Conquering the Hill
I live at the top of a hill that causes anyone with a lawnmower to shudder. My family moved into the house in the summer of 1988, when I had no interest in gardening or landscape design. The front yard was something to be moved through as quickly as possible, to get to the house – no mean feat given the length of the set of concrete ramp and steps that took you from the street to the front door. Here’s an old photo (bad quality, but you get the picture).
When I set about redesigning this area in 2000, I was most of the way through my training as a landscape designer and eager to start from scratch in terms of plant palette, with the exception of my two magnificent trees and a few interesting, mature shrubs. But tackling the steps was more challenging, and had to come first. I wanted a more direct approach to the house but knew I would need landings, retaining walls – and lots of steps. One experienced designer, a friend and my part-time employer, consulted on the concept for the new steps. Another friend was kind enough to shoot grades for me, and eventually I came up with a plan:
Then I hired a wonderful stonemason to bring the plan to reality, and watched as the design came to life.
Because of the scale of the pillars at the landings, I decided to use 3″ flagstone caps rather than the 2″ ones I had originally planned for. It increased the price but made the structures look just right rather than wimpy on top.
The landings are edged in brick, to tie them to the brick on the house.
The planting phase, after the steps were done, was icing on the cake (although since I did most of it myself, my back still hurts to think about it). Out came the oversized yews and non-blooming azaleas. On the north-facing slope, I planted a small ‘Crimson Queen’ dissectum Japanese maple, ‘Halcyon’ hostas, skimmia, cherry laurels, ferns, hellebores and dwarf azaleas. Next to the house, there are more cherry laurel (I was trying to avoid the predictable palette in our area of too many azaleas) and hydrangeas, along with some old pieris; Solomon’s seal and hostas which I spray against the maurading deer; and fothergilla and Itea virginica. A weeping yew spills over the top retaining wall and I planted a Schizophragma hydrangeoides (Japanese hydrangea) on the wall next to the front door.
The only hardscape left untouched in this project is about to get its own makeover now. The front steps and stoop next to the front door are concrete and brick. I didn’t face them with flagstone in 2000 because the veneer sizes available weren’t workable. Now I’m glad I didn’t, because unfortunately the concrete stoop is cracking, causing moisture problems in the basement. So some time in the next few months, my great stonemason will return, demolish the stoop, and for a price that is about 1/3 of what I paid for all the stonework you see here, build a new set of brick and flagstone steps and stoop. Lemonade from lemons, I guess, even though my pocketbook is protesting. But it will finally tie everything together – and then I will get to replace all the snow-damaged plants next to the steps. I’ve already started thinking about that part!Explore posts in the same categories: landscape, Landscape design solutions comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.