How We Achieved a Natural Effect

The cliff-dweller turned suburbanite, stepping out of his comfortable dream house, is too often awakened to realize his out-of-doors are entirely barren.

The bulldozer did not spare even a shade tree out of a rich woodland!’ Or, the nature-in-the-raw enthusiast, having chosen a thick woodland plot for his retreat, discovers that nature left to its own devices, can become oppressive.

 Suddenly, he has claustrophobia!

Transformation of an Actual Unspoiled Site

A step-by-step transformation of an actual unspoiled site, taken from the writer’s experience, can point the way to what to cut down, how best to bring out the inherent beauty of what is left, and what to add that would still be in keeping with the original feeling of the plot.

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A rocky juniper hillside fringed by oak woods made up the vegetation of this piece of rugged land. It also included the following:

  • Wild black cherry (Prunus Serotina)
  • Red maple (Acer Rubrum)
  • White ash (Fraxinus Americana)
  • Shagbark hickory (Carya Ovata)
  • American linden (Tilia Americana)
  • Flowering dogwood (Cornus Florida)
  • Sour gum (Nyssa Sylvatica) 
  • Red cedar (Juniperus Virginiana)

Among the shrubs were:

  • Highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum)
  • Bayberry (Myrica Pennsylvanica)
  • Shad-bush (Amelanchier Canadensis)
  • Tatarian Honeysuckle (Lonicera Tatarica) 

The seeds were probably dropped by the hirds.

  • Winterberry (Ilex Verticillata)
  • He-huckleberry (Lyonia Ligustrina)

The winterberry and the huckleberry were intertwined in a thick unkempt, looking mass.

Indigenous also were Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum Biflorum) and bellwort (Uvularia Perfoliata) growing in the shade of the trees. 

In the glistening sunshine behind an outcropping lichen-covered ledge stood the grace butterfly-weed (Asclepias Tuberosa), with its ever-present fluttering butterflies. A little scene to kindle the imagination and tempt one’s ingenuity!

Suitable Spot to Place the House

We looked for a suitable spot on which to place the house. Naturally, the hilltop at the fringe of the woods, commanding the best view, was our first consideration. 

But a location partway down the hillside gave more winter protection from the north wind, left an open sky and space between the house and the woodland edge, and still gave the house background.

But what about the view? A large red maple was removed and the idea retrieved. 

Cape Cod House

As for the type of house—a Cape Cod house, a low rambling house, or a split-level house with overhanging eaves could fit easily into this irregular rugged typography. However, we chose the Cape Cod style.

At this point, it may prove interesting to relate our experiences with house locations on other woodland sites.

Woodland Setting

A woodland setting, used as a screen to ensure privacy from a too-close neighbor, determined the house placement in one instance. 

In another, great old oaks were left to the southwest and southeast to frame the house, providing proper shade and exciting shadow. A friend nestled her brown-shingled home in a unique foreground of an indigenous flowering dogwood grove.

After the site for the house was chosen, we tackled the problem of combining the wild natural beauty, straggly and overcrowded in parts, with the cultivated cravings of civilized man for order and neatness.

Outcropping Ledges

Outcropping ledges, usually considered a nuisance, are often dynamited out. They became a stimulus for an unusual and picturesque development in the juniper hillside under consideration.

We enlarged the natural ledges by pushing back the short, scrubby growth which covered them. The ridges became valuable and decorative by tying them with other native rocks and adding low junipers.

They formed a natural stop to one side of the lawn, and they served as the foreground for a colorful perennial flower border and many berried shrubs. 

Those that extended forward into the lawn became a focal point for the placement of a naturalistic bath.

This occurred at the steepest part of the hillside. The change of level which nature started was our clue to add a low waIl garden of native stone, so placed that it followed the stratification of the ledge and slanted backward to catch the rain.

The soil was rammed into the pockets to grow close-lying rock plants and good yucca (Yucca Filimentosa). By eliminating the steepest drop of the hillside, the upper and lower levels were changed into gentle slopes usable as a lawn area.

Informal stone steps are tied together with the two levels in an exciting way. I’ve worked into a path of irregular flagstone leading down to a gate and fence of native red cedar. 

In the shade of red maple, we placed a bench to face the birdbath and planted rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum) and mountain laurel (Kalmia Latifolia) behind it.

The entire unit, consisting of the original ledge, the introduced native stone, and the rustic fence, all skillfully related to the natural contours, formed the outline for a picturesque garden.

Berried Shrubs Attract Birds

Now we were ready for the plants. Berried shrubs, helpful to birds and man, were built up as a foil for the birdbath and a background for the perennial border. 

Where the view came through, the staghorn sumac was removed, and the planting kept low with coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus) and Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) to spread over the big rocks.

The tall shrubs of Tatarian honeysuckle were retained, and double-file viburnum (Viburnum tomentosum), with its unusual horizontal branches and red berries, was added. 

A highbush blueberry suggested planting many more blueberry bushes, making an attractive and valuable informal hedge.

A cluster of bayberries (Myrica Carliniensis) was saved, and flowering shrubs were grouped strategically around the house. 

We used old-fashioned lilacs (Syringa Vulgaris), both white and purple forms, and the floriferous Father lingo’s rose (Rosa Hugonis).

We cut out the he-huckleberries from the thick intertwined mass of winterberry and he-huckleberries, aesthetically less desirable than the winterberries, leaving the latter to branch out into a thicket for bird refuge.

There was a dense growth of flowering dogwood below the wall; the garden was kept intact for the same reason. 

The undulating lines of these thickets, together with a couple of additional winterberries on either side of the fence, were pruned to develop as specimens, forming an appropriate naturalistic entrance.

Low juniper (Juniperus horizontalis) and spreading cotoneaster (Cotoneaster horizontaiis) were interspersed to creep out of and over the rocks.

Many other kinds of plants, both indigenous and exotic, can fit into a realistic situation of this kind.

  • Sweet clethra (Clethera Alnifolia),
  • Enkianthus (Enkianthus campanulatus)
  • The interesting sorrel tree (Oxydendrum arboreum), 
  • The red bud or Judas tree (Cercis canadensis), 

Viburnums in variety, as well as exotics. Like Japanese crab apples and Japanese dogwood (Cornus kousa) can be used profitably. 

I have seen something as unusual-looking as the Katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) blending into a woodland setting.

Many people are of the impression that there is no room for cultivated flowers in such a garden. (Note the perennial flower border on the plan.) 

We planted a large frame of sturdy perennials behind the exposed ledges and rock boundaries, keeping nature’s broad effects in mind.

To the gay orange-colored butterfly weed already there, we added blues and purples with Stokes aster (Stokesia laevis), spikes of veronica (Veronica maritima), and balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorum) —all blooming at the same time—for a bright midsummer picture.

The planting was extended with drifts of Perry’s blue Siberian iris and bearded iris in variety, peony specimens, false-indigo (Baptisia australis), beebalm (Monarda didyma) for the humming birds.

Many different varieties of day-lilies (Hemerocallis), white spikes of physostegia (Physostegia virginiana var. alba), common rose mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) and New England asters (Aster novae-angliae). 

Together with the early spring color of the rock plants in the walled garden, all these gave a succession of blooms.

Foliage Gives Contrast

How did we contrast this bright color with the refreshing summer green? 

To the bellwort and Solomon’s seal, growing in partial shade, we added ferns and large-leaved funkia (Hosta Plantaginea). These were interplanted with light-colored daffodils, grape hyacinths, and chionodoxa for spring color.

Nor does this haven of quiet and repose preclude the full enjoyment of outdoor living. We chose a spot near the house overlooking the perennial border for family dining and entertaining.

The area around the old ash tree was lined with irregular flagstones. Tanbark or pine needles would do as well.

There were other ways of developing this site, but this seemed best suited to the dose-to-nature tastes and purse of the owners; here, no money was wasted on rock blasting or the purchase of truckfuls of expensive topsoil for leveling. 

Instead, the rocks were vitalized, the natural contours individualized. Furthermore, the upkeep of this type of landscaping is comparatively simple. Plants overgrow under these conditions, while an Iawn can look well, though not finely manicured. 

This is a charming home, so planned that the intrinsic beauty of the natural surroundings is fully utilized and brought out to the best advantage.

44659 by Dina G. Bauman