Enhancing a Grand Landscape
Landscape architect David Hawk shares the concepts he used in redesigning the McCues' handsome Manchester property.
I am always amazed on my first visit to homes that have been around for
some time. I'm sure architect Stephen Holt must have winced at some of the earlier modifications that had been made to this Manchester home on the waterfront. And as a landscaper, I also find in most instances that a This Old House project comes complete with "this old yard" as well.
David and Janet McCues' property certainly did come furnished with the
overgrown plantings typical of older homes. But plantings are only a part of the overall landscape design puzzle. Also evident at many properties are missed opportunities with the approach to the house, and
the absence of useful outdoor spaces in the back. Consequently, it is sometimes necessary to go beyond just new plantings and take more drastic steps to bring out the true value of a beautiful piece of land
and complement the renovated home. With any new project, I find it is important to begin with a careful inventory of the existing conditions
on a property, which in turn can form the basis for many unique solutions.
In addition to the overgrowth, the McCues' house also presented the
challenge of a very mundane asphalt drive that gradually rose to the front entry. The width of the drive was big enough for a toll plaza and the most prominent feature of the front façade, the main entrance,
stepped down to a sea of asphalt. The drive's orientation showed preference to the garage as opposed to the front door, and the drive
also bisected the front yard in such a way that the yard felt undersized, while the side yard (actually twice the size of the front) did not even feel like it belonged to the residence. In the rear of the property, the back yard hosts a spectacular view of the harbor. Unfortunately, though, the only existing outdoor area there was a lineal terrace good for movement but not offering much in the way of useable, furnishable space.
Below I offer a few key concepts we applied in re-landscaping the
McCues' Manchester residence. They hold true for many homes we
encounter, old or new, and it all revolves around doing justice to a
beautiful piece of land.
1. Provide a sense of sequence
Sometimes, particularly with longer driveways, it is more appropriate to
create a series of events as opposed to a direct beeline to the front
door. Our first goal was to reduce the width of the new driveway: more
yard, less drive. We then decided to relocate the drive by swinging it
into the side yard. This immediately created a larger front yard, helping the eye key in on plant masses and mature specimen trees that are now featured. Also, the side yard is no longer lost and becomes part of the drama of entering the property, also allowing visitors to catch a quick glimpse of the harbor. But most important, the garage becomes
secondary. I always think of arriving at a home as a guest with the
front door as my destination, not the garage, which is a very common
mistake. A circle at the front of the McCues' entry now becomes more
expansive and in scale with the overall space, and it will become a
traditional winter garden filled with a variety of plant masses that produce visual interest throughout the seasons.
2. Don't ignore the front door
The crescendo of the arrival sequences peaks at the most important point of this traditional home — the front door, which is a very prominent feature elevated by a number of steps. And instead of the bottom step remaining driveway, we chose to add a walkway of about 10 feet in length. This will allow for additional foundation planting, give some breathing room from the elevated two-story façade, and create a pedestrian space, as opposed to just dumping one directly into a line of traffic. Additionally, as the new driveway material is now the more traditional pea gravel, a paved court of brick and granite will serve to
announce and expand the front entry to the winter garden.
3. Be true to the view
The harbor view in the rear yard of the residence is nothing short of
spectacular. You really don't want to create any focal points in the landscape that detract from such a setting, so our goal was to enhance
the view. Fortunately, the architect added doors at the back of the
house that encourage movement to the outdoors in many of the rooms. The linear terrace now has become a traditional wooden porch. This porch has provided access for an intimate formal patio off the piano room and a main patio directly on axis with the front door. These patios used period materials of brick and bluestone and were placed close to the porch so not to not take away from the view.
Toward the perimeter of the rear yard, directly in front of the harbor
view, there was a small perennial garden around a rock outcropping. That has been supplemented with additional boulders buried into the ground and reinforced with mass plantings of perennials to expand its
proportion in keeping with the broad vista. On the opposite end of the
porch adjacent to the game room and conservatory, we created a
traditional seacoast garden of large irregular ledgestone. This informal
garden will accommodate a variety of plantings and reminiscent of
seashore gardens from days gone by, it will provide a green backdrop
when looking out from the conservatory. Finally, the overlook situated along the old stone seawall provides the most dramatic view. Now incorporating the same stone as the seacoast garden, it has enough space for a few simple benches, and will be connected with the perennial border along the seawall. The overlook provides the McCues and their guests with a comfortable, simple setting to enjoy the splendid view away from the house.
Working on a house that enjoys such a lovely natural setting, we were guided by the old saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," — bearing in mind that a little enhancing here and there never hurt a thing.
David Hawk was the landscape designer for the Manchester project.