Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Garden Voyeur: An Overgrown Yard Goes Simple and Modern

My neighbor Steven Stept is a principal at Swatt Architects, a firm known for its modern designs. So it makes sense that when it came time to rethink the landscaping for his own home, he'd go for a look that fit right in with his modernist leanings -- and that was designed to let this busy architect enjoy the yard rather than spending his scant free time weeding and pruning.

Here, Steve takes us through the process of turning his neglected garden into a simple and serene spot for relaxation:

"Before I started this project, my back yard was completely overgrown and dilapidated. First, I ripped out several bushes and trimmed back some of the other mess. Then I ripped out the crumbling brick fireplace and brick patio (a neighbor used the reclaimed brick in his own yard). I later took out a messy plum tree that was closing off the yard and making it feel smaller.

After removing most of the vegetation and hardscaping, I let the yard sit for four years as a pile of dirt while I concentrated on the inside of the house and the front yard.

Last year, it was finally time to overhaul the back yard. I wanted to create a wonderful, private outdoor space where I could put my feet in the grass and have a large deck for entertaining. Architecturally, I was aiming for a design that was clear and simple, but strong. Keeping the design simple would also help the yard work with my 1928 English Tudor. I like mixing old and new, and the yard is an extension of some of the modern qualities I’ve incorporated inside my house.

I created a long concrete retaining wall along the back of the yard, which separated the higher and lower ground, provided a space for a bamboo “screen” in front of the fence, and became the base of a long Ipe-wood bench bordering the deck area.

Another retaining wall created a level area for a lawn and provided space for planting horsetail and other greenery along the back of the house. Next to this 36-inch-deep planter, I laid a 36-inch pebble strip adjacent a new Ipe deck with steps leading up to the lawn.

At the end of the pebble strip, I built a vertical "screen wall" with 2-by-2 strips of Ipe to help break up the massing and scale of the side of my freestanding garage. A similar screen wall at the end of the concrete planter box helps hide the neighbor’s driveway from view.

Once I started in earnest, the whole process took about a year. I trenched for the retaining walls with my neighbor’s son, and then hired a landscape company to form and pour the concrete. We stripped the forms two hours after the pour and troweled the concrete smooth. The next phase was digging out dirt and blocking and framing the deck and screen walls, which I did myself with help from a carpenter. After I planted the bamboo and horsetail, I hired another landscape company to install an irrigation system and outdoor lighting (including uplighting for the bamboo), and to lay sod. Finally, I decided to stain the deck rather than letting it age to a natural gray.

I’m really proud of the finished project. After living here for seven years without a usable yard, I now use this space every chance I get."

(Not to make you folks in other parts of the country jealous or anything, but the temperature here in the Bay Area was a balmy 75 degrees today, so I wouldn't be surprised if Steve was out there enjoying a glass of wine after dinner.)

Thanks for giving us a peek into your outdoor oasis, Steve!

6 comments:

Joey Biscotti said...

i LOVE your new backyard!!!

jenisthenewblog.com said...

Your yard turned out perfect!

James G said...

I knew he would make that pile of dirt into something spectacular! Nice job Steve and thank you Leah for bringing it to us.

P.S. It was 35 degrees F when I woke up this morning to walk the dog in Cambridge, MA but all is well, the Red Sox have won the World Series!

Anonymous said...

The end result is fabulous. You put a lot of hard work into it and it shows.

Now you just need a dog to run around on your new grass.

Congratulations
Diane

Anonymous said...

I remember when you were practicing your golf swing on the weeds. The backyard look fabulous! Enjoy, you've done a wonderful job.
Lydia

Chuck Chipner said...

WOW! I really like the outcome of your yard! I think reading this gave me the push I needed to hire someone to do an overgrown lawn cleanup in South Jordan for me. My yard is wild and out of control, and could use some serious help.

 

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