When the best looking part of a garden is a dead tree root you know you have a challenge ahead!

When the best looking part of a garden is a dead tree root you know you have a challenge ahead!

I was recently invited to redesign a back garden in Kirkland, WA.

The neighbors mini-barn and home were the only 'view'

The neighbors mini-barn and home were the only ‘view’

 

To the homeowners the main priority was a need for privacy from neighboring homes yet to me the biggest challenge was function. How would this couple use their new space and how would they get into it?

Before – the challenges

 

Blinds were kept closed; what was there to look at anyway?

Blinds were kept closed; what was there to look at anyway?

A large lawn took up most of the area with a few struggling trees and shrubs around the perimeter. Far from being inviting it seemed lifeless – not a bird in sight. No birdsong or butterflies. It seemed sterile.

originally the only access into the garden was through this area

Originally the only access into the garden was through this side area

Access to this back garden was through a side kitchen door that took you across a  shaded deck that had seen better days and was clearly in need of replacing, but that whole area seemed more dark and foreboding than bright and inviting. Why venture outside?

The lawn sloped to the back fence - a challenge for the lawnmower but an invitation to me!

The lawn sloped to the back fence – a challenge for the lawnmower but an invitation to me!

There was also a significant slope to the garden which had to be addressed.

After – improved access

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New French doors, removal of an old raised deck and creative hardscaping – what a difference

 

It seemed obvious to me that replacing a large window in the dining room with French doors would greatly improve access into the new garden but also change the dynamic of the entire space – thankfully the homeowners agreed and that pivotal decision was key to transforming this bland area into a true extension of their already beautiful home.

A new circular patio transformed the side garden, especially after the original flagstone was cleaned and re-set

A new circular patio transformed the side garden, especially after the original flagstone was cleaned and re-set

The original approach from the street and kitchen led through a dark tunnel of overgrown trees across an awkward mix of flagstones and worn decking. We removed some trees and limbed up others then repeated the circular theme with a stone patio that connected comfortably to the back garden. With plenty of space for the BBQ and dining as well as colorful containers the entire atmosphere has changed.

Function

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The main patio leads off the new French doors. A gravel path leads to the lower fire pit

 

The lawn took up time, fertilizer, water and money – yet was never used. That has now been replaced with two linked patios surrounded by billowing borders, a privacy hedge and meandering paths.

The main patio is large enough for dining or lounging with friends. Originally planned with a pergola and custom retractable sun shade, this was revised to accommodate a 12′ umbrella that easily adjusts to suit.

Using the grade to create a sitting wall around the fire pit

Using the grade to create a sitting wall around the fire pit

A short curved path and a couple of easy steps takes you to a more intimate circular patio featuring a portable fire pit that doubles as a table for coffee or cocktails. To accommodate the grade, a curved sitting wall was constructed to provide additional seating.

Now you can stroll through the gardens

Now you can stroll through the gardens on gravel paths

Meandering through the garden, a simple gravel path connects these two areas and provides access to both side gardens. This leisurely stroll takes you past fragrant peonies, rustling grasses and colorful shrubs that will soon fill in.

The details

The patio has a border of contrasting cobbles reminiscent of a fine rug

The patio has a border of contrasting cobbles reminiscent of a fine rug

Continuity is important. The tumbled grey cobblestones used for the circular patios were also used as a border on the main patio and the color repeated in the low retaining walls and gravel blend.

Large boulders were added as accents in the borders, connecting the different areas visually and tying into the stonework elsewhere.

The color scheme was taken from the homes interior furnishings with rich reds, purple and gold dominating and with blue as an accent. Plants were selected for colorful foliage primarily but  also for easy care and four season interest.

Several special trees were selected as the homeowners like unique plants. Sculptural conifers and a contorted filbert are just two examples.

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Rather than a monoculture of 12′ tall arborvitae for privacy we integrated several standard laurels as well as layering in columnar  Armstrong maples that provided height but didn’t obstruct the paths. In front of these are Quickfire hydrangeas, smoke bushes and other shrubs for color and texture. Neighbors? What neighbors?

Let there be life!

A water feature adds sound and movement to the garden

A water feature adds sound and movement to the garden

We had barely set the first tree in place when a bird flew in and started to sing – a sure measure of success! Adding a bubbling fountain, custom designed by AW Pottery keeps them – and the homeowners entranced.

The results

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I’ll let the homeowners have the last word; 

We are amazed at what you designed for our garden and patio. You are truly an artist and gardens are your canvas. How you envisioned our yard to be something that we could have never imagined is truly remarkable. The versatility of how you utilized the overall space and the interesting mixture of colors and textures of varying types of plants, as well as pavers, is beyond anything that we could have dreamt up. You have truly changed our lives.

We appreciate your guidance and patience with us as we worked through decisions that you already knew the best answers to, but you gave us the time and space to catch up after planting little seeds in our heads to ponder. Meeting and working with you has truly enriched our lives and we will be forever grateful.

 

Is it time to re-think your lawn?

 

Construction and installation by Berg’s Landscaping, an exceptional team of dedicated professionals whom I am proud to call friends and colleagues.

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