Home & Design

Inside Out

Award-winning landscapes create outdoor "great rooms" steeped in detail and fine craftsmanship

Inside Out

A new open-air pavilion, rock garden and lily pond distinguish
this award-winning project by The Landscape Group;
photography by Steve Mendler.

The garden is no longer just a bed with flowering shrubs and eye-catching perennials. Rather, it’s now a reiteration of interior living space, complete with dining and living rooms, and much more. When asked what homeowners want in the garden these days, Morgan Washburn of Botanical Decorators, Inc., says the trend “seems to go far beyond a simple patio with plantings. The requests are particularly for outdoor kitchens, upholstered furniture that looks like it could grace a living room…pool houses and fire pits, especially the gas-fueled ones that can be fired up so easily.”

Michael Prokopchak of Walnut Hill Landscape Co., Inc., says that outdoor kitchens are still very popular. “More people are cooking outside and using their outdoor space as a continuation of the house for entertaining,” he said. In the following pages, you’ll see gardens from all around the DC metropolitan area that illustrate these latest trends. All are among the 2007 winners of the “Excellence in Landscape” awards sponsored by the Landscape Contractors Association (LCA) of Maryland, DC and Virginia. From the sophisticated roof garden near DC’s Logan Circle to the Eastern Shore retreat on the banks of the Tred Avon River, all feature extensive outdoor living areas that are similar, in many ways, to interior great rooms.

Steven Mackler of The Landscape Group says today’s outdoor rooms, like many interiors, feature “attention to detail and fine craftsmanship.” They are gardens, he says, that “express a quiet and simple elegance … and our clients expect nothing less.”

Au Naturel

Landscapes with dramatic changes in elevation present difficult challenges for any designer. To allow the homeowner full use of the property, it’s almost always necessary to build a series of retaining walls, steps and stairways to get from top to bottom.

For this large two-acre property in Potomac, Maryland, landscape architect Howard Cohen of Surrounds Landscape Architecture and Construction decided to opt for large boulders and stone steps in keeping with the client’s wish for a natural look. In the front yard, Cohen suggested the installation of a courtyard for parking that would make a better transition to the front door of the residence. Now, a large parking area made of pavers with a flagstone edge allows easy access to a spacious front landing complete with stone wall, a bench and cascading perennials.

In the back yard, Cohen installed a generous flagstone patio adjacent to the house and tucked in a spa that’s secluded by tall evergreen trees and shrubs. From the patio, you descend a long natural stone stairway down to the swimming pool some 25 feet below the top of the yard. For the pool deck, Cohen used a paver that looks like flagstone, but is much easier on bare feet in hot weather. “It gives you the illusion of flagstone at a fraction of the cost,” he says.

To retain the slope, create planting beds and build the stairway from the pool back up to the residence, Cohen hauled in about 130 tons of natural weathered boulders and 60 tons of flagstone steppers. Because there was so much hardscaping involved, Cohen explained, he utilized masses of plants—all deer-resistant—to soften the hard edges of the stone. Ornamental raspberry, a prolific evergreen groundcover, creeps in, around and over the boulders on the hillside. Native grasses and mounds of perennials are woven together to provide a rich tapestry of color and texture. Cohen planted 50 Virginia sweetspire at one end of the pool “to make a statement,” and used Kashmir deodar cedars as the “signature tree” in the landscape. He also added splashes of color to the strong green palette with burgundy-leafed forest pansy redbuds and Japanese maples.

Howard Cohen, Surrounds Landscape Architecture and Construction, Sterling, Virginia; Grand Award, Total Residential Contracting. Photography by Ron Blunt.

Sleek and Sophisticated Aerie

Washington’s Logan Circle area is much in vogue these days with its popular restaurants, theaters, new boutiques and vibrant street life. The owners of a sleek and minimalist condominium called in landscape designer Morgan Washburn of Botanical Decorators to create a roof garden to go with their very contemporary residence and lifestyle. The clients wanted plenty of room for entertaining, a strong architectural design and a modest amount of flowers for a space that was approximately 15 by 50 feet.

Washburn decided to divide the area into two separate spaces to take advantage of the two-unit building’s natural views and its high parapet walls. A spiral staircase inside the condo leads up to the lower roof level, where a whole new world unfolds. You step out onto a flagstone patio, where winter-blooming jasmine and weeping blue spruce cascade from planters atop the parapet walls. Water trickles down the façade of a stone fountain with a gentle, mellow sound that dissipates some of the street noise. Washburn says the lower patio level “has a real feeling of enclosure.” The high walls buffer it from the wind, but also block some of the views.

To gain back the views of the neighborhood panorama, Washburn constructed a raised deck on the upper level using the tropical hardwood, îpe. From the lower level, you ascend three sleek curved steps with risers made from perforated stainless steel; lighting behind the risers shines through at night. The stainless-steel motif is repeated on the doors of the air conditioning enclosure and on the railings of the upper deck.

Washburn turned the entire design upon a 30-degree axis. When you’re on the site, he explains, “it dramatically changes…the way you experience the views around you, so that you’re not looking at the grid pattern of the city.”

The clients frequently use the upper level as a dining terrace. Washburn added two planters with river birch trees to provide filtered shade. The color palette is a warm one, achieved through the use of ornamental grasses and colorful annuals. The plantings fit the livelier mood on the upper level, while a cool palette of blues and lavenders adds to the more contemplative feeling on the lower level.

Morgan Washburn, Botanical Decorators, Inc., Olney, Maryland; Grand Award, Outdoor Living Area. Photography by Morgan Washburn.

A Waterfront Oasis

These days, a property on the water poses particular challenges for designers. Almost every community requires building setbacks to limit runoff into waterways and preserve the natural ecology. This two-acre site on the South River in Annapolis is a typical example. The homeowners wanted a swimming pool, fireplace, outdoor kitchen and shower and plantings that would allow them to enjoy the garden year-round.
Landscape architect Michael Prokopchak, president of Walnut Hill Landscape Company, says setback requirements drove much of his design. The result is a raised swimming pool with a vanishing edge that is set on an angle along one side. A spa nestled into one corner of the pool gives the illusion that it’s spilling over into the pool. Four arching jets of water emanating from a planting bed spill into the pool—a stunning feature, especially when illuminated in the evening.

A large flagstone patio and walkways connect the house to the pool and outdoor kitchen. The summer kitchen, says Prokopchak, includes a two-sided fireplace,which the clients use year-round. “From the pool, you can see the fire,” he says, “and you can also see it when sitting in the dining area.” The kitchen area also includes a grill (with side burner for crabs), a refrigerator and a storage area with an outdoor shower nearby.

A stepping stone path allows visitors to amble through the garden. Two river birches flank a large expanse of grass that runs nearly 100 feet out toward the water. “There’s something happening in the garden all through the year,” says Prokopchak. ‘Knockout’ roses bloom from spring through the late fall, and a variety of ornamental grasses, including maiden grass, feather reed grass and fountain grass, keep the planting beds looking lush and colorful from late spring all the way through the entire winter season.

Michael Prokopchak, Walnut Hill Landscape Company, Annapolis, Maryland; Grand Award, Outdoor Living Area. Photography by Jay Stearns.

A Graceful Approach

The Eastern shore site had everything: a linear house on the banks of the Tred Avon River, a lengthy deck running across the back of the house and a swimming pool. But there was nothing except the distant pool to lure the homeowners outdoors. When they saw what Steven Mackler, president of The Landscape Group, had done for some of their neighbors, they gave him a call.

Mackler designed a plan with a new deck; a patio with a rock garden, pond and waterfall; and an open-air pavilion with a covered roof. As he puts it, he wanted “to open up the vista to the water and give them a graceful, elegant approach into the garden.”

Now, a stone wall with light-topped pillars on either side defines the entrance into the property and gives visitors “a sense of actually entering into the space,” says Mackler. The existing swimming pool was left in place, but Mackler says he “needed to make it work with everything else.” He linked the pool and the adjacent pavilion to the house with walkways of western Maryland stone and a stone bridge that runs between the waterfall and the pond. Mackler also added a new concrete pool deck and a curved arbor that echoes the arc of the pool and is covered with Amethyst Falls wisteria and clematis.

From the pavilion, there are views to the water and rock garden; a stone fireplace makes the structure useable most of the year. The garden overflows with colorful trees, shrubs and perennials, including Japanese maples, a crape myrtle, canna lilies, ornamental grasses, Siberian iris, black-eyed Susans and annuals that cascade over the edge of the pool. While the husband has an avid interest in gardening and does a lot of the maintenance, the wife, says Mackler, “never felt she could use the garden.” But the re-do has “changed her whole approach,” he says, especially because she now has a place to sit and enjoy the lovely views.

Steven Mackler, The Landscape Group, Washington DC; Grand Award, Outdoor Living Area. Photography by Steven Mackler.

LCA Award Winners
2007 Excellence in Landscape Award Winners

Maintained for 10 years or more
TruGreen LandCare Mid-Atlantic Region
Philip Morris USA, Commercial Maintenance

Maintained for more than five years
TruGreen LandCare Mid-Atlantic Region
Riderwood Village Retirement Community,
Commercial Maintenance
Downtown Silver Spring Redevelopment,
Commercial Maintenance

Botanical Decorators, Inc., Olney, MD
Gaithersburg Residence, Outdoor Living Area (Design/Build)
Laytonsville Residence, Craftsmanship (Design/Build)
Hampshire Greens Residence, Front Residential Planting & Entranceway (Design/Build)
Hampshire Greens Residence, Outdoor Living Area (Design/Build)
Logan Circle Residence, Outdoor Living Area (Design/Build)
The Hawksfield Residence, Total Residential Contracting (Design/Build)

Clearwater Landscape Contractors, Inc., Ijamsville, MD
Ellicott City Residence, Outdoor Living Area

Fine Earth Landscape, Inc., Poolesville, MD
Trone Residence, Residential Maintenance

Garden Gate Landscaping, Inc., Silver Spring, MD
York Residence, Total Residential Contracting (Design/Build)
Hardisty Residence, Total Residential Contracting (Design/Build)
Durston Pool Project, Outdoor Living Area (Design/Build)

Inside Out Services, LLC, Silver Spring, MD
The Portals, Commercial Maintenance
The Fairmont Washington DC Hotel, Commercial Maintenance

John Shorb Landscaping, Inc., Kensington, MD
A Residence in McLean, Residential Maintenance
Ariel Rios South Courtyard, Commercial Landscape Installation
Washington, DC, Residence, Total Residential Contracting (Design/Build)
Arlington, VA, Residence, Front Residential Planting & Entranceway

Landscape Projects, Inc., Bethesda, MD
Wittenstein Residence, Front Residential Planting &
Entranceway (Design/Build)

McHale Landscape Design, Inc., Upper Marlboro, MD
Potomac Residence, Outdoor Living Area
Eastern Shore Residence, Outdoor Living Area
Edgewater Residence, Total Residential Contracting
Easton Residence, Total Residential Contracting
Jeon Residence, Outdoor Living Area
Wann Residence, Front Residential Planting & Entranceway
Alexandria Residence, Outdoor Living Area (Design/Build)
Petitbon Residence, Outdoor Living Area
Smith Residence, Total Residential Contracting & Entranceway
Haney Residence, Total Residential Contracting
McHale Landscape Design, Inc. (continued)
Annapolis Residence, Total Residential Contracting
McLean Residence, Front Residential Planting & Entranceway
Cohen Residence, Residential Maintenance
Pilli Residence, Outdoor Living Area

Ruppert Nurseries, Inc., Laytonsville, MD
The Asia Trail Exhibit at the National Zoo, Commercial Landscape Installation
Marine Corps Barracks at 8th & I, Commercial Maintenance

Scott Brinitzer Design Associates, Arlington, VA
Walsh-Sheridan, Total Residential Contracting (Design/Build)
Murphy Golder, Total Residential Contracting (Design/Build)

Surrounds Landscape Architecture and Construction, Sterling, VA
Stein Residence, Total Residential Contracting (Design/Build)
Gelbard Residence, Total Residential Contracting (Design/Build)
Brown Residence, Total Residential Contracting (Design/Build)

McHale Landscape Design; photography by Erin Brooke Bogan 

The Landscape Group, Ltd., Washington, DC
Lewin Residence, Outdoor Living Area (Design/Build)
Tom Mannion Landscape Design, Inc., Arlington, VA
Lap Pool in Bethesda, Outdoor Living Area (Design/Build)
Walnut Hill Landscape Company, Inc., Annapolis, MD
Fishing Creek Residence, Outdoor Living Area (Design/Build)
Severn Grove Residence, Outdoor Living Area (Design/Build)

Wheat’s Lawn & Custom Landscape, Inc., McLean, VA
Private Residence in Oakton, Residential Maintenance


Botanical Decorators, Inc., Olney, MD
Silver Spring Residence, Outdoor Living Area (Design/Build)

The Brickman Group, Ltd., Gaithersburg, MD
The Crescent at Fells Point, Commercial Maintenance
Freddie Mac, Commercial Maintenance
National Maritime Intelligence Center, Commercial Maintenance

Fine Earth Landscape, Inc., Poolesville, MD
Heflin Residence, Outdoor Living Area
Strouse Residence, Outdoor Living Area
Samadi Residence, Outdoor Living Area

Heritage Landscape Services, LLC, Chantilly, VA
Stone Ridge Association, Commercial Maintenance

John Shorb Landscaping, Inc., Kensington, MD
A Residence in Kalorama, Residential Maintenance

McHale Landscape Design, Inc., Upper Marlboro, MD
Reston Residence, Outdoor Living Area
Thrasher & Kaufmann Residence, Outdoor Living Area
Turner Residence, Outdoor Living Area
Zeiller Residence, Total Residential Contracting
Smirnitopolous Residence, Outdoor Living Area


Botanical Decorators, Inc., Olney, MD
Darnestown Residence, Outdoor Living Area (Design/Build)

Clearwater Landscape Contractors, Inc., Ijamsville, MD
Ohr Residence, Total Residential Contracting
Potomac Residence, Total Residential Contracting
Bel Air Residence, Outdoor Living Area

Fine Earth Landscape, Inc., Poolesville, MD
Jefferson, MD, Residence, Total Residential Contracting
Mitchell Residence, Total Residential Contracting

Great Scapes by Earth Scapes, Inc., Deale, MD
Gergar Residence, Outdoor Living Area

Surrounds Landscape Architecture and Construction, Sterling, VA
Billak Residence, Outdoor Living Area (Design/Build)

TruGreen Landcare Mid-Atlantic Region
Westminster Canterbury Richmond, Commercial Maintenance

McHale Landscape Design; photography by Erin Brooke Bogan

McHale Landscape Design; photography by Erin Brooke Bogan

Botanical Decorators; photography by Morgan Washburn

Botanical Decorators; photography by Morgan Washburn

Botanical Decorators; photography by Morgan Washburn

Botanical Decorators; photography by Morgan Washburn

Walnut Hill Landscape Company; photography by Jay Stearns

Walnut Hill Landscape Company; photography by Jay Stearns

Walnut Hill Landscape Company; photography by Jay Stearns

Walnut Hill Landscape Company; photography by Jay Stearns

Walnut Hill Landscape Company; photography by Jay Stearns

The Landscape Group; photography by Steven Mackler

The Landscape Group; photography by Steven Mackler

The Landscape Group; photography by Steven Mackler

John Shorb Landscape Group; photography by Tim Edberg

John Shorb Landscape Group; photography by Tim Edberg

Jane Berger is a Washington, DC, landscape designer and publisher of GardenDesignOnline.com.

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