Home & Design

The pool is a central element of the backyard, connecting to the porch via a shallow staircase while stone steppers lead up to the patio.

A grilling station borders the dining area.

The fireplace occupies a corner spot for gathering beyond the koi pond framed in Mondo grass.

A bank of Limelight hydrangea enlivens the landscape.

Irregular flagstone conveys a casual, rustic feel around the koi pond, a favorite element of the owners’ landscape.

New Leaf

Surrounds, Inc., devises a lush backyard oasis on a Great Falls property

A Great Falls family who had updated their house turned to Surrounds, Inc., to revive their rundown property accordingly. “It was an opportunity to create a gorgeous new environment,” recounts principal Howard Cohen, who designed the project.

The owners’ wish list began with a picturesque koi pond “that they could look at from their porch,” Cohen says. They also wanted a built-in grill, a patio for dining and gathering and new hardscape. Surrounds was tasked with improving the grade and circulation; removing and trimming trees to let in more sunlight; and renovating the existing pool and hot tub. The screened porch turned out to be structurally unsound, so Cohen and his team replaced it with a new one that accesses the pool scape via a staircase.

Concrete pavers now surround the pool, with stone steppers leading past the rehabbed hot tub to the koi pond. A stone fireplace anchors the patio, which flows into the outdoor kitchen with its built-in grilling station. Carderock stone was used for the retaining walls and the fireplace, while the patio is laid with Pennsylvania bluestone. Boulders sourced in Tennessee embellish the koi pond, which is lined with Gunite like a swimming pool. “I’m not a fan of rubber liners, as they tend to have issues,” Cohen notes. The pond is four feet deep with straight sides to discourage predators from perching or wading in to feast on fish.

Evergreens such as Alaskan cedar and cryptomeria provide privacy along the edge of the property. “The clients wanted as much color as possible,” relates Cohen. Lush mondo grass is punctuated with drift roses, hydrangea and vibrant perennials.

Landscape Architecture & Installation: Howard Cohen, RLA, Surrounds, Inc., Sterling, Virginia. 

Ask Howard

What’s the best approach to a new project?
Vocalize your wants specifically. Are you casual or formal? Do you entertain? Do you want to spread out during gatherings? Also, what are you comfortable spending? If the estimate is twice what you budgeted, consider phasing the project.

How do you define outdoor rooms?
I design each space in a landscape with its use in mind. Plantings and changes of materials can set spaces apart. In this project, the patio flagstone is tailored while irregular stone by the koi pond looks more casual. Passageways also delineate areas.

How do you approach the design of a water feature?
I ask what the clients want its purpose to be. And I warn them there will be a lot of maintenance.

What are some of your favorite outdoor products?
Porcelain pavers, which complement contemporary spaces, are low-maintenance and very durable—but they are hard to work with. Natural stone is still best, as it comes in any size or shape.

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