Case Study: Landscaping + Outdoor Living

Outdoor Oasis: Surrounds, Inc., turns a nondescript landscape into a blooming backyard retreat

A couple with a three-acre property in Darnestown, Maryland, was ready to trade its outdated patio and gazebo for a landscape encompassing a pool, spa, patio, screened porch and more. They contacted landscape architect Chad Talton to come up with a plan that would give them the features they wanted, along with a more inviting outdoor environment.

The septic field and problematic grading meant that the pool had to be carefully sited and the yard multi-tiered. “We terraced the back, but made sure it was a gentle slope,” Talton says. A stairway from the house to the yard was replaced by a pergola structure that leads in one direction to the spa and in the other to the patio where a grilling station and seating area lie. From the family room, a new door opens to the screened porch, which boasts ipe flooring and a gas fireplace with a stone surround.

Curvilinear features crop up throughout, including a rounded island and grilling station supported by a circular base. In addition to being a design element, this feature “conserved space,” Talton explains. “We didn’t want it to take up a lot of the patio and this was a way to accomplish that.”

In the pool area, a shallow swim shelf spills via a waterfall over boulders to the main pool, curved in a naturalistic style. Wide grass steps with bluestone risers connect the pool and patio. “They create a softer, garden-friendly look,” Talton says. Seasonal plantings in a variety of textures include flowering perennials and grasses; boxwoods and evergreens define the edges of the patio and stairs for a manicured look.

Landscape Architecture: Chad Talton, RLA, Surrounds, Inc., Sterling, Virginia. Photography: Morgan Howarth.

Chad Talton’s Trade Secrets

  • When selecting a spa, consider how you plan to use it. Prefabricated spas are typically designed for therapeutic purposes while gunite spas are more recreational. If it’s intended to be therapeutic, locate it close to the house for easy access year-round.
  • Ask yourself if you want the pool to be part of the home or more of a destination—in which case you may prefer to site it with a pool house away from your home.
  • If possible, frame your views so that they are not all facing the pool, because during two-thirds of the year when it is not in use, a pool is not a particularly attractive element.
  • When choosing your hardscape, don’t go with uniform stones; choose ones that will provide interest and contrast for impact.