Landscapes of the Month: Creating a Backyard Resort and Spa - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Landscapes of the Month: Creating a Backyard Resort and Spa

Photo: Hilary Schwab Photography

When it came time for the Bethesda, Maryland homeowners to begin the transformation of their backyard into a resort-style wonderland, they gave the green light to Bethesda-based Fine Earth Landscaping, Inc.

It was always the plan to add a pool and outdoor entertainment area and they were eager to get started once the complicated, lengthy permitting process was completed. Joel Hafner, LIC, president of Fine Earth Landscaping did the original landscape installation for the client, leaving space for the eventual pool and hardscape. The result exceeded their expectations for a “wow factor” pool, spa, kiddie section, outdoor kitchen, fire pit, rain garden and landscape.

Photo: Hilary Schwab Photography

“The clients are a wonderful, warm Greek family and wanted a spa-like backyard for creating memories with their five grown children and eventual grandchildren,” Hafner says.

Fine Earth Landscaping’s work earned them a Gold Award in the 2021 Awards of Excellence, an honor Hafner says he’s extremely proud of.

“For us, to win a gold award, on the national level, is very prestigious and honorable,” Hafner says. “It’s a validation of our work and is especially important that we were recognized by our peers. We use the award in our marketing and it’s a great motivator for the team.”

Photo: Hilary Schwab Photography

Hafner, who has been in business since 1976, says that everything he’s learned about the landscape business has come from involvement in local and national associations.

“I credit my success to learning from trailblazers in the industry,” he says.

The winning project involved a long process of special permitting along with installation of a rain garden and lots of extra drainage work. Sixty loads of soil had to be hauled out before beginning the job’s installation process.

“The grades made it difficult since the fall from the highest to lowest elevations was over fifteen feet,” he says. “Due to the size of the project requested, the project was over 5,000 square feet, which required special engineering, plans, and permits.”  

The project’s scope expanded as well.

“The clients requested we install an outdoor shower on the existing pool house that required stone walls and a cedar gate,” Hafner says. “Special caps were made to go along with the already existing limestone to ensure a cohesive look.”

The project broke ground in October 2018, and all construction occurred over the winter of 2018-2019, which caused delays due to cold temperatures and other climate conditions.

The results were worth the wait and the clients were thrilled.

Photo: Hilary Schwab Photography

“The resort-like feeling gives a relaxing, effortless look that’s timeless,” Hefner says.

The 30 x 60-foot swimming pool is centered on both the house and pool house. The pool also incorporates a vanishing edge that falls into the kiddie pool that includes fountains and lighting.  A spa was placed on the pool’s far end and centered behind the spa is a cedar pergola and seating area.

Other design features include an outdoor kitchen, a gas firepit, a rain garden, and architectural stone retaining walls. The walls would allow for space for the variegated limestone pool deck and terrace levels.

“Variegated limestone gives a unique, custom look that really stands out,” Hafner says.

The gorgeous, curved limestone and natural stone steps were constructed to traverse the grade from the lower patio and firepit to the pool deck. The project was made totally private by lush plantings, screen trees, and perennial gardens.

Photo: Hilary Schwab Photography

The clients were involved throughout the process and loved the idea of adding a fire element to the Artscape. The four fire bowls are filled with lava rock and are a focal point to enjoy after hours. The bowls were shipped from California, while the black granite was custom-made and fitted to the pool.

Adding dramatic outdoor lighting, in addition to the fire balls, casts night beauty into a spectacular garden oasis.

“They wanted the wow factor and that’s what they get at night when all the lights are on, the pool glowing and the fireballs lit,” Hefner says.

The kiddie pool, complete with lighting and fountains, awaits future generations.

Interested in participating in the Awards of Excellence? Be sure to enter your projects by July 11, 2022.