Design Process for a Residential Garden

This project is a good illustration of our approach to a residential garden design. The hand sketches are typical of the early, schematic phase of a project. They allow the client to get a sense of the general design direction while allowing us to easily make changes based on the client’s feedback and input. More refined, computer-generated drawings are added at subsequent phases of a project.

As always, our first step was to meet with the client to get a sense of their goals and interests, and to understand the unique qualities of the land, the house and its context. In this case the house is from the 19th century and is in a Boston neighborhood with elegant, historic homes. However, the landscape lacked a coherent design and was essentially an accumulation of unrelated plants added over the years. It also included ignored and unused areas, and a patch of struggling lawn.

The clients were interested in adding a deck outside their kitchen and dining room for entertaining and general use. This would augment the terrace they had built for this purpose but because it was far from the house was generally unused. They were interested in finding a new use for this terrace, a better location for a lawn, as well as a general improvement in functionality, programming and aesthetics.

View of the 19th century house from the garden . The need for a deck is clear from the awkwardly located outdoor furniture

The clients had built this terrace adjacent to their garage but since it was relatively far from the house, lacked privacy or a focal point, it generally went unused.

A large area at the back of the property was unused and unkempt, offering many possibilities for more intimate garden spaces.

The Proposed Design Solution

The conceptual design plan is generally the starting point of the design process. In this case it brings together all of the existing and new elements that the clients expressed an interest in. For this project we used a more traditional and formal design approach in keeping with the 19th century house, albeit with a modern interpretation. A new deck is added adjacent to the house, which will be a much more convenient place for entertaining. The deck has a direct connection to a perennial garden framed by Saucer Magnolia trees. The trees begin to create a visual separation of spaces within the garden, screen the driveway and garage from view, and will create a beautiful display in the spring.

Stone paving and a series of granite steps lead elegantly into the existing terrace. The terrace is transformed into an outdoor room defined by evergreen shrubs and a bamboo screen at the property line. A small fountain creates a focal point for the space. The fountain combined with lounge furniture and planter pots will make this a serene and relaxing place for socializing or solitary enjoyment.

The terrace in turn leads into a relocated lawn area, as desired by the clients. The lawn takes advantage of the flat portion of the site as well as the unused area at the back of the property. Another Saucer Magnolia creates a focal point that will lead one from the house into the garden. Finally, we created a very private and intimate lounge area that overlooks the new lawn.

A section through the garden showing the new deck, the connection to the perennial garden and magnolia trees, and the steps leading to the updated terrace.

The terrace is transformed into an outdoor room defined by evergreen shrubs and a bamboo screen at the property line. A small fountain creates a focal point for the space. This space leads in turn to the lawn area which is framed by Saucer Magnolia trees.

The view from the house into the terrace. The fountain and magnolia tree beyond invite one into the garden. Evergreen shrubs create an intriguing new space at the terrace. Granite steps framed by trees create an elegant path into the spaces beyond.

These few, simple, and inexpensive design improvements are enough to transform this disorganized and under-used property into a delightful and intriguing garden. It will include a variety of spaces suitable for outdoor socializing or more intimate or individual enjoyment. The garden will also extend the living spaces of the house into the landscape and thereby increase its value by as much as 20%*.

*”How Much Value Does Landscaping Add to Your Home?” Washington Post, 4/1/2015