Magnolia grandiflora | Southern Magnolia

Magnolia grandiflora.

bloom by Greg Miles.                                      tree by Clemson HGIC Photos

DESCRIPTION | native, softly pyramidal, evergreen tree

SIZE | 30′ – 50′ tall

FLOWER | 5″ with large cupped petals, white or creamy white, lemon or vanilla fragrance, blooms in summer

NOTES | 3″, furry seed pods with beautiful bright orange red berries in fall.  nice but smaller cultivars: ‘Teddy Bear’, ‘Alta’

Cornus florida | American Dogwood


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DESCRIPTION | native, small, deciduous, understory ornamental tree

SIZE | 20′ – 30′ tall

FLOWER | lovely, 2″, white (or pink), April, before the leaves come out

NOTES |  pretty fall color, beautiful bright orange red berries

Cryptomeria japonica ‘Yoshino’ | Japanese Cedar

DESCRIPTION | large evergreen conifer tree

SIZE | 30′ – 40′ tall

FLOWER | none

NOTES | useful for screening, good alternative to Leland Cypress

Stewartia pseudocamellia | Japanese Stewartia



DESCRIPTION | small, deciduous, ornamental tree

SIZE | 20′ – 30′ tall

FLOWER | lovely, 2″, white, June – July

NOTES | exfoliating bark provides winter excellent interest, pretty fall color

Amelanchier arborea | Downy Serviceberry

Amelanchier arborea grove

Amelanchier arborea grove


DESCRIPTION |  native, deciduous, woodland, multi-stemmed tree

SIZE |  15′ – 25′ tall

FLOWER |  small, white, early April

NOTES |  beautiful fall color, bright red berries in spring and summer

Fothergilla gardenii | Dwarf Fothergilla

Fothergilla gardenii | above photo: Jennifer Benner

Fothergilla gardenii | above photo: Jennifer Benner

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DESCRIPTION | Native, deciduous woodland shrub

SIZE | 5′ – 6′ tall, sometimes not as large

FLOWER | 1″ white, fragrant, sometimes appearing before leaves

NOTES | wonderful fall color

Light & Shadow National Park | wld*project


Adele Medina O’Dowd, principal, willow landscape design
contact us | or 202.255.0728
references available upon request


California to East Coast transplants, the active nature-loving family who live in this house wanted to transform their large expanse of turf and trees only (blah) yard into a terrain worth exploring.  The 3 kids in this family are the kind who spend hours outside getting dirty and climbing everywhere so we wanted to keep them at it, or better yet, give them more to discover.  When the owner walked me around to the side yard and told me that, although she never spent time there it was her favorite part of the yard.  Why?  The quality of the light was wonderful despite the fact that there was hardly a shrub to be seen.  Just then, the sun cascaded down onto us through high up pine branches and we both knew what had to be done.  Identifying the Sassafras in the front was the first step to building a Piedmont forest environment of dappled light and quiet wonder.


The lawn was drastically reduced by 50% (so the project was awarded a “Rainscapes Reward” tax rebate by Montgomery County for “conservation landscaping”) and was replaced mainly by native trees and foliage, and woodland trails, lined with cedar rounds and “timbers” made of recycled plastic — which are great for kids to balance on.  In addition we were especially careful about siting the plants in the right micro-climates and addressing many storm water run-off issues.  In several spots around the yard, plantings were created to slow down and re-direct water toward acceptable areas.  At the front entrance to the house we designed a more tamed look and lavished it with refreshing Annabelle hydrangeas and Creeping Jenny.

BEFORE (Below) Too much grass!  You  can just see a bit of the inspirational Sassafras off to the left.


AFTER Now (below), the new Limber Pines (Pinus flexilis) and Dogwood are surrounded by Oakleaf Hydrangeas and evergreen Christmas ferns.  The pines will eventually get to be 40′ tall but add lustrous beauty to the once exposed corner even now.  The leaning Sassafras is much more at home now.


Several beautiful boulders were incorporated into the landscape specifically for the children to climb on and enjoy.

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Toward the street corner, a sweep of Carex comens breezes across the recycled “timbers”. the Solomon Seal makes a sweet green highlight on the ground.


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[above] The remaining lawn is now tamed and makes the perfect canvas for the shadows of the day that move across it.  The front entrance is now lush with happy Annabelle Hydrangeas and Creeping Jenny.  [below] This native Gray’s Sedge has a distinctive star-shaped flower that many would describe as medieval. I’d been wanting and waiting patiently for just the right people for whom to plant this amazing native. Here, it marks the edge of the wilderness before arriving in a tamed shady glade at the home’s entrance.



[above] Though several new canopy and understory trees were planted, one full sun spot was left as transitional forest edge meadow. We created a berm in this spot to emphasize the change in the landscape.  The meadow berm is spilling over with Achillea ‘Anthea’ (Yarrow, native), Carex comens ‘Bronze’ (Bronze Sedge, non-invassive) Carex grayi (Gray’s Sedge, native – my favorite plant of the project), Echinacea paradoxa (Yellow Coneflower, Protected in US), Panicum virgatum ‘Prairie Fire’ (Prairie Switchgrass, native), Persicaria microcephala ‘Red Dragon’ (non-invassive), all warm colors to soak in the sun. We’re hoping the butterflies will discover it as a new home.


[above before and after] In the backyard on the south side face of the house the Ac units were to naked to the sun until we protected them with a beautiful native Southern Magnolia and many Inkberries (Ilex glabra)


The atmosphere in this spot influenced the entire design. But before only the 2 trees and some on the property line existed there. Now as you walk towards the secret path, you pass a new Nyssa silvatica (Tupelo, native), Ilex opaca (American Holly, native), Inkberry, Clethra alnifolia (native), ferns and Plumbago making it a special trail entrance to the back yard.


The elegant purity of nature can now be appreciated here.  It brings out the kid in all of us as we get lost in time to enjoy it.

Walking the Walk | Becoming Green


I went to a spectacular lecture today at the U. S. Arboretum.  I found out about it because I recently joined the Arboretum as a Friend for the mere pittance of a $35 contribution.  I encourage all my buddies out there to join and attend some programs with me.  This was the program I saw.  Below the announcement, I have written up some notes to share about some pretty exciting advancements in

Measuring Sustainability in the Garden

Dr. Steven Windhager

There is a great deal of talk about creating sustainable gardens, but how do we assess the level of sustainability in a garden? The SSI (Sustainable Sites Initiative) has been formed to provide guidelines and performance benchmarks for those who want to create and measure sustainable landscapes. The goal is to quantitatively asses the attributes of all types of sites in order to measure success in maintaining or improving the health of an ecosystem. Learn about the SSI, including what it is, why it is needed and how it affects public gardens and other landscapes.

Dr. Windhager is the director of the Landscape Restoration Program at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and serves on the Steering Committee and as Technical Advisor for the SSI. His expertise includes Sustainable Site Design, Ecological Restoration, and Urban Ecology.

Lecture Notes |

On average, 30 to 65% of a family’s daily potable water is used in landscaping (what a bummer to learn this!).  Strategic planting of 1 canopy tree can eventually conserve 25% of a home’s energy use.  We all need to think macro in order to make actual gains in living greenly.  Conservation is all well and good, but, we have the opportunity to reverse some of the detrimental impact we’ve had on our own environment in terms of climate change by designing “sustainable” landscapes, big and little.

To achieve true sustainability, we must satisfy 3 intersecting criteria: economic vitality, social acceptability, environmentally sound science.  In other words a yard needs to be affordable, look great and add up to a sum gain in energy use when you consider ALL factors in it’s creation and care.  He gave the example of a commercial property where a pond for storm water abatement is put behind a building and fenced off with ugly chain link.  While this pond may, at first, do it’s job, it’s been shown that it is soon ignored and then not maintained properly, falls into dis-repair and soon enough is no longer effective.

So it’s important to measure carefully and precisely.  That’s where the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center came in.  Maybe a decade ago, they wanted to become LEED certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), but there they found there were no benchmarks for landscape design similar to those developed for architecture and building.  So they began working on guidelines for sustainable methods and benchmarks for performance in landscape design.  The Sustainable Sites Initiative, a system where “credits” are appointed for design that meets particular criteria (available at  They encourage design that for example, uses very little or no potable water for irrigation (only gray water like captured A/C condensation) and keeps storm water from ever running off a site and much, much more.  They even give credit for plastic pot recycling programs.  This initiative also shows how to measure sum gains realistically.  Dr. Windhager spoke a lot about assessing the starting point of any site.  Is it a ‘Green”, “Grey” or “Brown Field”?  A Green Field describes a site that has no previous building on it.  A Grey Field is a site that has had building but is not contaminated with any toxic chemicals, and you can guess what a Brown Field is.

He also said that the costs of sustainable design are front loaded in the design phase, but can often be built for less.  He recommends that every project include a Soil Plan that addresses potential compaction, how it may be mitigated or how bulk density may be restored and to bring organic matter to acceptable or improved levels.

The guy was a wealth of knowledge in this realm and explained everything clearly.  If you ever get a chance to hear him speak, please do.  One of his most potent pieces of advice:  Never Ever Use PEET.  It traps too much carbon in the soil.  Enjoy.

Bethesda Magazine features willow landscape design

The DeBruce Blackman home and teal blue swing

The DeBruce Blackman home and teal blue swing

see the section "Let the Children Play"

article p220 | “Lawn-Free | see the section “Let the Children Play”

We are delighted to share this article with you.  It’s published in Bethesda Magazine September / October 2009 issue called “Lawn-Free”.  We hope to work with more friends and neighbors soon.  Stay tuned for more episodes of the exciting adventures of willow landscape design.

dogwood design becomes willow landscape design

Hooray. You hear it here first. My company name is changing with the company I keep. My new partner is Laura Will and together we are willow landscape design, as seen in Bethesda Magazine September/October issue that just came out today featuring our project in Laura DeBruce’s yard, page 220.

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