
Normally we build ponds and waterfalls for the enjoyment of our more “civilized” customers. In other words, humans.
Boulders, sand and liner
This project, however, was built less for civilized folk than it was for the wildlife that inhabited the rolling hills around this country home built by Northfield Construction. After finalizing the shape of the pond we covered it with a liner that is made for ponds and water features. We then had mason sand and over 60 tons of glacial boulders hauled in to spread over the liner. As organic matter accumulates in the sand it will support plant life, which in turn will play a role in creating a healthy ecosystem within the pond itself. The sand also helps protect the liner if the local deer decide they want to wade in a ways for a short drink.
A sandy access to the pond
Ground covers are making themselves at home around a flagstone pathway as it makes its way to the gate at the far end of the garden. We needed to fit this garden between the house and nearby driveway (out of view to the left of the picture). A picket fence and some large arborvitae trunks outside of the fence form an “outdoor room” and also separate the driveway from the garden.
We used ajuga, lamiastrum,and lamium for the ground covers, along with some hostas that we recycled from from her garden in the back yard. We also made use of ,grasses, annual geraniums, and perennial salvia. In the front left corner you can see part of a bird feeding station that is visible form the kitchen.
I designed an entrance that used that brick pavers to lead through a gated picket fence to make a nice lead-in to the back entrance, which was recently added on to the house.
After you come through the gate, the garden is on your left. A trellis placed at the corner will have a clematis growing on it to soften the abruptness of the deck meeting the corner of the house.
Designing and landscaping small spaces is one of my favorite things to do. I tend be be somewhat of a private person myself, so I enjoy creating intimate, private spaces. There is something therapeutic about being outside, yet having that feeling that you are still “in your room”. Sort of like relaxing in your den or your favorite chair after a long day. There are a lot of things to consider when landscaping a small space, but I will hit a few of the basics
A well designed space can be the difference between actually enjoying spending time in the space, or just looking at it from your window, wishing you would have spent your money on that new hardwood floor. .
The first thing to do is to ask yourself some questions. Don’t forget to consider practicality as well as esthetics.”What am I going to use the area for? Entertaining? Do I just need a place to put my grill or do I also want room for patio furniture and a hot tub?” Questions like this will help you determine the size, the location (a grill would normally be close to the kitchen, for example) and how you will access it. What features would you like to see? How about a water feature, such as a pond or bubbling rock? Do you want a paver patio, a deck, or just a small area of grass? If you need a walkway will it be flagstone, pavers, or any of the new concrete products available? In the photo above, the large piece of flagstone to the right of the sidewalk will be where the grill goes. The two large boulders integrated into the sidewalk and the flower pots do nice job of framing the door to the three season porch.
Just like a room in your house, your outdoor room also has walls, a floor, and a ceiling. The walls could be a hedge, your house, a fence, or even a low flagstone wall. The ceiling could be an arbor, the canopy of a large tree, or even the sky. The floor, can be composed of any number of things, including a patio, a walkway, planting beds and even your lawn. Consider how you want to incorporate these elements in to your space to create your outdoor room. In the job we did in photo at the left, the walls are a lattice fence, the house, and a small detached garage. The sky is the canopy of a shade tree, and the floor is combination of a paver patio, a raised planting bed, some lawn, and a flagstone walkway. The raised planting bed could also be considered part of the wall. (Click on photo to enlarge)
Don’t be afraid to consider breaking up your room into into smaller segments. This can create interest and also give you the feeling that it is actually a bit larger by creating depth. Make sure you keep it in scale, however. For instance, don’t use pieces of flagstone in your walkway that are too large, or a plant that that has large leaves instead of one with
a finer texture that will look better in a narrow planting bed. In these photos I used a walkway, raised planting beds, and a small patch of lawn to break up the space. The lattice fence screens the area from a neighboring daycare center. The lattice-work creates privacy without feeling too boxed in.
In the lower left photo, the boulder in the foreground and the trunks of the Pagoda Dogwood in the background add a feeling of depth.The Pagoda Dogwood forces your eye to follow the sidewalk around it to the entrance, adding an illusion of a larger area.The wooden steps are actually quite close to where I was standing when I took this picture.
Right: A little serendipity never hurt anybody! In this picture, a small, old stature my client picked up is combined with a birdbath. You can find them hiding on a low stone seat-wall in among the ferns.
The photo at the below is the view of our pond from our bedroom window, and shows what can be done with a problem area. The pond itself is 11′ by 16′