Green-Space Conundrum - Design Bureau

Hillside Garden

Padaro Lane

Green-Space Conundrum

Friday, August 26th, 2011

by Ryan Delia

For his work on a backyard landscaping project in New England, veteran architect and designer Keith LeBlanc was called in to create a conversation. “We wanted the site to have a dialogue with the new [home] addition, so there was a harmony between the architectural and landscape elements,” LeBlanc says.

The project in question was the Hillside Garden, a very accurate description of a residential site in Brookline, MA. The homeowners wanted to balance the overall feel of their recently built, modern office and guesthouse with an equally forward-thinking garden design. They called on LeBlanc for the project, known throughout the Boston area for his clean, contemporary style and attention to detail.

The site of the garden posed many difficulties as it cascaded down a steep slope that seemed nearly impossible to work with. Until LeBlanc stepped in, that is. “This was a great project to work on because of the difficult site conditions,” he says. “Overcoming the big challenges is where the fun comes in.”

LeBlanc addressed the 30-foot grade change by arranging a set of four terraces and connected them with narrow paths and stairs. Custom-cut bluestone pavers and seat walls provided the space a crisp and orderly descent, while lines of shade-loving plants softened the edges. Natural boulders and native plants also help his design to blend well with the regional New England ecology.

Here are LeBlanc's tips for creating your own backyard oasis:

1. Imagine how you will use the space most—for a morning cup of coffee? Weekly happy hour with the neighbors? Knowing the amount of traffic on site helps to define seating and circulation requirements. “We try to design at a human scale, which allows the space to feel comfortable for more intimate events, but flexible enough to accommodate a larger gathering.”

2. Figure out your site’s conditions and work backwards. “Do a little research and study things like the amount of sunlight, soil quality, and how much water is retained on site,” he says.

3. For those whose thumbs are more gray than green, LeBlanc recommends using shrubs and evergreens as they need less care and attention than their perennial counterparts. “We like plants that have some structure, like Boxwood or Viburnum,” he says. These plants provide four-season interest and offer big bang for the buck.

4. If you want a little privacy in your garden, plant a vine like Climbing Hydrangea or Boston Ivy. “It’s always helpful to consider [climbing] vines in a small space; they bring character and are usually low maintenance,” he says. If you’re in need of some serious privacy, go with a dense evergreen like an Arborvitae.

5. Consider using high-quality materials. It can be a bit more expensive on the front end, but they last longer and need to be replaced less, making it a more sustainable and budget-friendly solution. LeBlanc used natural blue stone for the patios in his Hillside Garden and Cape Neddick projects. “Natural stone is a great choice because it offers such a richness in color and character that just can’t be beat. These products also age gracefully, and can even be restored which makes them very appealing to homeowners.”

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