Needham residential back yard

Rear patio with spring flowers

Living on a slope is not easy if you are a gardener. Irrigation, planting, and installing all become more difficult. The steeper the slope the more problematic the challenges. Fortunately, the busy clients who own this property have the means and mood to keep their “house on the hill” beautifully maintained and lush with a variety of gardens. This site is enchanted with a water garden including a frog pond, a contemporary English garden, conifer garden, sunny borders, a terraced vegetable garden, woodland paths, terraced walls, kitchen, reading and dining patios, deck, formal walkways with wrought iron railings, informal stepping-stone paths, windy small staircases, giant stone slab steps, a lacrosse field, and a variety exotic and classic plant combinations.

The Dining and Entertainment Patio

Drainage is always an issue on a slope. Water is either surging towards the house or eroding away the ground beneath. To solve this problem, terrace walls were constructed to retain the slope. The beautiful stone walls act as a backdrop for the terrace garden filled with peonies, roses, evergreen azaleas, and irises. With the slope retained, a large dining and entertaining patio, and in a later phase, a deck, was installed. The bluestone and brick paver patio is used for business entertaining, family dining, warming by the fire bowl, and as a viewing point for the terrace and upper gardens. Stone edges were softened with native Redbuds and by cascading hydrangeas and other draping perennials.

The Water Garden and Terrace Walls

Although the previous owners had filled in the frog pond, we easily unearthed an intact concrete hole. The design added a waterfall to the existing pond requiring an intensive clearing of Japanese knotweed. Two frogs populated the pond within hours of filling it with water. We still don’t know how they heard about the “grand opening,” but the owner loves to sit on the newly stoned coping and watch the frogs hang out. Sasa veitchii, a 2′-5′ bamboo, graces one edge of the pond to direct visitors away from the deeper end of the pond and to invite them to sit around the shallow end. One side of the gentle slope is planted with a grove of birch trees and shade tolerant groundcovers Heuchera villosa, ‘Autumn Bride’, and Bleeding Hearts, along with ferns, mini-iris and other spring and fall bulbs. The other side is sprinkled with yellow and blue hosta varieties under-planted with a vigorous Lamiastrum galeobdolon for slope stabilization.

Upper Lawn and Woodland Walks

My philosophy supports replacing trees with lawn IF there is a distinct use for turf and if it will be used. My client has 1 1/2 acres of forested land and 3 lacrosse players who need to practice, so we cut down some trees. After the trees were removed, we screened the pie-shaped field from the street with a tall curved hedge of hydrangeas which bloom white in summer, change to pink in fall, and remain beige all winter. Cut them in spring and begin anew. Light conditions around the field now allow for sunny perennials to border one edge of the field and Eastern Redbuds, native viburnums, peony, roses and weeping grasses to trim the other. The upper woodland path (which lies below the field) is bordered by a gently curved stone wall on one side and azaleas, Oakleaf hydrangeas, rhododendrons, Solomon’s Seal, and ajuga on the other. Small stones found during the course of garden maintenance were placed along the path edge to create a sense of repose. Maggie, the resident Labrador retriever, loves to fetch her sticks from the woodland path to have them tossed over the field. It’s a perfect marriage of open field and wooded path.

Lower Parking Before and After