Home & Design

A secluded patio by Botanical Decorators displays visual and tactile interest. © Roger Foley

A pool scape designed and installed by Walnut Hill boasts a scenic river view. © Jay Stearns

McHale Landscape Design enhanced the charm of a Tudor-style home. © John Spaulding

Boldly hued flowers are massed for greatest impact in the terraced front yard. © John Spaulding

An landscape design by Surrounds, Inc., centers on a clean-lined pergola. © Chad Talton

Scott Brinitzer framed an outdoor room with an arbor covered in wisteria. © Roger Foley

A poolscape by Lewis Aquatech. © Judy Davis

Vibrant color from Great American Landscapes. © Lee Brandenburg

A poolside water feature by Outdoor Environments.

An irregular stone path by Zen Associates, Inc.

A spa and pool by Fine Earth Landscape, Inc.

Hardscape by Kane Landscapes.

Pavers create retaining walls and stairs in a design by CLP, Scapes, Inc.

A natural-style stream by Professional Grounds. © Hilary Schwab

Al fresco dining in a McLean garden designed by Scott Brinitzer Design Associates. © Roger Foley

Expert Advice Garden Variety

Seasoned professionals offer insights on how to design a beautiful, harmonious landscape

Expert Advice Garden Variety All good landscapes are the artful balance of soft and hardscape,” observes Chris Cahill, principal of Botanical Decorators in Olney, Maryland. In fact, a harmonious material palette is invaluable to any landscape. Gone are the days when hardscape meant a patio flush against the house; today, hardscapes offer so much interest and variety that carefully selecting thhttp://www.botdec.com/e right plantings to complement them is imperative.

Indeed, says Chad Talton, a landscape architect at Surrounds, Inc., in Sterling, Virginia, not only should soft and hardscapes complement one another, “they should enhance the beauty of the home and accentuate the architecture as well.” It’s a tall order. Below, designers shed light on how to create that all-important balance in your garden.

ROOM TO GROW  Botanical Decorators designed a lush, textural garden beside a wooded area in Alexandria, nestling an elliptical patio at its center. “It was constructed with full-range broken flagstone installed with soft edges as part of the experience,” says Chris Cahill. “The curvature of the landscape worked perfectly with the soft form of the patio.” Plantings are layered with the taller ones at the back so as not to crowd the hardscape; artful plant placement imparts a soft, natural feel. Strongly textured, deep-green Skip laurels contrast with supple, soft-textured Smoke bush in light lavender-gray. Other plantings include hydrangea, Sweetbay magnolia, American holly, Amsonia, mazus and Blushing Bride rose.

“Each space in a landscape should serve a specific function and be sized appropriately,” says Cahill, who advises taking traffic flow into account when deciding on the lawn, garden, and even outdoor-furniture placement. He also accents the importance of giving plants plenty of breathing room. “The biggest mistake people make is choosing plantings that will overgrow the space,” he says. “Hybrids that will maintain their proper proportions are worth the initial investment. Ground covers and perennials will fill the spaces in between, giving each plant space it will need to grow.”

SOFTENING THE LINES  Walnut Hill Landscape Company was asked to create a poolscape with an adjoining spa on an Annapolis property overlooking the Severn River. Landscape designer and principal Michael Prokopchak took cues from the home’s stone façade in his selections for the hardscape, which encompasses a pool surround, patio, retaining walls, steps, and an outdoor fireplace. “The hardscape should complement or match the architecture of the home,” he says. For this project, retaining walls of Carderock stone capped with Pennsylvania bluestone add polish, while rustic pavers—chosen because they’re cool underfoot—surround the pool.

Plants were selected to provide color and texture during the summer season when the pool is most in use. Coreopsis Moonbeam, Purple Wave petunia, purple coneflower and feather reed grass frame the hardscape—as well as the river view, which is visible through a stand of trees.

Prokopchak often relies on plantings to soften and complement the hard lines of construction. “We use evergreen ground covers to trail over walls, to break up their expanse,” he explains. He also suggests keeping your plant selection simple. “Use more quantity and less variety. This will keep your garden from being too busy,” he says. “Simple is better!”

CURB APPEAL  McHale Landscape Design of Upper Marlboro, Maryland, completely overhauled a McLean property, imparting much-needed curb appeal to its front yard and driveway. Designer Phil Kelly installed architectural pavers inlaid with Pennsylvania flagstone on the driveway and parking/arrival court, then selected Western Maryland stone for the entry piers, retaining walls, walkways, stairs and driveway inlay, curb, and gutter. “Do not use too many different hardscape materials,” Kelly advises.

For this project, trees and shrubs were chosen to contrast with the hardscape rather than to blend in. Plantings soften the stonework, with vines conveying a garden feel. Crape myrtle, Korean boxwood, Knockout roses and nepeta create structure. “The massing of plant varieties provides a stunning succession of seasonal color and foliage,” Kelly says. “The climbing hydrangea and climbing roses link the house to the garden.”

House, hardscape, and plantings should inspire one another. “The landscape is an extension of the home’s interior and exterior architecture,” Kelly explains. “It’s key that the plant material complements the architecture of the house and provides a link to the surrounding environment.”

Finally, he advises, uses proven plantings—whatever thrive in your environment. And avoid species that will overtake or mask the hardscape.

DESIGN INTENT  Clients in Purcellville, Virginia, hired Surrounds, Inc., of Sterling to design and install a hardscape, landscape, pool, and gazebo. Landscape architect Chad Talton selected Tennessee flagstone for the staircases, wall caps and pool coping because of its tan hue, and combined it with Appian random concrete pavers on the pool deck in a complementary tan/brown pattern. Boulders quarried in Tennessee match the flagstone.

“I use plantings not only to provide aesthetic quality,” Talton says, “but also for design intent. For instance, plantings can be used to direct the eye down to a sightline, to provide a barrier, to frame a sculpture or for the shade over a patio.” In this case, a deer-resistant plant palette was selected with a minimal need for watering. It features miscanthus, Pennisetum, perovskia, amsonia, liriope, Sweetbay magnolia, boxwood, and sedum. Varieties of spruce provide privacy from the street and neighbors.

Before embarking on a landscape project, Talton recommends developing a rough idea of what you want to achieve with a space and a checklist of the elements you’re looking for. “Think about a grand scheme even if you are not doing it all now,” he suggests. “It makes sense to plan for the future even if that future is 10 years away.”

OUTDOOR ROOM  Scott Brinitzer Design Associates was asked to transform an empty lawn in McLean into a series of outdoor “rooms,” providing space for kids to play while adults can enjoy the garden. Selecting Western Maryland fieldstone with flagstone details, Brinitzer enclosed the sitting area (pictured) within a fireplace wall and retaining walls. Monochromatic True Blue flagstone was used for the patio floor.

“The crux of the design is an iron pergola that frames the seating area,” Brinitzer says. Adorned with Chinese and Amethyst Falls wisteria, it was designed by Brinitzer’s firm and fabricated onsite; it also extends to an adjacent kitchen and dining area.

The planting palette is intentionally limited “to allow the architecture of the built landscape to be the focal point,” Brinitzer explains, adding that “using larger-growing plants near your hardscape will create edges that will define an outdoor room. Plantings should be site-specific.”

In this case, they were selected to define the garden “rooms” and unify the built and planted garden spaces. Reliably green in the growing season, anonymous provides a dense backdrop and a sense of enclosure. Boston ivy softens the monolithic fireplace wall—and seasonal color comes from containers that the owners enjoy planting each year.



Explain the importance of outdoor lighting in a successful landscape.  Lighting can be one of the most important aspects of a landscape. As many people are putting in long hours at work, they often do not see their homes until after dark. During evening hours, soft landscape lighting is nothing short of magical. It provides a warm and inviting ambiance that calls us outdoors, creates a mood and adds interest and intrigue to any setting. —Don Gwiz, Lewis Aquatech

How do you select trees and shrubs to screen a fence? A beautifully screened fence includes a variety of evergreen and deciduous elements with both vertical and mounding habits. Trees, shrubs and flowers with a range of colors and textures provide multi-season appeal and work together to stop the eye before the fence. We take into account the clients’ taste, goals, site conditions and budget to prepare the perfect solution. —Steven Talcott, Great American Landscapes 

How do you blend varied hardscape materials?  First, we study the architecture of the home to decide which colors to tie in to the hardscape. We like to work with natural materials, installing them in various fashions, to make the exterior space more interesting. In this case, we sourced travertine directly from Turkey and ensured that all elements, including the water bowls, were cut out of the same blocks of stone for a perfect match. —Joseph Colao, Colao & Peter Outdoor Environments 

What are the keys to creating a healthy pond?  Creating a healthy pond begins with proper planning. A pond with both fish and plant material will require a more intricate filtration system. Two other considerations are the choice of the pond liner and the location on the site. An experienced professional will understand the impact that the above items will have on the cost and longevity of a healthy pond. —Peter White, Zen Associates, Inc. 

What criteria are most important in choosing pool coping?  In choosing pool coping and decking, I first look at architectural features of the home. The pool coping in the project pictured is 14-inch-wide limestone with consistent, two-inch thickness and a chiseled-rock edge. The coping and decking matched the existing sunroom floor and the sill on the house. Other coping materials include commonly used bluestone and variably colored travertine. —Bernie Mihm, Fine Earth Landscape, Inc. 

What are your favorite low-maintenance ground covers and why?  Mazus reptans is a mat-forming ground cover that reaches two inches in height and blooms profusely with delicate flowers in the early spring. It is perfect for stepping stones, thanks to its ability to handle light foot traffic. For a more formal look, I enjoy Dwarf Mondo grass. This variety grows to be four inches tall and is excellent for borders or defining small spaces. —Josh Kane, Kane Landscapes 

What should a homeowner consider when selecting pavers?  The first thing to consider is the exterior finish and architecture of your home. You want to select a paver that complements the existing features on the property and does not clash with the prevailing theme and/or color tones. For walkways and small patios, you’ll want to stick with a smaller-sized paver, while for driveways, pool decks and large entertaining areas, you’ll want to go with larger pavers. —Jeff Crandell, CLP, Scapes, Inc.

What qualities make a man-made stream look natural?  First, place the stream in an area that makes physical sense, perhaps starting at a high point and sloping down. Source stone that’s native to the region of your project and places it to mimic the way it would look in a real stream. It’s important to incorporate plant material that complements the feature and use the proper pumps and filters to keep the water clean and healthy. —Marta Carlson, Professional Grounds 

You may also like:

Classic Style
A design team conjures an elegant yet approachable vibe in an expanded 1930s Wesley Heights cottage
Expert Advice- Between a Rock and a Hardscape
Landscape professionals offer advice on choosing the right materials for outdoor living spaces
Under Cover
From pergolas to pool houses, well-designed shelters protect against the elements in style
HOME&DESIGN, published bi-monthly by Homestyles Media Inc., is the premier magazine of architecture and fine interiors for the Washington, DC, Maryland and Virginia region.

The company also publishes an annual H&D Sourcebook of ideas and resources for homeowners and professionals alike. H&D Chesapeake Views is published bi-annually and showcases fine home design and luxury living in and around the Chesapeake Bay.

The H&D Portfolio of 100 Top Designers spotlights the superior work of selected architects, interior designers and landscape architects in major regions of the US.

Stay Connected with HOME & DESIGN Newsletter

Copyright © 2023 Home & Design. All rights reserved. | Back to top