Monday, July 25, 2011

Rathbun Residence

This project was a new construction with a "blank slate" as far as the yard went and was my largest design project to date. There were a lot of different requirements for this landscape:

  • a 6' wide path encircling the entire yard 
  • an extensive windbreak to stem the winds and protect the house that was on top of one of our Palouse hills
  • a chicken coop and run
  • a goat shed and small pasture
  • a place for an orchard
  • space in the yard for a possible pool some many years down the road
  • a large garden space
  • an area designated for a play structure
And all of this on top of the normal differences in slope/soil moisture/sun exposure/drainage that are present on every site and the normal requests for relatively low maintenance year-round interest. There were also 360 degree views of the Palouse landscape that had to be preserved, but also a desire to create a little hilltop oasis with a fair number of trees. I used over 120 plant varieties and there were probably between 400 and 600 plants total in the design, ranging from little 4" perennials to large conifers.

I've ordered the plans from the back of the house to the front, or the south to west to northwest to northeast sides of the house. I had a master plan to present to the client that included everything (including the larger trees which are shown in these drawings as simple fine-lined circles), but it was about 24"x36" and wouldn't fit onto my scanner, so I don't have a digital copy of it to show here.

South Corner
This first plan is off of the back of the garage and near the back deck that comes off of the kitchen. This is where the garden area is for easiest access. The goat shed and chicken coop are just to the south of the path, not pictured here. The orchard wraps around the goats and chickens.

The garden is designed as a series of raised beds laid out in a radial pattern from the center of an ornamental planting bed. I was visualizing the raised beds of Williamsburg when I did this, and trying to create a garden area that was functional as well as aesthetically pleasing.

West Corner
This plan is oriented differently (note the north arrow), so if you're trying to figure out how they all mesh, just imagine it rotated ninety degrees counter-clockwise.

This is the "playground corner". This was one section of the yard that could be filled with trees and wouldn't block any views, so I squeezed seven in here. There are maples, a concolor fir, a columnar oak, and large lilac trees. They also served to shade the play area and create a slightly secluded little patio off of the play area where the adults could sit and watch the kids play.

Northwest Side
This was probably my favorite section of the yard to work on, as it had the most variety of unique little spaces to design for.

The path that encircled the yard was designed to accommodate the clients' young daughter who is disabled and requires the help of crutches, a walker, or a scooter to get around. They wanted a "loop" that she could ride her scooter on all around the yard. One thing I wanted to be careful of was just putting the path around the yard to frame it - I didn't want her to feel like she was on the outside of everything, but rather like she could be in it and a part of everything that was going on out in the yard. So as you may have noticed in the previous drawing, her path goes between the yard and the playground, and in the first drawing her path goes between the yard and the animals so that she could be right in the thick of it.

In this section of the yard I put a planting bed in the middle of the path specifically for her so that she could have access to the entire thing. From the SW end to the NE end there is about a 3' elevation rise, so the idea for this planter is that at the SW end it would be raised up to 3' above the path and have a little built in bench for her to lean up against and work in her very own garden. The planter then remains level as the path around it rises and once you get to the NE end the planter is level with the path. This planter is filled with strawberries, blueberries, crabapple trees, flowering plants, and some open space for Cecily to do what she wants with. 

To the east of Cecily's planter there is a slope between the path and the lawn above which will be filled with boulders, Nearly Wild roses, and caryopteris for soil stabilization. Just to the northwest of this across the path is a somewhat swampy area of the yard (due to drainage) so this planting bed includes the pussy willow that the client requested as well as some winterberry hollies for cutting.

For the planter in the NE corner of the drawing, I started with three Butterfly Magnolias and an Arnold's Promise Witch Hazel to enclose the patio area. These were underplanted with some small decorative shrubs and perennials. I also included a small area for a garden ornament (bird bath, small fountain, etc.), surrounded by a circular bed of low-growing Liriope and Black Mondo grass. The Liriope has grassy green "leaves" with small, elegant, dark purple flowers while the Black Mondo grass is a deep deep purple (almost black), so the contrast should be stunning.

Front Yard
The front yard is the shadiest, being on the northeastern side of the house. The small perennial border along the front porch is made up of hostas, bleeding hearts, small rhododendrons, lady's mantle, clematis, and other part-sun and shade loving plants.

The planting bed between the yard and the path has large shade trees, conifers, and decorative understory trees carefully placed to frame the views of Moscow Mountain, the city of Moscow, and the surrounding Palouse from the front porch. There are also many shrubs selected to give year-round interest between the path and the yard.

The final portion of the landscape is the windbreak. The biggest difficulty with windbreaks is how painfully long it takes to get them really established. One solution to this is to plant an initial row of fast growing trees (in this case the 42 hybrid poplars, labeled "HP" in the drawing) that will provide some fast relief. These trees would be gradually thinned over a period of about 10 years, during which time they should give the pines, tamarack, and hardwoods on the leeward side a chance to get established.

The goal with this windbreak was to make it attractive as well as functional. While there are distinct rows, the rows are made up of a variety of plants that are staggered to create a more natural look. The tallest row is comprised of austrian pines and western larches, followed by the deciduous row of paper birches, maples, walnuts, and oaks. This row is then followed by a shorter row of serviceberry, hawthorn, and lilac, finished off by a row of purple sand cherries. On the windward side of the starter row of poplars is a row of serviceberry and/or chokecherry, and then about fifty feet beyond that is what is called the "snow-trap" row made up of more serviceberries. The snow-trap row serves to catch the majority of the drifting snow between itself and the main body of the windbreak, whereas without it the snow would pile up on the leeward side of the windbreak along where the sand cherries are. 

You can see that windbreaks are not small things. This one (which is actually fairly basic) is more than 100 feet wide and at least 200 feet long. There are usually two challenges associated with installing a windbreak; first is the cost of the plants (there are about 175 plants in this windbreak), and the second is the chore of watering them so that you don't lose them all. In designing this windbreak I mostly used plants that could be found through the University of Idaho Center for Forest Nursery and Seedling Research catalog as root plugs for $2.00 a piece (or $1.80 a piece if you order more than 200). This could end up saving 90% of what one might pay at a normal nursery or home improvement store for plants that are just a little bit bigger. As far as watering the investment, the best means is a good drip irrigation system. The set-up would take some time, but in the long run would be such a time saver and would prevent the loss of so many plants.

I thoroughly enjoyed working on this plan and figuring out how to put all of the puzzle pieces together in  a way that fit perfectly and would look amazing. I pulled out all the stops when it came to plant selection and used everything in my arsenal and even made extra trips to local nurseries when I was running out of ideas for plants to use. As I said, this was my largest project to date but it was also one of the most enjoyable plans I have ever done.

Time: 35 hours