Landscape designers Catharine Cooke and Ian Gribble achieve a splendid oasis of green on Green(e) and make it appear deceptively simple.
How ironic that what often comes as an afterthought in the making of a happy and healthy home can actually be the most important element of all, the pivot around which all else turns. After all the construction bills are paid, “putting whatever’s leftover into some garden design” sounds like the right thing to do.
Until it’s not.
Take, for example, this second home on the shores of Candlewood Lake, CT. Is the garden one of those delightful afterthoughts financed by money that happened to be left over in the budget? Because the landscape looks so natural, one could easily be misled into making this assumption. A little pruning, a little planting and voila!
The contrary, however, is true. As is increasingly the case these days, the garden and landscaping came first, and the house, if not quite an afterthought, followed. Here’s what happened.
Landscape designer Catharine Cooke and the homeowner visited the lake to get a view of the property. “There was a balance issue that we needed to address,” she recalls. “There was the old deck and that awkward staircase leading to the lawn, which was weighing down the entire left side, but there was nothing on the right. The yin and yang were way off.”
Cooke and her partner, Ian Gribble, both principals of Spring Lake Garden Design Inc. in nearby Sherman, CT, came up with a solution – a deck off the master bedroom to balance the right side. Not only would this correct the balance issue, but it would also provide access from the master bedroom to a private deck and patio. “We felt it was important to have an easy flow from indoors to outdoors by creating good access points,” says Cooke.
What began as a concept to add a deck on the right soon morphed into something greater in scope. Ultimately, the homeowner decided that a new house was the only real solution to obtain real balance and access, and so, demolition began right down to the studs, leaving only the original footprint.
“This is all your fault, Catharine!” said the owner in mock exasperation while standing in the middle of the debris. A statuesque birch, destined to provide essential shade for the new main deck, also found itself in the construction maelstrom – ground zero of the lakeside garden. Gribble and builder Stanley Jurback had to carefully angle the septic, utilities and drain pipes, while cordoning off the tree’s immediate root zone for the two-year duration of the project.
“Underground, there’s an organized maze of filtration systems, as well as septic, electric and irrigation systems,” explains Gribble. “We dug swales to prevent erosion and to mitigate runoff into the lake. The grading and drainage was particularly tricky because the property is highest in front by the road and the lot itself is narrow. The deck off the dining room and kitchen was a feat in itself because Jurback and the engineers needed to support the great weight of its granite flooring, as well as keep moisture out of the family room and storage areas below.”
During construction, the designers found a huge, immovable concrete slab buried under the courtyard. It’s no wonder it was so hard to grow anything there.
The designer’s solution was in the form of a rill, which is a long, narrow masonry feature once instrumental in irrigating the gardens of ancient Persia. Filled with water lilies, the rill’s gentle bubbling now greets visitors as they proceed up the path.
Retaining walls in the front courtyard feature rounded boulders that jut out in a nod to Greene and Greene architectural style – a style the homeowners loved and wanted reflected in their home and gardens. Lush and welcoming greens on greens, including Japanese forest grass, five different cultivars of boxwood and a potted bamboo, complete the scene.
“Good stewardship of the lake water itself was one of our client’s greatest concerns,” recollects Cooke. “The lakeside gardens to the left and right side of the dock are there intentionally to serve as buffers between the lawn and the lake. The biggest mistake anyone can make in terms of stewardship is to have a lawn like a golf course right down to the water’s edge using chemical fertilizers. We use good compost and organic granular fertilizers, only if needed.”
Good stewardship, structural balance, and easy access to in and outdoor areas – who can now think of these things as afterthoughts? Thank you, Catharine Cooke and Ian Gribble of Spring Lake, for making this so abundantly clear.
Landscape design by Spring Lake Garden Design Inc.
Photography by Rich Pomerantz
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