The landscape plan on every home is a challenge. But when the house sits smack in the backyard of another one, as did the TOH TV project house in Concord, Massachusetts, it can be a real head scratcher.
How do you make the yard around the tiny barn-turned-cottage feel separate, distinct, and private, yet also blend it seamlessly with the landscape of the main house that overshadows it?
That was the overall challenge landscape architect Stephanie Hubbard faced with the Concord cottage. But it wasn't the only one. There were other requirements, too: existing landscape features that homeowners Janet and Jeff Bernard wanted to preserve, not to mention the need to create off-street parking on the small property for four cars per city ordinance.
"People often think of landscaping as icing on the cake," says TOH landscape contractor Roger Cook. "But this site really shows how the right landscaping can solve a lot of basic problems."
Saving the grapes
The first challenge was a 100-year-old Concord grape vine that the homeowners wanted to save. The venerable vine grew right in the middle of the yard, and Roger determined it wouldn't survive a move. What to do?
The solution to the grape-vine dilemma became the inspiration for the entire plan: a long latticework trellis extending from the back porch of the main house to the cottage. The structure would support the vine and also serve as a fence to separate the yard from the parking area while visually connecting the two houses. "A traditional fence would do the same thing," says Hubbard, "but with the grape vine, a trellis was the only way to go."
Creating Paths and Terraces
When designing the property's walkways, Hubbard considered how each path was meant to be used, then chose a material appropriate for that use. The walk from the driveway to the front door of the cottage is made of brick, to add some formality to that approach. Paths to terraces are made of rustic bluestone pavers for a more casual feel.
These terraces, made from both brick and bluestone, are located to the side of each house — out of view of each other — to ensure privacy. "It's important to create separate outdoor areas for each house," says Hubbard, "so people don't feel like they're on top of each other."
Even close relatives like a little privacy — not to mention the possibility that future owners of the house could rent the cottage to strangers. But for family gatherings, Hubbard added a communal bluestone terrace that's visible from both houses.
Planting the Landscape
Once the hardscape is finished, Roger will move quickly to get plantings established before the winter. The plan calls for a mix of shrub and perennial borders, but the centerpiece is an "orchard" of 12 tree-form hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata 'Pink Diamond'), which will grow to about 14 feet tall and just as wide. Their size is a good scale for the cottage, says Roger. "And the nice thing about hydrangeas is they provide color most of the year," with white flowers in summer that turn pink in fall and dry to a rich bronze in winter. Hubbard arranged the trees to form an allee down the middle of the property, giving the homeowners a sight line to the public park that abuts the back of their property.
As much as the Bernards love their expansive backyard, they'd also love to spend less time behind the lawn mower. So Roger will replace much of the lawn with ground cover and shrubs, especially in the shady peripheral zones. "Pulling in the sides of the lawn will create a false perspective that actually makes the property look bigger," says Hubbard. She even suggested including a wildflower meadow, a mix of tall fescue grass and native perennials.
The Bernards have decided to hold off on planting that whimsical touch for now, though they can always add it later. Done well, it would need mowing only once or twice a year, which would leave the family with more time to sit back on a terrace and enjoy their new backyard.
Where to Find It:
Holly Cratsley, AIA, principal
Stephanie Hubbard, RLA
Halvorson Design Partnership