Archive for the 'landscape design' Category

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.

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

Private Asian Patio | dogwood*design project

Private Asian Patio | dogwood*design project IMG_9455.JPG
Adele Medina O’Dowd, principal, dogwood*design, llc

contact me | or 202.255.0728

references available upon request

What was once a cramped entryway and overgrown walk that served little purpose has now been transformed into a serene and inviting contemplative asian garden with duel functioning stairway with seating in this intimate space.  The owner wanted to make the most of her small patio as a place to hold parties and as a personal natural healing retreat to read and play with her little dog, but her tiny side patio had become overgrown with shrubs, scrub trees and bamboo.  On top of this, there was only one spot in which to sit that, oddly enough, was completely un-shaded and hot.  So we transformed the space by removing a rickety old narrow stair from the breezeway to the patio into a wider more welcoming transition stair and japanese style “floating bench”.  A new low deck also expanded this area and provided a place for the owners BBQ which had been crammed into the passageway, in the way of entering guests.  Using the BBQ and a pretty existing dogwood, we devided the space into two garden rooms, one for dining and one for relaxing or conversation.  We added a stunning ipa fence and gates to protect the owner’s dog.  We kept some of the bamboo, adding a metal barrier 24″ deep underground to contain it only in the spots we wanted it.  We also added an additional more anthracnose resitant dogwood and some beautiful japonese anenomies.  What is so wonderful about this project is the owner’s personality was so closely tied to the garden design.



Sustainable Woodland Path | dogwood*design project

IMG_9985.JPG, originally uploaded by dogwood*designer.

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


This little stretch of earth was once lined in dying bamboo, but has now been rejuvenated and reclaimed as a lovely passageway between Chevy Chase West’ Hunt Avenue and Drummond Avenue. The big problem here was water and drainage since possibly a couple hundred commuters and school children take this route through the neighborhood each day. The bottom of the of the pass was always flooding in heavy rain since it had a very low spot.

Once the bamboo was removed and tilled out of the ground, a great spot as left for a garden. But since this land is community property and therefore no on in particular is responsible for it’s upkeep except willing neighbors, dogwood*design was charged with designing a plan that would be sustainable and a pleasure to see each day and with seasonal interest.

Planted here are purple Beautyberries, native Virginia Sweetspire ‘Henry’s Garnet’ and Spicebush, as well as tall growing evergreens Aucuba japonica and Leatherleaf viburnum. Two trees adorn the spot now, a light green needled evergreen Limber Pine and a very showy deciduous Chinese Fringetree with it’s exfoliating bark and lacy white spring plums.

Hope you have a chance to pass by and enjoy this sustainable community bright spot.



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European Style Backyard Patio | dogwood*design #1

European Style Backyard Patio | dogwood*design project #1

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

My friends, the owners in Chevy Chase, MD, wanted a relaxing, stylish spot to entertain their friends and family. They wanted their backyard to remind them of the beautiful places they’d visited on European travels. Of course, their patio needed to be a personal space with an intimate scale, but inspired by old world charm. The owners, who are into gardens but not gardening per se, wanted the yard to be easy to care for. My friends were so nice to act as my first guinny pigs and we started from scratch with a narrow yard of compacted red clay soil, just after they completed their new kitchen renovation. The layout of the yard is formal, with a fountain (coming soon) on one end, balanced on both with 5 tall columnar trees each. But, the ambiance is fresh and comfortable with hydrangeas and camellias flowing over short boxwood headges. The new stone patio with a seat wall and a fireplace has become warm outdoor room for them to enjoy.

Buxus fastigiata | Boxwood (columnar)
Buxus microphylla var. koreana x B. sempervirens ‘Green Mountain’
Buxus microphylla var. koreana x B. sempervirens ‘Green Gem’
Buxus sinica var. insularis ‘Justin Brouwers’ | Boxwood
Camellia x ‘Snow Flurry’ | Hardy Camellia fall bloomer
Carex elata ‘Aurea’ | Bowles Golden Grass
Deutzia gracilis | Slendar Deutzia
Hydrangea panicullata ‘Limelight’
Hypericum calycinum ‘Briggadoon’ | St. John’s Wort
Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’ | Sky Pencil Littleleaf Holly
Miscanthus senensis ‘Strictus’ | Porcupine Grass
Prunus yeodensis ‘Yoshino’ | Japanese Cherry Blossom
Prunus subhirtella ‘Pendula’ | Weeping Cherry
Rose ‘New Dawn’ | Blush Pink hardy climbing rose
Thuja occidentallis ‘Degroot’s Spire’ | Degroot’s Sprire Arborvitae

PA field stone seat wall, 18″ high with topped with copping
PA flagstone patio mixed colors laid in stone dust (for better water perculation)
Irrigation system installed on a timer
4.5′ tall, 5′ wide 2 tiered self-contained fountain
4′ tall fire pit with wrought iron decoration
wrought iron rose trellises.

The style of this garden doesn’t lend itself to easy care. But the owners are fully self-aware of their own capabilities and have weighed their priorities. Regular pruning will be needed, but it is made easy because the owners were interested and ready to commit to a maintenance contract.  On a “green” note, water is not wasted here. We have installed an irrigation system on a timer to direct water exactly to plants that need it, as needed.  In fact, a rain detector, basically a spongey sensor hooked up to the system, automatically adjusts the water flow when irrigation is not needed in periods of rain.  Also, providing just the right amount of water means there is little or no run-off into storm drains.  Last, because the stone patio was set in place with stone dust instead of concrete, water can percolate into the ground through to the earth below it.  The owners travel a lot but know their plants will remain happy and healthy because they have other care systems in place. They feel they have made a terrific investment and will have a lot of fun in the space they created. If you’d like to check out the nitty gritty of process, see it here.

Evergro Landscaping, DC, MD, VA


[Above: My friend's sister inaugurated the new patio by renewing her wedding vows here the day after planting was complete on her 25th anniversary. White rose petals decorate the patio floor.]

[Below Left : Before | Below Right : After]
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[Below : Hydrangea paniculata 'Limelight']


Ok, so the fireplace ornament still needs to be hung up.



Repitition | Landscape Design Ideas

IMG_1788.JPG, originally uploaded by dogwood*designer.

Repitition | Landscape Design Ideas

So the fall color emphasizes the beautiful repetition of understory trees here at Brookside Gardens in Silver Spring, MD. The repetition of the small trees in addition, shows off the repetition of the contrasting tall trees, which maybe you wouldn’t notice so much otherwise. The grouping of small trees and weight of their mass also gives visual weight to the middleground in view coming around a long path. Like curves, repetition suggests movement and something exciting to come.

Stone Steps | Landscape Design Ideas

Backyard patio, originally uploaded by redjar.

Stone Steps | Landscape Design Ideas

If you’ve been reading some of the other entries in this blog, maybe you could have guessed how much I like this spot. The wide stone steps make a wonderful descent down into a lush woodland environment. Once you make the transition down you get a nice red chair surprise to sit in. Homeowners think of hills and slopes as problems but they can be great opportunities, too.

Entrance Garden | Landscape Design Ideas

my garden, originally uploaded by intheburg.

Entrance Garden | Landscape Design Ideas

This wonderful entrance belongs to my landscape architect friend who lives in Richmond, VA. The entrance to the house on a shady wooded lot has so many personal touches that you can check out by looking at his flickr set. He has created a beautiful woodland garden to fit.  I love the way it all works together. I know he likes native plants and see a little Lizard’s Tail, featured along with pitcher plant, big leaf magnolia and Carolina Spider Lady.

The water feature is serene and reflect the color of the pots in early spring as well as the plants later on. The colors here in total are very simple cool greens and warm brick reds, softened with moss all over. Ferns are used for groundcover instead of grass. I really like the climbing hydrangea that provides just a little bit of a screen and a lot of flow as you amble down the front walk. Most of the other plants next to the front walk are low so you don’t feel crouded as you make your approach to the front door. But why stop there? The easy going patio table is just a few steps more. You get to pass the soft organic sculpture on the way. All of this is very doable and fits right into the suburban Piedmont environment.

Light on the Patio | Landscape Design Ideas

patio, originally uploaded by cmurtaugh.

Light on the Patio | Landscape Design Ideas

This is a very pleasant place even if it wasn’t so expensive to create. There are some key elements and compositional ideas that make it work for me: opportunity, encloser, level change, lights.

I like it because the owners took advantage of a good area in their yard even and if it isn’t huge they still made an inviting dining area. The patio is situated under a nice shade tree so in the daytime the owners can feel protected. This patio is just big enough for dinner with friends or family.

The fence is really charming with enough detail and design interest to give this spot some character. It doesn’t overwhelm the space, just warms it up. The curved top makes the spot seem more homey and with the vines creeping over you have sense that time and nature are integrated.

Even in this small intimate scale the level change of the landing to the patio is important. The level change is what seperates the dining area from the entryways. Hopefully they plan to connect the landing to the patio, but in any case you have a bit of a sunken patio feeling that is helped by the level change.

The lights on this patio are really charming. They have a festive appeal whithout becoming kitschy. The incandescent bulbs warm the scene so it doesn’t seem lonely out there. But it’s also not too bright. I think you have to be careful in a small space to get it right and would be worth testing options before investing. The height of the lighting also makes a difference. Too high and too spot lit would make you feel on display and too much glare. These lights also seem to reflect a bit off the overhead tree canopy. These lights fill the space, but don’t overwhelm it.

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