An Evolving Garden
How a designer gradually transformed his property to suit his family & honor the architecture of his home
- Location: Pittstown, NJ
- Property size: 3 acres
- Budget: 500k over 12 years
This three acre property has been a work in progress for twelve years. Over 135 trees, 100's of plantings, 1,000's of bricks, 100 pots and 150 lights, as well as a pool and two structures were added to create a landscape that complements the formal lines of the home and relates to the family's personality. The owners, along with their three kids, and on occasion as many as 40 friends and family members, have gotten good use out of the evolving garden over the years.
Howard Roberts, of Liquidscapes in Pittstown, NJ, describes his property as a testing lab for his design and build firm specializing in custom landscapes and swimming pool design. "We started with a blank canvas of former farm fields," he explains, "and I began slowly implementing my design vision of a series of intimate spaces for family and friends to gather." Roberts also had dreams of his children, then young, getting married in the garden.
The first step in the transformation was to plant trees. The trees were essential for screening wind, providing shade, establishing scale, creating privacy and adding fall color. "Trees are the bones and framework of every design and property," says Roberts. He planted them early so that they would establish and mature while the rest of the property progressed over time. His number one rule for laying out trees is to frame desirable views and screen undesirable ones. Roberts also cautions against planting the property line with trees because it limits the appearance of the site. In the case of his own property, he says, "It feels and appears much larger because the boundaries are not defined." In the early stages, he focused mainly on planting in the areas where future construction would not pose a threat to the trees. After the major elements were built, more trees were added around them.
Next came the pool, which was designed to complement the style of the family's formal Williamsburg Colonial reproduction and to function as a place for water sports such as basketball, volleyball and water polo. With more front yard than backyard, Roberts placed the pool perpendicular to the home to elongate the perspective of the property. He choose a rectilinear shape to echo the architecture with out-coves for steps at both ends. The design, resembling a formal reflecting pool, was enhanced by the dramatic mirror effect created with a dark gray plaster finish. Subtle standard blue tile was installed along the waterline and bluestone coping marks the perimeter of the pool and contrasts nicely with the dry-laid brick decking. The pool is 3 1/2' deep on the ends and 5' in the middle. "I am not a supporter of pools with deep ends, because it limits the use of the pool space tremendously," says Roberts, "You can stand in any area of my pool and still have great enjoyment."
Finally, two structures were added to provide shade for outdoor living spaces and storage for pool accessories. The structure at the end of the pool is an open air cabana with a solid roof. The original pergola at the end of the pool was open, Roberts opted for a solid roof because it provides complete shade and protection from the elements. The structure on the side of the pool is an enclosed pool house with a covered porch. "I am always preaching to my clients to stop being so ridged and traditional and use color on the architectural elements of your home. So I decided to walk my talk," Roberts says. He selected two vivid shades of green for the structures that represent the lawn and meadows on his property and an accent color of a deep red to compliment the brick on the home. These colors were carried throughout the property in every structure, patio and pool furnishings, plant selection, etc. "Now I have color and contrast every day," he explains.
Roberts selected plants for his property that are drought and deer-tolerant. He experimented with different combinations and sizes and shared his successes with his employees and clients. Layering of plant material helped create the dynamic effect Roberts desired. Around the pool, pots filled with plants displaying colorful foliage add seasonal interest. "I avoid plantings with flowers that may attract bees," he states. There are plenty of plants to use and select from that have great foliar color.
In just over a decade Roberts succeeded in transforming a former farm into a park-like destination. "The garden has suited us very well these past fifteen years," he recalls. Many memories have been made with family and friends around the pool and in the other spaces of the landscape. "As an added bonus," Roberts points out, "I've added oxygen to our atmosphere, while harvesting carbon. Think about that next time you plant a tree on your property."
Photos courtesy of Jay Rosenblatt Photography
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Sarah Hutchinson, contributing writer for Landscaping Network