Archive for February, 2009

Creating Balance on a Hill | dogwood*design project



Adele Medina O’Dowd, principal, dogwood*design, llc
contact me | or 202.255.0728
references available upon request


This project in NW DC is not yet finished though like many, these clients wanted to accomplish it in phases.  For phase 1, the main ideas were to connect the hill to the house and establish a new order by clearing that invasive ivy and the overgrown azaleas, and by adding some “infrastructure” to support the visual and actual weight of the earth on the steep slope.  Adding to this issue, because of the steepness of the slope and it’s disconnection to the hill, the house appeared to be “floating”, overbearing and unfriendly.  We did not need to start from scratch with the entire front yard since many of the foundation plantings close to the updated Tudor house remain appropriate in size and will be fine to “build” upon.  But the hill itself was an unruly mess that could not be reckoned with, until it could be reconceived and reworked.


Besides clearing the hill of ivy and other unattractive shrubs, I added low stacked stone walls working around an existing dogwood near the bottom of the front steps and an new crepe myrtle at the top right.  The walls  serve as terraces in which to plant.  I also recommended to the client that we add a couple of larger scale boulders on the hillside, espcieally near the stairs, but she elected not to do this.  We added several winter jasmine, cranberry viburnum and liriope (see images below) planted in November to get established before winter.  We also installed a large American Holly in the foundation planting bed to make the planting more dynamic next to the house.  In the next phase coming in spring, we’ll be adding low weeping yews (Taxus baccata Repandens), dwarf fothergilla, red stem dogwood, and oakleaf hydrangea.  In to the future and over time, the homeowner will do some planting herself, planting woodland perennials that I’ve chosen for her, such as Heuchera, Bleeding Hearts, Coreopsis, Tierella and Hakonechloa Grass.

BEFORE (Below) The front stairs had been newly built by another contractor — and are certainly attractive — but were not integrated, visually, with the house or the yard.


AFTER Now (below), the new low stacked stone “walls” visually marry the house to the hillside, taking advantage of relationship of the stone in walls and stairs to the (existing) stone entryway.  The new walls also provide horizontal lines in the view of the house, adding to the perception that the house is now better grounded.


Looking closely at the photo above.  You can also see a handrail, actually made of old plumbing pipe.  This is another change that desperately needs to be made.



Stay Tuned for the exciting conclusion.

This is the master plan for the front yard

This is the master plan for the front yard

SCARY | invasive grasses of the Mid Atlantic

Oh no!!!!! This calls for lots of exclamation points. Please don’t use these invasives. They ARE attractive, but the typical Zebra Grass (aka Chinese Silver Grass) is invasive in the Mid-Atlantic:
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Little Zebra’
Miscanthus sinensis Anderss
Miscanthus sinensis, the species

check it out…

Other bad boys include:
Pennisetum alopecuroides
Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hamelm’

Alternative non-invasive grasses include:

Carex grayii and other sedges [native = bonus points]
has amazing medieval looking flowers

Molinia caerulea
Digging Dog Nursery has a good selection

Muhlenbergia capillaris

Panicum virgatum ‘Cloud Nine’ [native = bonus points]

Panicum virgatum ‘Prairie Fire’