Home & Design

A Classic Outdoor Retreat

Careful grading and an original design scheme bring timeless elegance to a McLean garden.

A Classic Outdoor Retreat

McHale Landscape Design eliminated a 14-foot grade in this
back yard, adding a vanishing-edge pool that aligns perfectly
with the home’s center hall axis.

From a design point of view, the problem with swimming pools is that they tend to look like swimming pools. This one-acre site in McLean, Virginia, with a slope in the back yard of 14 feet certainly lent itself to creative thinking. As well as a swimming pool, the clients wanted space for entertaining, and in the end, they got much more than they desired.

Designers at McHale Landscape Design, Inc., noticed a great opportunity when they saw the traditional center hall Colonial with a bank of windows at the rear. Phil Kelly, chief operations officer of McHale's Virginia division, says that now, when you walk in the front door, "you can see out into the garden, and the pool is lined up exactly on that center hall axis." The designers added a vanishing edge at the end of the pool, said Kelly, "which adds a little bit of drama" and instills some life into the calm expanse of water.

At the far end of the pool, McHale installed a rustic wall of Pennsylvania fieldstone, each piece hand-chiseled for an ashlar effect. An archway built into the wall contains a shelf for a planted urn, and seat walls at the end of the pool deck add elevation and make that space feel more like a garden. Plantings of boxwood, holly and American hornbeams lend structure to the garden. Boston ivy rambles up the stone wall and, in winter, brightens that end of the pool when the vine turns a fiery red.

Soil excavated from the house foundation was used to terrace the back yard and create space for an expansive brick deck and the pool. It's now just two steps down to the main deck area and two more down to the pool deck—a vast improvement over that 14-foot drop.

At the far end of the pool, a rustic wall of Pennsylvania
fieldstone is surrounded by plantings of boxwood, holly
and American hornbeams.


A terraced brick deck provides plenty of space for
outdoor entertaining.Landscape Design and Installation: McHale Landscape Design, Inc., Upper Marlboro, Maryland.

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