Recognize The Potential Of The Site

site.potential1Observe and Conceptualize

You probably already have a notion as to what you want or need in your landscape.  And if you’re a designer you’ve probably interviewed the homeowner to understand their desires.  This is important information, but you should not let those wishes (and even requirements) constrain your initial thinking of the site.

Keeping the general goals in mind, especially the functional goals, begin to familiarize yourself with the site.  Taking pictures not only gives you something to refer to when you’re away from the property, but it also forces you to concentrate on the property’s characteristics.

During these initial stages of planning relax about the need to come up with an absolute solution.  Allow yourself the time to think beyond the “want-list”.  For instance, “what do you think the site is asking for”?  When you “conceptualize” freely like this you’re more apt to create solutions beyond the obvious ones.  At the very least you can be content in your final design that you explored the possibilities thoroughly.

site.potential2Other Features Are Realized

This post continues the coverage of the lakefront home and the beautiful landscape East Coast Landscape Co. created.  My last post on the project showed the drive and some of the front foundation area.

The home sits well above the lake in elevation.  This is often the case on lakefront properties.  As you’d expect, the basic design requirement was to provide everyday access down to the lake.

In the first picture we are three-quarters of the way down to the lake and looking up the rocky slope towards the house.  Although there were some existing rock outcroppings, a good amount of what you see was designed, arranged & waterfall was engineered and built by East Coast Landscape.  Using the lake as the water source, water is pumped to the top, just under the patio.  There it begins the long descent back down to the lake through carefully arranged rockery.

The elevation change from the house to the lake shore is substantial and therefore, so is the number of steps.  If you think about this trek, you want it to be safe, manageable and enjoyable for everybody – young and old alike.

site.potential4Steps should be arranged so that landings occur often.  This gives everybody a chance to pause, rest and enjoy the views.

In the second picture above there’s a series of steps.  At the base of this stairway are flagstone stepping stones that expand into a substantial landing area.  The third picture shows the view you have up to the house from this spot.

The hand railings are a safety feature, but also help to give a sense of security, which adds to the enjoyment of the trek.  They are made of iron and were all fabricated right on site.  The iron had to be heated and bent for the handrails to follow the winding steps.  Posts were drilled directly into the stone where necessary.  The brown/bronze color helps to blend the man-made feature with the surroundings.

With the addition of naturalized plantings in many of the nooks and crannies, the entire setting seems as though it has been there all along.  It’s obvious the functional goals were met in this design, but included is a harmony of grades and features that marry the home to the site.

This type of outcome is the result of:

  • becoming intimately familiar with the site during the design process
  • considering the practical needs (functional goals)
  • and then allowing the open-minded thinking that answers the question, ” What is the site asking for?”

I fully appreciate the personal nature of design and the individual approaches we all take.  Feel free to comment with your thoughts and methods to design.  This is great stuff we can all learn

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    2 Responses to “Recognize The Potential Of The Site”

    1. Martha Says:

      Unlike this spectacular site, my site is the curved triangle made by the 45 degree angle of the house and a curved walkway. I’d like to keep this minimal and include a copper rain chain I got in Japan. Can you give me advice on the gutter that will support the rain chain. Could I have a gutter built that would angle across the curved triangle, leaving plenty of design space for my rain chain. It seems a shame to squeeze it up close to the wall of the house. Can you give some nice suggestions for what happens at the bottom of the rain chain. What would be the most oriental looking plantings for the north side of the house.

    2. Roger Says:

      I’m having trouble visualizing the situation as you describe it. Would it be possible to send me a photo or two? Send the pics via email to

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