Adele Medina O’Dowd, principal, willow landscape design
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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.