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An Urban ‘Farmhouse’ and Garden

June 16, 2012

On June 9th, I visited a newly built house and garden in Garrett Park, Maryland as part of The Cultural Landscape Foundation‘s new program called Garden Dialogues. For two hours, about a dozen of us talked with the site’s architect (Richard Williams), landscape architect (Gregg Bleam), and builder (Abe Sari of Horizon Builders) about the concept for the house and garden (and the relationship between the two), how the owner’s goals were achieved, and materials and process involved in bringing the dream to reality. I should set the stage by explaining that Garrett Park is a neighborhood full of large old (and new) Victorian-style homes complete with spacious front porches and yards with mature, existing trees.

Garrett Park, Maryland, Victorian homes

No, this isn’t the Reed house, but one of Garrett Park’s traditional Victorian-style homes, complete with eye-catching paint, big front porch and hammock, and brightly contrasting shutters. A town ordinance encourages renovated and new homes to include front porches.

As the architect and owners explained before we were let loose to wander about on our own, the lot on which the house and landscape now stand was once occupied by an old farmhouse, which burned down several years ago. In 2009, the Reeds purchased the lot and started to look for an architect who would understand their desire for a feeling of tranquility and belonging in this “magical neighborhood.” The resulting house, while distinctly modern, was designed to evoke the sense of a modern farmhouse, including a distinctive front porch. And the plantings, brilliantly designed by Gregg Bleam, a Charlottesville-based landscape architect, are in sync every step of the way.

The Cultural Landscape Foundation, Garden Dialogues, Gregg Bleam Landscape Architects, modern gardens, modern architecture

The Reed house, viewed from the street, pays homage to the old farmhouse that previously stood on the site, with an “orchard” of Cercis canadensis, planted in a rectangle of mondo grass surrounded by lawn.

The Cultural Landscape Foundation, Gregg Bleam Landscape Architect, Garden Dialogues, modern architecture, modern gardens

On the right side of the house, an aggregate driveway, intersected by grass panels, leads to the garage, and the corner steps to the front porch welcome visitors.

Once inside the house, the first view that greets you immediately draws your eye out into the garden.

Richard Williams Architects, Gregg Bleam Landscape Architect, Horizon Builders, water feature, modern architecture, modern landscape architecture

The view from the Reeds’ front hallway takes in a rectangular water feature crossed by a simple wooden bridge and leads the eye to a panel of Equisetum and then to a group of Amelanchier trees at the end of the garden. A specimen ‘Jane’ magnolia can be seen on the left in front of the serviceberry grove.

The pool is only about 8″ deep (the safety of future grandchildren having dictated the decision on depth). Stacked 1-1/2″ flagstone pavers provide access up and down from the bridge on the grass side. A single specimen ‘Jane’ magnolia of considerable heft is in the lawn area in front of the Amelanchier trees. A row of tall hornbeams surrounds the yard on the left and rear, in front of a simple open-design fence only 4′ tall, chosen to avoid a “walled feeling” while provide necessary screening. The simplicity of the design is elegant, reminiscent of a Dan Kiley landscape (Bleam trained with Kiley early in his career, and the design kinship is evident – and impressive.)

Garden Dialogues, Equisetum, Gregg Bleam, modern landscapes

Architect Richard Williams discussing the design of the Reed house. A panel of Equisetum, noted for its sculptural qualities, is seen left front.

The Reed house has been LEED certified, both for the house itself and the garden. The roof, made of a type of galvanized aluminum designed to deflect solar rays, also suggests that of the farmhouse that once occupied the site. The patio area near left is composed of thermal bluestone with joints designed to allow rainwater to percolate into underground drainage collection and dispersal “dry wells.”

It is not often that clients are foresighted enough to understand the importance of bringing a landscape architect into the design process while the house is on the drawing boards. When they do, the relationship between interior and exterior and materials used both places, and the importance of views, can be exploited to the maximum. And when designers like me have the opportunity to hear from clients and the creators of their visions in a dialogue like the one I experienced Saturday, everyone is the richer. I look forward to attending more of these events – and hopefully of seeing more of Bleam’s and Williams’ work. It’s inspiring.


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