Category Archives: landscape design

Arlington Renovation

Within the same neighborhood as our ongoing improvements  at The Old Lacey House (click the link for detailed history of this Civil War Era home), green•eye•design recently completed a landscape improvement project for a lovely 21st Century-constructed home.

The owners approached for improvements over the ‘pre-installed’ tree & shrub choices the building contractor installed as the home was being finished. I have observed quite often that a builder will become comfortable with a small palette of trees and shrubs and then never waver from those selections, often to the detriment of both the home’s lines as well as site conditions, sun exposure, etc. Another move is to simply find whatever is on sale at the local big box chain store and use that.

Certainly this landscape was no exception, with trees planted near the foundation that– when mature– would have completely eaten the facade. Boxwoods were planted in southern exposure and were baking in the all-day sun. (indeed, several were already dead). Plants which need even moisture were planted in raised rain gardens in which their roots would be periodically inundated with the stormwater runoff from the roof’s downspouts. So, I whipped up this design:

front raised rain gardens, click for humongous version

For this:

An existing Crape Myrtle was transplanted down to the small front lawn area where a flowering Cherry had expired over the winter, and a small specimen of Amelanchier canadensis ‘Autumn Brilliance’ (Serviceberry, Shadblow, Saskatoon) was planted at an appropriate distance from the foundation.

A few soil issues were addressed also. Now all the plants are both floriferous and attractive, and have the benefit of enjoying ‘wet feet’ during times of periodic root inundation. Many of the choices also produce attractive berries for wildlife or for cutting. This came together very well, next we’ll talk about the backyard’s improvements.

A to-do list and plant materials list:

  • Pop out grasses & nandina for replanting after grading
  • Remove Boxwoods and save best for rear yard transplanting (4-5 total for both sides)
  • Remove Crape Myrtle for replanting where dead Prunus is on front lawn
  • Remove and discard dead Prunus
  • Add approximately 4″ high quality, largely organic screened topsoil, regrade so front of bed elevation matches front right raised bed. Regrade to take out 2″ or so of the depth of the catchment shape to the bed.
  • Plant in new plants as per drawing
  • Top dress with double shredded hardwood or pinestraw

Front right:

  • (Boxwoods)
  • Transplant existing Japanese Maple to rear yard corner garden focal point
  • Plant in new plants as per drawing
  • Top dress with double shredded hardwood or pinestraw

Myrica cerifera ‘Fairfax’, Ilex verticillata ‘Red Sprite’, Chionanthus virginicus, Camassia quamash, Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’, Clethra alnifolia ‘Hummingbird’


Virginia Hospital Center

Several months ago I began discussing with The Virginia Hospital Center the possibility of designing several planting areas scattered around the hospital grounds, difficult, high traffic or neglected areas of opportunity. During the course of those conversations we were offered a fabulous opportunity: Develop & design a new outdoor space at the confluence of three major structures: Between the main hospital building & the Women & Infants health center and above the subterranean Radiation Oncology suites.

click images to embiggen

It is the Oncology Department which is the driving factor in this project;  a new,  state-of-the-art Linear Accelerator (pdf file) and its encompassing support suites are to be built below the space, resulting in a seven million dollar major engineering and architectural change to the facility.

To date, the space seen above has over time become a bit of a catchall in terms of engineering solutions– by that I mean, the outdoor environment has been utilized primarily as a repository and support system for the existing radiation suites below.

Here we see the cooling units for the Cyberknife® suite and supporting equipment. Obviously maintaining optimal temperatures is critical with multimillion dollar equipment, and this space represented the nearest, most cost-effective location.

The raised planter in the foreground is an integral part of the radiation shielding assembly, which consists of several feet of reinforced concrete, lead lining, brick, and of course the several feet of earth inside the planter. The planter’s shape reflects the radiation oncology suite below ground.

A space was opened up at ground level in order to crane in various pieces of heavy, precious medical equipment, and a skylight was seen as a beneficial solution in case repairs or replacements ever had to be made in the future. Unfortunately, it’s been plagued with leaks and has been quite a liability overall.

This much taller planter is part of another suite’s shielding assembly, and again the brick and earth are absolutely critical in terms of radiation abatement. Removing this planter would result in hundreds of thousands of dollars being incurred in additional lead shielding and the structural support required to bear the additional load (around forty additional tons on this small footprint).

Stowmwater runoff is dealt with inefficiently, as a problem to be moved as quickly as possible away from the space.

It strains credulity, but a stairwell (over on the left) pops up into the space as well, a mandatory fire safety element the need for which thankfully will be eliminated with the new construction.

An abandoned door into the space will be removed with the construction, but what of this narrow ‘hallway’? A recent awning removal reveals stained brick which adds to the feeling of disjointed uneasiness.

As patients/visitors drive in, this is what they see from curbside.

Conclusions: This is a fabulous area, rich with the patina of age and full of unique design challenges. In my next post, I will start to lay out our design process, our goals, and how we will achieve them.


Oak Park Updates

So I was very happy to learn that the residential clients for the project on Elmwood Avenue in historic Oak Park, IL wanted to move forward before things got really cold (and the ground unworkable). These past few weeks have been controlled insanity as a major renovation/addition project is ongoing at the house, so what’s a little major foundation planting? Why not, right?

click image for much larger version
A few photos the clients kindly took for me on this very rainy & cold windy day:
Almost too wet to work, still the ground was not clumpy or sticky so on we go with the install.

Looking down the driveway towards all the construction materials. The long side of the house will remain undeveloped until the spring, this will allow freer access for all the large construction vehicles and also ease the repaving job. Plants would scald pretty easily being so close to burning hot, newly-laid asphalt. As well, painting the house will be much less time-consuming without having to work around foundation plants.

The beds are laid out and hedging spacing adjusted. The Degroot’s Spire Arborvitae are just gorgeous, and the encircling boxwoods healthy and full.

Tidied up, edged with new sod, and hardwood mulch laid. There are several shrubs & one tree, a Chinese Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum), which will be planted in early spring.

click to embiggen


A New Fairfax Client

One thing I really enjoy about this profession is the incredible diversity of client wishes that are incorporated into master planning. For example, last week I was approached to do a real top-to-bottom makeover– a client recently purchased a home which– while truly lovely otherwise- had some crazy chaotic plantings throughout the space (banana trees? Yep!) This coupled with the client’s desire for Best Management Practices when it comes to Tick abatement as well as generous outdoor program elements like a fireplace, spacious patio, outdoor kitchen, and robust privacy screening led to a very satisfying design process.

What is Tick abatement? It turns out one can seriously reduce the instances of Tick bites (and subsequent risk of Lyme disease) by creating a dry barrier around one’s property. This ‘barrier’ should be at a minimum three feet in width and consist of either an impermeable surface or a permeable stone surface like river gravel. Ticks require cool & moist conditions on their travels, and simply cannot make it over such a breadth of hot dry material without expiring. In this design, I have added steel edging to both contain the gravel (washed Chesapeake river gravel) as well as add some heat to the situation. By allowing the steel edging to stand proud a bit (say, an inch and a half?), we help create a situation where the Sun will help the steel to radiate heat into the gravel, adding to the barrier’s effectiveness. Aesthetically, I think it looks attractive and I have designed its course in such a way as to suggest a gravel path, especially over to the far left where it disappears between tall evergreens– a kind of ‘folly’ in that it doesn’t actually lead anywhere but does suggest more room and spaces beyond. Looking forward to seeing this space realized over the coming months!

click picture above for the large version
click here for humongous version

Four Square Deck Steps

Dear friends outside of Chicago recently purchased a lovely old home in Oak Park; they’re gearing up for renovations/additions and want a better way of utilizing their narrow but deep yard in the rear. This elevated door is the usual entrance for both husband and wife, after parking in the garage they use this entry rather than the front door.




That back addition will be renovated to become a proper mud room, and that small cramped landing has to go.

click picture for larger image 

I wanted to create floating steps generous enough in tread that they can be used for seating, placing container plants, and allow for an easy transition to the door. The landing area is increased as well. The tread width echoes the Four Square’s typical generous eaves above.  The area can be further lightened visually by placing pale buff gravel below the deck. More soon!


Great Advice

Use “denial and reward” to enrich passage through the built environment.

“As we move through buildings, towns, and cities, we mentally connect visual cues from our surroundings to our needs and expectations. The satisfaction and richness of our experiences are largely the result of the ways in which these connections are made.

Denial and reward can encourage the formulation of a rich experience. In designing paths of travel, try presenting users a view of their target—a staircase, building entrance, monument, or other element—then momentarily screen it from view as they continue their approach. Reveal the target a second time from a different angle or with an interesting new detail. Divert users onto an unexpected path to create additional intrigue or even momentary ‘lostness’; then reward them with other interesting experiences or other views of their target. This additional “work” will make the journey more interesting, the arrival more rewarding.”–101 Things I Learned in Architecture School, by Matthew Frederick

greeneyedesign Gives Back: Helping The National Wildlife Federation

Recently I was approached by Albert Short, President of Harmony Ponds in Fairfax, VA. Harmony Ponds is one of the premier water feature design/build/maintain firms in the Midatlantic region; Al’s projects include the fountains and other water features for the largest expansion to date of the Virginia Museum in Richmond, as well as the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington, DC.

Al asked if I would be interested in donating some time & materials for a worthy cause: renovating the grounds of the National Wildlife Federation Headquarters in Reston, VA. Once a gorgeous and environmentally savvy landscape, it has fallen into a bit of dishabille: The towering and exciting waterfall, stream, and large pond are all almost completely obscured from view by volunteer trees and shrubs, as well as the designed native vegetation.

Heck yes! I will be there all day tomorrow, October 21st working the business end of a pair of loppers ( and tree spade, shovel, pole pruners, etc) and lending advice wherever it’s needed. It looks like we will have a small army of volunteers, both professionals like me as well as from the ranks of the NWF membership and donators. Should be fun!

The Settlement Group

Recently the owner of The Settlement Group approached me to address a– how should I describe this charitably– woefully neglected exterior for one of their branch locations in McLean, VA.

Around the backside is even worse, with two enormous cracking Bradford Pears leaning out precariously over the old drive-through roof, broken and pruned branches from older hack jobs laying in parking spaces, and ivy slowly strangling everything. The general mood or feel of the surrounds is depressing and invites crime, littering (note throw-away pizza box above), and vandalism. I would hate to think of the liability connected to some sort of car damage or personal injury associated with a failing tree. The bare mulched beds have heaved up over time because of root growth of whatever shrubs grew there previously, as well as many years of shredded hardwood mulch being piled in layer upon  layer until the soil level is now considerably above the height of the curb. Stormwater runoff sheets across the surface, carrying with it mulch & debris into the parking area, clogging stormdrains and making a mess. Without vegetation near the foundation, water has a much smaller chance of staying onsite and percoating into the soil below, further loading the storm sewers and carrying surface pollutants (pollen, exhaust fumes, petroleum, etc.) directly into the Chesapeake. Without crucial foundation plantings, the building bakes in full sun, the walls and roof have no respite of shade nor do they benefit from any mitigation of the heatsink effect from the surrounding black asphalt– meaning cooling costs are substantially higher.

click for humongous version

With such a limited grounplain in which to work, tree & shrub selection is critically important. Drought tolerance, heat tolerance, and mature sizes which will never overwhelm the planting area nor the building itself are all key factors in plant choices. The blackline drawing above shows the entire space treated as a harmonious whole, while still respecting the surrounding region. The idea is to stand out as brilliant, not glaringly different. The groundplain is covered in low growing, drought-tolerant Sedums, which will not mind being occassionally trampled by passersby

Should the client care to further layer the groundplain later, there are a myriad of flowering bulbs and annuals which can be rotated in seasonally.

It’s important that shade be created as soon as possible to help counter the asphalt heat island effect, create shadowlines across the building, cool the interior, and as an added bonus in this case create a small haven for local wildlife and songbirds. For this, I’m selecting Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’, aka Apple Serviceberry, and outstanding cultivar of our native Serviceberry. Considerations such as handicapped vehicle ingress & egress (no lower limbs hitting vans, for example) and year round variety  are important in such a small palette.