Conquering Challenges: Long-Distance Landscaping a Lakefront Property - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Conquering Challenges: Long-Distance Landscaping a Lakefront Property

Photo: Ryan Hainey

This project earned David J. Frank Landscape Contracting a Gold Award for Residential Landscape Contracting in the 2023 Awards of Excellence.

This modern landscape resides in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, where amenities are hard to find, and long winters limit the timeframe for outdoor projects. The owners of this lakefront property desired a landscape that would match the contemporary style of their home and allow the scenic views to flow inside the house. However, finding a local contractor to help them proved difficult, so they looked for someone outside the area.

After extensive searching, they found David J. Frank Landscape Contracting, based in Germantown, roughly 250 miles south of Lac du Flambeau. Despite the challenges, the team at David J. Frank was eager to make the landscape come to life for the homeowners, so they began making plans for the installation using the plans from a designer in Minneapolis.

Photo: Ryan Hainey

“It’s one of those interesting projects because it stretched our resources,” says Zach Lieven, an associate landscape architect at David J. Frank. “It stretched our creativity and how to implement the work. It shows how you get the right people between me as a landscape architect and the architecture company in Minneapolis that designed it. And the homeowner willing to expend the funds to get what they want.”

The project began in September 2019, as people and materials were moved to the site.

“Most of the materials and plants came from our main location,” Lieven says. “And we sent a group of trucks up there with everything we needed. Lodging wasn’t hard to find, as I have relatives nearby, so they know everybody and could recommend a resort with condos near Camp Johnson. So, we rented a condo for the crews.”

As the project began, drainage was a top priority, as the property sits on a hill above the lake and has sandy soil prone to erosion. The house had an existing green roof but no gutters to allow easy drainage, which caused rain to wash out the sand surrounding the house. The owners didn’t want gutters, so Lieven worked with them to find a solution.

“We convinced the client to put stone gravel around the entire house, about four or five feet out, and we installed drain tile under the gravel, eliminating the erosion issue,” Lieven says. “That wasn’t part of the original plan, but we arrived at the site and saw massive erosion gullies around the house.”

Another challenge was the grading for the driveway and bocce ball court. The home’s builder made the grade three feet too low, causing water to drain toward the lake and wash out the sandy soil. To resolve the problem, David J. Frank created a retaining wall.

“We built retaining walls to build up the area with boulders and then added drain tile behind the wall and chip stone to create a network of underground channels with the chip stone and perforated drain tile to divert the water into the woods,” Lieven says.

Some of the materials for this project were hard to source, as the owners wanted uniquely colored rocks and gravel for the driveway, which had to be sourced four hours away in Minnesota.

Photo: Ryan Hainey

The plantings were another critical element of the project and much of the plan called for fescue mixes near the house and natives on the hill by the lake. The owners wanted instant gratification with the fescue, so Lieven and the team brought in sod from a couple of hours away to provide the desired look for those spaces.

The timing was vital, as most of the project took place in October, and cold weather was quickly arriving, including a snowfall the day after they installed sod and irrigation. For Lieven, the most rewarding part of this project was seeing the excitement from the homeowners.

“It was fun going up there, and the homeowners were so happy because they could not find a landscaper in the north that would do the job, so we were able to execute on something that they couldn’t get anyone else to do,” Lieven says.

This article was published in the January/February issue of the magazine. To read more stories from The Edge magazine, click here to subscribe to the digital edition.

Matt Olson

Matt Olson is a freelancer for NALP.