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Slater Residence

Design Objectives
The renovation of an existing garden is always a more difficult challenge than new construction. The Slater garden was no exception. Many gardens evolve with not much thought for the overall picture; a nice plant from the garden center here, replace that dead plant there, and so on! The garden had become a liability to a beautiful home in a great neighborhood.

The home is situated on a corner with the home facing north toward moderately busy Blackrock road with the side street to the east connecting to a great neighborhood of similar pre-war homes with great character. An existing irregular stone walkway from the garage to the front door was difficult to walk on and became inundated with weeds. An existing Norway maple filled an entire area of the front yard choking out available sun light for lawn and was becoming a weed tree factory for the beds. Other existing Sugar maples along Blackrock road provided plenty of shade and permanence to the site. Existing beds ran along the entire length of the two roads providing privacy but leaving a closed in feeling. The existing fence was nice and worked with the house, but what did it contain? What was its purpose? The front foundation planting was mostly overgrown, however some plants needed to be saved to hide the air conditioner and to keep a feeling of connection to the established neighborhood.

The existing Purple plum commanded too much attention and drew the eye away from the subtle house color scheme. The Pieris by the front door was beautiful but had outgrown its location and needed to be transplanted. Situated less than a few hundred yards from the Delaware River, the soils were a sandy silt that drains incredibly well but tends to dry out in the hot summer.

The clients, one being a prominent local realtor, recognized the need for curb appeal and a sense of entry. "Something with color and fragrance, but not too much maintenance." is the often heard concerns of clients and the Slater’s would be no different. After long discussion and some preliminary drawings, we decided to remove the existing walkway, Norway maple, Purple plum, and to open some of the perimeter plantings for a glimpse of the house. Then, install a new more functional walk and leave the fence, which now separated the entry walk from the new lawn and created a sense of entry to the front. The plantings needed to be re-worked adding fragrance and color while resisting the "rip it all out and start over" mentality.

Installing any project becomes quite easy if designed well. An interlocking concrete paver was chosen with a molded surface, which gave it an aged quality reminiscent of a cobblestone. The blended gray color worked well with the dark gray house. All the new beds received a healthy quantity of leaf compost to help with moisture retention along with a 5-10-10 fertilizer. The transplants always require some creative pruning and facing to achieve a natural look in their new locations.

The plants chosen for the project reflect the needs of the homeowner and the skill of the designer. Mixing the textural Hosta and Liriope, the fragrance of the Daphne and Magnolia, and the subtle re-introduction of purple with the Coralbells brought together with something in bloom or color throughout the season result in a cohesive design. Maintenance becomes a once a year cutback with minimal mulch requirements because of the heavy use of ground covers.

Altogether, the job progressed well and everyone was pleased with the result until the last day when we washed down the new paver walkway and discovered small white speckling on the face of all the pavers! After pressure washing and numerous calls to suppliers and other installers, we remained stumped. After calls to the manufacturer led only to accusations of mishandling on our part, it was decided to completely remove the pavers, re-install new, and leave the new pavers un-tamped after installation. The client was pleased, but we remained puzzled until recently. the manufacturer has now admitted that this will happen and recommends not tamping this type of paver. Sweet vindication? We are still awaiting but never expecting payment from the manufacturer! Overall, the Slater garden was a simple, elegant project that does exactly what the client wanted, a complement to their beautiful home.

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