We can see it in our minds … “the perfect view.” It’s the scene that automatically pops into our heads when we think of something as being picturesque.
In the green industry, the visual is vital to creating a perfect landscape. But it’s not always easy to create something picture-perfect when working with clients. Personal taste comes into play, and many times the client’s preference differs from the contractor’s final plan.
Crafting the perfect landscape to make each client happy takes precise planning and expertise. The final aesthetical outcome determines the success of a job well done. Not only do you, as the landscape contractor, have to keep your clients’ lawns looking healthy and green, you also have to create a design plan that enhances the overall structure of the house.
The crew at Botanical Decorators in Olney, Maryland, understands the importance of a well thought-out plan when transforming a dirt yard into “the perfect view.” They have won countless design awards in previous years.
So it is no surprise that their Q Street residential design/build project in Washington, D.C., was the Grand Award recipient of the 2014 National Landscape Awards of Excellence from the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET). The team at Botanical Decorators aimed for excellence in their craft and they surpassed it.
With the noisy and busy lifestyle typical to the city, it can be hard sometimes for homeowners to find a peaceful, quiet view. The need to create innovative, private spaces has become essential, as the urban population continues to grow. Botanical Decorators transforms even the smallest of spaces in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., into secluded retreats from the world.
Morgan Washburn, a landscape designer for Botanical Decorators, took the lead on the Q Street team project. His passion for architecture, plants and design, combined with the satisfaction of producing a real tangible product, are the driving forces behind the project’s success. “It took a lot of hard work and communication, but the end result was well worth the wait,” said Washburn.
The project was judged by PLANET-sponsored experts in their fields on the overall appearance, the degree of difficulty, the quality of all the materials, and the appropriate scale and functionality in relation to structures and space. The team excelled in all four categories.
When the project was first presented, all the team had to go on was a blank slate and a budget of approximately $48,000. In six weeks’ time, three crews averaging between three to four workers transformed the miniature 15-foot-by-28-foot backyard into an award-winning landscape.
The homeowners had a few design requirements, including an accessible walkway to their back parking, a dining space for four to eight people, a pet-friendly backyard, a grill area, and above all else, a great view from their recently renovated sunroom.
They wanted a modern, minimal space with jewel-toned blooms, but were open to suggestions on the plant foliage selection.
“They had a few definite ideas and they wanted those respected,” said Washburn. “Then, beyond that, they were very open to my expertise, my plant knowledge and my aesthetic insights.”
Washburn’s design focused on enlarging the feel of the size of the space, while maintaining privacy. Prior to the project, the house had received renovations to its backroom. The traditional red brick wall had been knocked down and replaced with spacious rectangular windowpanes. Washburn chose a very modern, Japanese fusion theme to mimic the home’s solar room makeover, but still kept some allusion to the historic neighborhood within the traditional paving details of the masonry.
“It’s a modern kind of slight abstract design, but the masons definitely bring an old-world craftsmanship value to whatever masonry project they tackle,” said Washburn. The geometrical turf and paving stone design was inspired by the geometric proportions of the windowpanes on the back of the house.
“A narrow plant theme was selected to go along with the structure of the house,” said Washburn. “It was very important for my plant selection to stay true to the design.”
His landscape plantings were chosen more for their architectural form and color than for their seasonal characteristics.
“In a small, kind of urban site where space is really the premium, you’re always looking for very vertical, narrow plants, because you’re looking to create impact and soften the boundary walls, but you’re limited on horizontal space,” Washburn commented.
The plant material that would sustain the beauty of the landscape included Hornbeam trees behind the outer fence to give a backdrop feel, culms of fargesia (Green Panda bamboo), a coral bark Japanese Maple, a magnolia virginiana (Moonglow Sweetbay tree), hellebores, rohdea japonica, Schizophragma vine, artificial turf and espalier camellia to hide the fence without taking up too much horizontal space.
Once the ground was prepared and ready for planting, irrigation needed to be installed. A multi-zoned irrigation system comprised of spray heads for the lawn area, drip irrigation for the beds, and spaghetti tubes for any containers was also included in the original design plan. To deodorize the area and to keep the insect population at bay, an organic mosquito repellent was preinstalled. The system adds a natural garlic scent. The company has been offering this service to clients for the last three years.
But before any planting or installation could be done, the crew had to assess the state of the jobsite. Just because the end result looks effort less doesn’t mean that the process didn’t present its own set of complex challenges. Poor soil quality, narrow space, and the constant invasion of household pets made for an interesting work area.
The first challenge the team faced was the amount of debris in the soil. “The soil seemed weak—polluted, frankly—so we carted a lot of debris away and ended up doing extra work, in terms of amending the soil,” said Washburn.
In addition, the existing soil was extremely compacted, another reason for Washburn and his crew to replace most of it with well-amended soil. They added a lot more organic leaf-grow material to the soil, including peat moss. The majority of the selected plants were not native to the area, so the quality of the soil was vital for a healthy bloom.
After addressing the quality of the soil, the crew then faced the challenge of limited space. The Maryland-based company is no stranger to small, limited spaces. While some of their projects include larger landscapes in Virginia and Maryland, most of their clients have smaller city homes. (In fact, the Q Street homeowners found Botanical Decorators through an online Google search, after noticing a project they admired that had been completed three houses down from them.)
“The small size of the site is always something of a challenge,” said Washburn. “In that situation, every inch counts, and you really have to weigh the benefits of hardscape and areas for furniture versus bed space, which gives you all the aesthetics.”
Because of the odd Oklahoma-state-shape of the property, the design had to take every square inch into account. The crew accomplished the nearly impossible by utilizing every foot of open space. In the narrow walkway, the crew fit in a grilling station, complete with a side bar, without sacrificing space.
Parking for company vehicles and maneuvering equipment also proved to be difficult. Washburn and his team ended up collecting multiple parking tickets. But even this obstacle did not stop them from performing to their highest ability.
Their last major challenge: three dogs and four cats. In a pet-friendly house, finding a non-chaotic moment can be a bit of a challenge. Add landscape construction to the mix and it’s even more of a recipe for constant change. After arriving onsite, the crew found that some of the designer’s choices had to be rethought, due to the reaction of more than half the home’s population.
“We had hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’, a Japanese forest grass, that had to go because the cats loved to eat it,” explained Washburn.
Despite the obstacles, the project came together beautifully. Turning a vision into reality is no small task. Many times, things turn out differently than the way they appear on paper. Washburn and his crew were able to deal with challenges as they arose, and kept a flexible mindset throughout, to ensure a pristine final product.
The completed residence contains a marriage of functionality and exciting visuals. It is vibrant from every viewpoint. With projects like the Q Street residence, Botanical Decorators can be certain that they have indeed created the perfect view.