A Terraced Solution Creates a Series of Family-Friendly Outdoor Rooms
With a new home addition complete and a pool under construction, it was time for this homeowner to tackle a sloping landscape. Enter Alice Cooke of Alice Cook Design Associates. Taming a sharp drop in grade, creating terraces and gardens and finding a reasonable way reach the pool were the primary challenges ahead.
When I first saw this job, the pool was just being shot with gunite. There was an 8.5-foot drop in grade from the top of the porch to the pool deck, which happened over 13 horizontal feet. Standing on the back porch, it felt as though you could fall into the pool. There was an area at the back of the property that was to become lawn, another area with a jungle gym and trampoline, and an area at the bottom of the property slope where all of the roof leaders emptied out.
We worked so well together, because Alice looked for input and then made it all happen. The kids were young, and we paid attention to the sightlines to the pool, and the distance between stepping stones for little legs, and the lighting so it was safe for supervising kids, yet also pretty and atmospheric. We were trying to hit a specific tone in the yard—understated, peaceful and unified, but playful and inviting when you got out there and started exploring.
My design created top and bottom levels to the landscape with wide paths connecting them. A new retaining wall and deck around the pool gave the pool a feeling of a separate room with garden views. A garden at the top of the retaining wall acts like a green fence or psychological buffer making the lower pool level feel safe and simply pretty to see. The wide paths are made of ledge rock in pea gravel with small plants here and there to soften the look. I used gravel elsewhere to tie together the separate spaces: gravel paths, gravel garden, gravel between step stones in gates and hedges.
I asked for fragrant viburnum and lavender, and white flowers—I love them. Alice was looking at the shapes of leaves, and shades of green and textures. That thought and attention to detail comes through in the overall impact of the garden.
The client wanted one garden to feel Mediterranean, so that helped determine a plant palette and set the stage for the gravel garden off the living room. Other plants were chosen for form, and then for bloom time. Boxwood helped create low “walls” to garden rooms. Down in the lower pond garden, we used Mazus to carpet the floor like moss—but unlike moss, it blooms.
The most important view was from the kitchen window. This garden, located at the top of the pool retaining wall, was designed to provide interest all year—perennials that proceed all the way through frost follow spring bulbs.
One challenge was finding a way to hide the pool light and jet switches. I had a bronze casting made of one of the wall stones and a twig to create a custom door that hides the switches. It has a tiny hydraulic hinge that allows it to open and close easily. The kids love showing this secret compartment to their friends.
We wanted a series of outdoor rooms. Now we have the pool area, the pond/woodland area, a gorgeous stretch of grass, the picnic-table patio, the gravel garden, the covered porch, the play set and trampoline, the herb garden, the birdbath garden. It’s an amazing space to entertain, and our family enjoys it every day.
My favorite is the gravel garden—it just feels so comfortable to sit under the large old Japanese maple and have the garden surround you. The plantings are very relaxed and easy, spilling out onto the gravel. You would never have known the sloped “before” could have existed here.
A version of this article appeared in the April 2015 issue of Connecticut Cottages & Gardens with the headline: Taking Giant Steps.