A LOOK BACK
The 1960’s Troy house job was an evolving job. The homeowner was recently widowed from her husband of close to 40 years. Her husband had always made the decisions on anything that happened with the house. So this was undiscovered territory that this timid, older lady was about to journey into. Her original plans and the reasons I was called in for, was to design a renovation plan of the front yard foundation plantings, and to design a new walkway leading to a new paver patio off of the door wall. As we probed into her wants, needs, and desires, I discovered additional items that we would incorporate into the original design. I designed a meandering walkway that would in the future give rise to the question “what’s around the next curve?”. In the newly created bed between the walkway and the house, I incorporated plant material that was colorful and lively. Large blooming hydrangeas, whispering ornamental grasses, and unique flowering shrubs were chosen to invite you into the backyard. Making the first turn on this winding walkway was a pleasantly surprising spiritual garden. The client, a devout Christian, wanted this area to have Godly representation. She had come up with a plan to have the right side with red perennials to represent our sins and the blood of Christ, the center to have purple clematis to represent Jesus Christ, and the left to have white perennials to represent our saved condition after accepting Christ. Perennials used in this area included, but limited to: Davidii Butterfly Bush, Carpatihian Harebell, Turtlehead, Coreopsis, White Coneflower, etc. The area was also inspired with the adding of a specimen piece of flagstone, that had the scripture of Isaiah 1:18, “Come not let us reason together says the Lord, though your sins are like scarlet they will be white as snow, though they are red as crimson they shall be like wool”.
Before Our Work
The red/white spiritual garden infected with pink garden phlox
The following Winter I was called back to the clients to discuss her landscaping further. She had talked about the desires of a pond and some privacy from her neighbor to the west. I communicated to her how it would be better to have a lawn edge that is strongly defined and continuous. Not only could she have privacy from the neighbor to the west, but we could also add some intimacy and interest by having plant material flowing all around the perimeter of the backyard leading to the pond area. After she had thought about it, she decided she liked the idea. After a small time going through this process with her, I discovered that the budget was extremely flexible, so I let my creativity flow.
A look into the backyard prior to our work beginning
The new look into the backyard
As I observed and created a mental image of the planting beds in the yard, I realized drainage was going to be an issue. I wanted to raise these beds just slightly to prevent them from drowning. There was approximately 6” of topsoil underneath the existing grass, but underneath this soil was hard compacted Michigan blue clay. I knew the new plant material would have problems if we did not raise this area. Unfortunately, raising these beds would leave a low spot in the turf area at the bed edge. So I decided to suggest running corrugated perforated piping with a sock buried in a pea gravel trench. Since this older neighborhood had no storm sewers located in the backyards, we decided to run this drain system into a rain garden located on the far eastern portion of the yard. This garden was excavated several feet down and refilled with a sand and compost mixture. The garden was planted with bog type perennials.
Hand picked boulder engraved with Bible passage in the rain garden
PW Black Beauty Elderberry in rain garden
The Detroit Metropolitan area is in USDA zone 6, which gives us a plant choice flexibility that the rest of this midwestern state does not have. I chose some of the new exciting plant material from the “Proven Winners Color Choice” flowering shrub and the “Premium Plants” perennial lineups. Both of these propagator/growers have been on the cutting edge of introducing outstanding plant material. Some of the plant material chosen was: Artic Fire Red Osier Dogwood, Little Henry Sweetspire, Wine and Roses Weigela, and Trophytaker Daylily.
PW Limelight Hydrangea Tree in background
Perennial bed off edge of patio
For the water feature, we wanted to keep the same flowing, natural theme. I chose to use an Aquascapes Designs system for this pond. In my experience, done properly, this system will provide the most desirable effect while being low maintenance. We designed and installed the system to have large boulders placed into it for both effect and for sitting purposes. We also layered the entire rubber liner with gravel for both a natural effect, and for maintenance purposes. With this strategic placement of boulders, stones, and gravel, we installed planting pockets for hardy lilies and marginal plant material. We also encouraged the homeowner to add fish to balance out the delicate ecosystem.
Bog garden added after initial installation of pond
Maintenance is always a major consideration in designing landscapes. Before I ever went to the drawing board, we discussed her opinions on maintaining the landscape. She liked to garden, but was not used to extensive gardens like I was proposing. Though with the passing of her husband she had more time on her hands with the passing of her husband. We came up with the conclusion that she wanted to spend more time in the garden, but not all of her time. She was an older lady, so she did not want any heavy labor work. With this information, I could start the designing process. I chose shrubs that would not outgrow the areas that they would be put into. Although some of them would need minor pruning throughout the season, no drastic hedging to maintain size would be necessary. The client would be able to handle and would enjoy, minor maintenance tasks such as: perennial cutbacks, weeding, and water gardening.
Client using netting to keep Blue Herron from eating her fish
In the final year of this three-phase/year project, we had to redesign and enlarge her patio that we created in the first year. In the original design, the client wanted to downsize the size of her patio. She did not do much entertaining and thought it would be used primary for her. After creating the lush and inviting yard, she discovered that she was doing ten times more entertaining then she ever had in the past. She wanted a larger patio.
Here are comments from the client:
Thank you for the beautiful landscape you created for me. It is a blessing beyond words. The completion of each segment brought me great joy. The front is very inviting to all that pass by. The illumination each evening highlights the beautiful design. The paver walk is awesome with its gentle curves and invitation to continue to come and see what else lies ahead. Continuing along the walk we reach the breathtaking patio with its unique and interesting design. The plantings you selected are special and unusual. I look forward to the spring and summer when they will be in full bloom.
When we began the project I had no idea what the end results would be. Now I see that God’s hand was present at all the times. First he encouraged me to select Thoms Bros to do the work, a wise decision when I wasn’t making good decision. I thank you for the patience you extended to me when I couldn’t make decisions at Weigands. I appreciated your encouraging words and kindness during the entire project. Looking back I now see how needy I was during those days of my grief. The delays were necessary for me to absorb all that God was doing. He did a new and good thing encouraging me to add the meditation area with scripture and removing me from all plant selection decisions.
Steve thank you for all you did. May God enrich your life with His spiritual, personal and professional blessings this Christmas Season and throughout the New Year
After we completed the initial work back in early 2000’s, we continued both the business and personal relationship as well. We have become close friends and she has become an adopted gramma to my kids. The project went on to win a Gold Award for Landcape Reconstruction and a Design Award by the Michigan Green Industry Association. The yard also won a beautification award from the City of Troy and was featured in Landscape Contractor Magazine.