Landscapes of the Month: Transforming a Narrow Space Into a Celebration of the Seasons - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Landscapes of the Month: Transforming a Narrow Space Into a Celebration of the Seasons

Photo: Morgan Howarth

In Bethesda, Maryland, a client wanted a multi-functional outdoor space to match their newly-built modern house.

Rossen Landscape, based in Great Falls, Virginia, was able to accommodate this request and overcame the challenges of the narrow space. Their work creating a modern marvel earned them a Gold Award in the 2021 Awards of Excellence.

“It’s pretty fantastic to be able to use this as an accreditation, marketing tool, and status symbol within the landscape community,” says April Sullivan, senior design and sale consultant for Rossen Landscape. “I loved seeing our design and hard work on display at the NALP conference. Having this on our wall in our Design Studio when clients walk in is impressive – it offers a level of trust that our work and craftsmanship is recognized by the top landscape group in the U.S.”

Photo: Morgan Howarth

Sullivan says while their production was delayed early on while the house was being built once they were able to move on the project it took them four to five months to complete.

Space was restricted in the backyard due to the grade challenge. A 12’ concrete retaining wall had to be installed so Rossen tied this concrete retaining wall into the design and aesthetic of the house and landscape, which was industrial chic. Sullivan says softening the large wall at the rear property line was the most challenging aspect.

The crews worked their way backwards from the center of the rear yard and carried most plant material in by hand when installing the project.

To overcome the bowling alley effect and break up the monotony of the long narrow area, the landscape features multiple ‘rooms’ that have various usable areas that cater to the different seasons.

Photo: Morgan Howarth

“We looked at this area and broke it into themed spaces – as you enter the back yard, the lawn area where the lawn is low is ‘spring,’” Sullivan says. “You transition up to the dining area, outdoor kitchen and water feature and we look at that as ‘summer’ – full of fun, outdoor dining, etc. The next space with the fire pit and cozy screen porch we view as ‘fall’ – warm nights by the fire pit making s’mores. The final turn is winter, where the cold industrial look of the concrete is broken up with a beautiful Hinoki cypress bonsai. This spot is especially beautiful in the snow. Using this approach and breaking things out using transitions in paving shape, height, etc. helped create different outdoor spaces that are still cohesive for entertaining.”

At the far end of the yard, off from the office space, there is a Zen garden that has Japanese-style specimen planting with stones for textural interest.

Another issue on the property was drainage. They used Mexican pebbles between the oversized thermal blue flagstones to allow for additional stormwater runoff.

Photo: Morgan Howarth

“We had civil engineering plans to include multiple dry wells to address overall drainage on the property,” Sullivan says. “We also elevated the center of the rear yard space so we could run the water to the left and right sides of the property as naturally as possible otherwise.”

Rossen used strong natural elements in the landscape to go with the architecture of the house. A transitional space with a view from the house includes a custom-built copper fountain. To keep with the industrial chic look, Sullivan opted for modern or prairie-style plantings and more formal architectural plants like hornbeams and ginkgo trees.

“The rest are soft plants that are slower growing – since the space is pretty tight, we were careful to keep plants that wouldn’t overgrow the space,” Sullivan says. “Keeping it simple but full with year-round interest made the selections pretty straightforward.”

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

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.