Thursday, December 22, 2011

Landscape Re-Design: How to Install A Parking Court In a Small Front Garden

In late autumn, I got the email from the husband and wife that are two of my most favorite garden design clients, saying they wanted to put in a “driveway.”

They are a charming couple and their too adorable, too smart, modern day Shirley Temple daughter (but better); own a home worthy of a Dwell magazine spread. 
The house is perched on the edge of the Highlands, NJ terrain, with the back side decks and windows looking out to that incomparable view to Sandy Hook, New York’s Brooklyn, Long Island and the glittering Manhattan diamond-studded skyline as only seen from the Garden State.
Yes, the grass IS greener on the other side…   

I am not sure just when Americans determined small was not “good” for a home or even what constitutes small. 
I, for one, am a card-carrying opponent of the McMansion for more reasons than readers will care to hear.  Tearing out farmland to build houses with oh so many rooms that are never used (trust me, I have garden clients that share this scenario) and the use of plants and a watering system that rivals USGA grounds keeping – i.e. tooo much water pounding the yard, non-native plants and -- ooops. I said I would I wouldn’t go into all that.

What I am a fan of is the charm of the couple’s yes, smallish home and yes, its postage stamp sized garden.   
But think Europe or San Francisco or Charleston or other urban gardens and suddenly, one doesn’t feel so constrained but rather inspired. 
And I was.
From the time I met the couple and learned of their garden dreams – for the two of them, the home and especially for their young daughter. 

It was a challenge I cherished.  To bring design and charm to the garden for the family and neighbors to enjoy.
To create garden rooms that would bring pollinators for all to enjoy.  After all, in this part of the Garden State, we are right in the thick of the butterfly path. 
How glamorous!

The front garden was designed and installed in 2008 – just in time for their daughter’s birthday.  Upon completion, it was a TV moment not unlike the “move that truck” Home Improvement branded whoop that characterizes the renovation drama.  The birthday party guests were arriving just as we finished.
It was a squealing moment for us too as the pride of a job well done -- the owners poured champagne for the landscape team.
And the daughter tickled the latent flower buds of the Golden Rain Tree happy in her new flower and plant kingdom…

My Duchess Designs team has helped maintain the garden through spring wake ups and putting the bed to sleep for winters sleep. zzzzzz

But nothing prepared me for the request to add a “driveway” to the yard. 
The back story is the town had agreed to pay for/provide “aprons” to driveways for homeowners as part of the deal to compensate for the Sandy Hook bridge issue (don’t even think that I’m going to write the explanation story behind this disaster.  Let’s just say that the couple and the Highlands town handled this follow up payback masterfully.)

Besides taking advantage of the fact the town was covering the cost for the driveway aprons, the residents -- and in particular, my clients -- saw the opportunity to create a space that their cars could be safe from the demons of the snow plows that lock in the autos more than the natural snow does. 

The utility of the need was what helped drive my garden design concepts.
recycled, colored plastic
I spent time to develop the design concepts and much time researching materials, including colored recycled “rubber”/plastic and stones and what we finally went with, Turf Stone®  
I thought this paver was particularly suited for this design because we could preserve a garden look while establishing a solid parking court area for the cars that will respect the grade of the land and the garden design.

We met, reviewed the design concept options, budget estimates I’d researched and a plan for moving forward.

There was about 16 feet in front of the raised stone bed we created in 2008 where the cars would drive up to. 
Later we determined we’d “take” two additional feet of that raised bed for the parking court. 
We also stole a sizable chunk of the garden for the width to accommodate a car or two, also.  Just about 11’ wide.
All this “stealing” and removing green might have depressed another garden designer.
However, I thought of it as a zen-like garden design challenge to create something from “nothing.”

It was a further challenge to secure the landscaper who could execute the work according to the design, within the budget.
The work was like surgery given the size and scope and grade of the yard.
I did my due diligence and met with three landscapers.
My vote – and heart -- was always with T. Burke Honnold Landscapers.

Burke and his team did the extraordinary work on the garden with the first design.
I have worked with him and his top-notch team since I first started doing landscape design.  I have joyfully sung their praise and the integrity of their craft in news articles and in the feature pieces about me and Duchess Designs in Caroline Seebohm’s book, Cottages and Mansions of the Jersey Shore

We were most fortunate Burke agreed to take on the project.  We were set.

It took about three days of work for three men.  There was the removal of the raised beds, taking care with the blue stone in order to recreate “pinched” raised beds with the stones.  Plants were removed to be relocated later. 

The steps leading down to the side of the house were collapsed in order to maintain the grade and allow for the utility of the stairs. The stone stairs were measured and fixed with less of a riser.  This is a feat of engineering and labor. I had pangs of complete respect watching the men wield their level and only after much checking and consulting with one another, did they strap the stone and then lift to its new position. Wow.   

Once the front picket fence was cut – to be re-used as the side of the yard, and the area was cleared of the beds and grass and the sprinkler hoses were moved to the side where new heads in the spring will spray the grass that will grow up in the Turf Stone pavers, 

the team brought the layers of gravel and fine black sand to lay down prior to the pavers.

An oversight on my part led to having to do this work in two stages.  Upon discovery of this, I was overwrought that we lost time on this part of the projectt.  This never happened before… I should have seen the width was not as far over, flush with the side of the house.  I was working in the beds and thought it was being extended accordingly… Nevertheless, a Saturday powwow with the team and client followed and Burke and his team just jumped on it and got the job done. 
True Pros.
And work was executed perfectly, too.
I drove around to three nurseries/garden centers to secure the additional few pavers to complete the job.

The team laid in the pavers: then they marked for cutting, using the level over and over almost like a scraper. Then surgically installed the custom-cut pavers – like pieces in a puzzle.  
Methodically, with pride and precision.
Then the soil went back down, pushed in by hand with a pole and then smoothed over.  Grass seed went in at client’s request and will be followed by seed in the spring…

The fence work hit a snag, literally – at just the exact spot where the fence post was to go in, we discovered a huge, indigenous peanut stone, er boulder.   It was so large it had to be cut, not dug up.  The team was soon back on track and got the line of fence in, anchoring the posts with cement.  The gate was positioned across from where the car door might be once parked.
The plants that were removed were relocated in the new beds and in new spots around the house.

Neighbors started to compliment as early as Saturday morning while the work was being completed.
It is indeed a good design and a solid piece of landscape craftsmanship.  Altogether, it will make the client’s lifestyle better and I daresay increase the value of their home.

The main thing is that even at this time of year in the Northeast US, garden design dreams can come true.  And ultimately, the clients are happy with end result. 
And that makes it worth all the work. 

Put a big red bow on it!

Happy Holidays.

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