Photography: Bob Narod

Landscaping + Outdoor Living: Case Study

Natural Oasis: In the hands of Surrounds, Inc., a mundane backyard becomes an elaborate poolside retreat

Landscaping + Outdoor Living: Case Study A couple who had purchased a custom home in Great Falls was faced with a backyard that was virtually a blank slate—just an expanse of grass and a few random trees. They asked Howard Cohen of Surrounds, Inc., to implement a wish list that included a pool and spa, a water feature, a built-in grilling area and lush plantings, all while imparting interest to the landscape.

Cohen and his team began by changing the configuration of the existing deck to better blend with the landscape, which now offers a beautiful vista that’s visible from the house. Because of the property’s slight slope, the pool was positioned down a step from deck level and over to the side. “The pool is cut into the hillside a bit,” Cohen says. “The grade changes made it work together.” A waterfall spills into the pool over rocks built into concrete to prevent leakage.

At the far end of the pool, a covered structure of pressure-treated cedar provides an attractive focal point; it’s open on three sides and houses a comfortable poolside sitting area beneath a cathedral ceiling of cedar. The fourth side is a stone wall that conceals a storage area for pool equipment.

Feathery grasses, liriope, nandina and hypericum separate the pool area from the patio, which boasts large-scale hand-sawn Tennessee flagstones that have been installed on gravel rather than mortar for a cleaner look. Grass steps with cobble risers lead from the patio into the grass; they’re flanked by an herb garden of purple sage and rosemary. The built-in grill area and fire pit provide places to congregate.

LANDSCAPE DESIGN: HOWARD COHEN, Surrounds, Inc., Sterling, Virginia. PHOTOGRAPHY: Bob Narod.


  • Give yourself plenty of time to plan out what you want—six months would be perfect, so if possible, start in the fall for a spring job. It’s also a good idea to plan ahead because it can take a while to get permits. Some counties are very particular.
  • Look for opportunities to do something different. For instance, this job was unique because of the scale. The yard was big and could support large-scale patio stones that are bold and unusual. They create a fresh look in the yard.
  • Before you start planting, ensure that you have good drainage and good soil. You don’t want to spend money on plants without giving them the best possible chance of thriving. Bring in good soil if necessary to build up the beds.