Large, square planters anchor this project, which boasts waterfalls and pools lined with Mexican beach pebbles.
A pavilion offers a comfortable, shaded spot from which to enjoy the serene view.
At one end of the pool scape, a sculpture by Alexander Calder creates a modern focal point.

Moment of Zen

An elaborate pool scape 
transforms a Great Falls 
backyard into a serene oasis

While preparing to redo the landscape of his 1970s Great Falls contemporary, a client visited Indonesia and came home with an idea: to create an expansive water installation that would occupy the whole backyard. “His goal was to hear and view water from all parts of the house,” relates Don Nesmith of Land & Water Design, who spearheaded the project. “He requested a contemporary look and a calming, Zen-like feel.”

Inspired by pictures of serene Asian water features that the client brought back from his travels, Nesmith conceived a 500-square-foot scheme that fits within the home’s L-shaped backyard. The project was constrained by many mature trees on the four-and-a-half-acre property; limited access to the backyard meant that materials had to be brought in and built by hand on site.

“The water feature is anchored by multiple planters, each with two sheer-descent waterfalls,” Nesmith explains. “The planters are fitted with drip systems for irrigation; measuring in at five-by-five-feet, they are deep enough to support a mix of annuals and perennials.” A floating bridge spans the oasis and a pavilion with seating beckons on the far side. Sculptures selected by the owner—including one by Alexander Calder—dot the water on custom pedestals, along with a bubbling granite boulder by Stone Forest.

The canal-like waterways, all two-feet deep, are surfaced with river rock and topped with a layer of black Mexican beach pebbles that create reflectivity. 
The planters are made of Techo-Bloc, while Turkish travertine paves the walkways and bridge. Accent lighting emphasizes the sculptures at night. Nesmith notes that the finished hardscape maintains a low profile. “It’s only two-and-a-half-feet at its highest,” he says, explaining, “We didn’t want to lose the views out to the property.”


Landscape Architecture: Don Nesmith, RLA, Land & Water Design, Haymarket, Virginia. Landscape Installation: Santana’s Design & Build, Jefferson, Maryland. Photography: George E. Brown.