Landscapes of the Month: Working with a Rocky Landscape - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Landscapes of the Month: Working with a Rocky Landscape

Photo: Chris Rucinski

In the forests of Dover, Massachusetts, you’ll find a modern house surrounded by rocky ledges and pine trees. This unique setting inspired the homeowners to create a landscape that would blend in their home with the natural surroundings while keeping their property tidy and functional for entertaining. From the start, NatureWorks Landscape, based in Walpole, Massachusetts, worked alongside the owners to develop their vision for the property further and make it a reality.

Laura Harrigan, the director of client care and sales, shares what it means to win a Gold Award in the 2023 Awards of Excellence.

“It’s incredibly sweet closure for the entire team to have work like this recognized,” Harrigan says. “It brings huge pride to everyone who participated, which in turn helps make NatureWorks a great place to work.”

Photo: Chris Rucinski

As the project began, the homeowners had grand ideas for the property. Still, they weren’t specific with little details, so NatureWorks worked to narrow down the specifics and give the family exactly what they desired.

“We were encouraged to make other suggestions for the property, so long as it preserved as much of the existing natural landscape as possible and integrated it with the curated landscape,” Harrigan says. “Being unsure how far we could take this for him, we kept offering suggestions to make his property more useful while honoring the native environment.”

 “A few questions we asked were, ‘Does he need a bigger space for entertaining outside? Would he want additional elements like an outdoor grill and firepit if they could be designed in a natural way? Would he want to consider converting some turf to meadow to create habitat and attract wildlife?’” Harrigan says.

This project had several key areas, including the front entrance to the driveway, which was obstructed by a large outcrop and trees. While the owners desired more visibility, they also wanted to keep the entrance natural-looking and subtle, so NatureWorks installed moss-covered boulders along the entrance.

Going further, they engraved the boulders with the house number and installed lighting to illuminate the numbers at night. For the driveway itself, a cobble apron stretches across the entrance, along with cobble edging along both sides to distinguish this area. In front of the outcrop, NatureWorks installed various trees, shrubs, and perennials to continue the woodland theme.

Photo: Chris Rucinski

Around this property, the rocky ledges create numerous obstacles, especially near the front of the home. The owner wanted to keep the ledges intact and integrate them into the new landscape, so the team worked with the owners to find creative solutions. Despite the challenges, these ledges present opportunities to create unique features, like a conifer garden inspired by the landscapes of coastal Maine, which make the appearance of wind-swept trees on rocky outcrops.

Small groundcovers and succulents are used to promote curiosity and exploration in these areas. Some of these outcrops had splits that could be used to create a staircase using small stones for steps, providing better access to different areas of the site.

During the excavation phase, the team came across individual boulders to accent the driveway entrance and the crossroads of the meadow path.

The homeowners wanted a wood-burning firepit to continue the woodsy theme of their home, so NatureWorks reused boulders from the site to build a natural-looking fire pit that is sunken into the patio to look as though it’s always been there. They also made a custom wood storage structure using slabs of granite, giving the owners easy access to wood near the firepit. For one last detail, NatureWorks installed a spigot on a granite post near the fire, making it easy for them to douse the flames when the evening is over.

Photo: Chris Rucinski

A final goal for the project was creating paths to the conservation property behind this site, an area where the family frequently goes walking.

“We started by using some of the existing game trails through the woods and expanded off those based on topography and natural elements,” Harrigan says. “A rocky outcrop or a decaying tree trunk became features to wind the paths around to enjoy from different points of view. It was fun to explore the woods with a childlike sense of adventure and view things from a discovery point of view rather than focusing squarely on the function aspect.”

Runoff is often a problem here, as the house and garage have a large surface area, and the rocky outcrops make it difficult for water to percolate. To give the water a clear direction, NatureWorks diverted the water to a dry riverbed that follows a stone outcrop to create a natural look. They also installed a bridge over the riverbed to help the owners have a better view of the feature.

One challenge of this project was sourcing materials, especially the Schist stone for the walkways and patio. The company supplying the Schist closed down part way through the project, so NatureWorks had to find another source to find a stone that would match the existing Schist used in the project.

“Using native stone from a local quarry gave us access to a stone type that blended well with the existing natural stone features,” Harrigan says.

The project’s result sparked lots of feedback from the owners.

“He periodically sends photos of butterflies, harvesting raspberries, or fresh-cut bouquets from his gardens,” Harrigan says. “The client was home during a photoshoot of the property, and one of his friends, who loves the landscape, asked if we could walk the property and tell her what all the plant species are. For a plant-geek, this is dreamy!”

Interested in participating in the Awards of Excellence? Be sure to enter your projects when entries open on Feb. 5, 2024.

Matt Olson

Matt Olson is a freelancer for NALP.