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Project Spotlight: Turning a Problem into a Feature

Written by Gloria Ballard

April 15, 2022

 

With an acre or more of land, there was plenty of space in the backyard of this Williamson County home, and the homeowners had hoped to be able to entertain family and friends there. The problem was, most of the backyard was inaccessible. We talked with Gardens of Babylon landscape designer Eric VanGrinsven to learn how he took on the challenge and turned it into the best feature of the property. 

What did the homeowner want?

“The homeowner request was a gathering space with seating, lush plantings, and a fire pit area,” VanGrinsven says. The front area was already beautifully landscaped, he explains, but the back, with a dramatically steep grade descending into the woods, was “a blank slate.” 

The level area behind the screened porch was not large enough to accommodate a seating area with a firepit. Expanding the area would have required a massive retaining wall, which was cost-prohibitive. “That’s when the idea of a secondary gathering space in the woods came into play,” the designer says. “We decided to use the space below, and figure out how to tie those two spaces together.

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What was the biggest challenge?

“The biggest challenge was the access. It was extremely difficult to get into the backyard, and the site was very unforgiving,” VanGrinsven says. “Back in the woods, there are so many trees we really couldn’t build anything of substance. That steep grade wouldn’t accommodate it.”

A walkway led from the main level to what the designer described as a “staircase to nowhere,” which was the access to the wooded backyard. The new landscape design called for a patio off the screened porch with a seat wall, and down below, a second patio area with a firepit and a seat wall under the canopy of trees. 

“It’s an outdoor room with overhead cover, but not invasive into the woods,” VanGrinsven says. A walkway to the driveway and staircase down to that new, tree-shaded outdoor room connects the two spaces.

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What do you think is the best feature?

“The best feature is the firepit immersed in the woods,” the designer says. “It really is a cool feature, to walk down the stairs to the fire pit area under the tree canopy.”

The area is landscaped and planted with a variety of shade-tolerant shrubs and perennials: visitors walk down the stairway to the firepit patio among ferns and heucheras, azaleas, yews and hollies. To keep the grade from washing, the design called for “the more prolific groundcovers,” such as creeping Jenny, to secure the slope.

“We had to keep things closer to the house for logistical reasons, but in the end, we were able to strike a nice balance of usable space in a very difficult site,” VanGrinsven says.

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The Gardens of Babylon landscape design team is ready to solve any difficult problems in your landscape. Click here to book a phone consultation with a member of the design team.

 

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