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’

Design Ideas | Wrought Iron Italy

IMG_2628.JPG, originally uploaded by dogwood*designer.

Design Ideas | Wrought Iron Italy

So last summer I was in Italy: Rome, Tuscany, Venice. And this trip was extremely inspirational, especially for wrought iron work I saw everywhere. Their wrought iron is so much more interesting than what we have here in good old USA, no surprise, and much of it was so modern even in the oldest cities. I suppose it has to be great to stand out there. The door above is one of my absolute favs! The design motif is the purest – circle. But take a look at what else was there, just waiting to be appreciated. It was a feast for the eyes, especially in Venizia where wrought iron was everywhere we turned on every bridge and door. I will be thinking about these patterns for a long time.

Design Ideas | Garden Rooms

Design Ideas | Garden Rooms

Dunbarton Oaks, Washington DC:  There are so many beautiful “Garden Rooms” to experience at Dunbarton Oaks.  We are so lucky to be able to visit and barrow from this joyous place.  Even the surrounding park and Georgetown neighborhood have bountiful inspiration.  I visited on the most gorgeous October day with my two daughters who were so drawn into the garden rooms that I had a hard time keeping them together and going in the direction I wanted to go.  Each of us was attracted to different spaces and even though this is a formal garden, they played and galloped happily enjoying the colors, textures and especially the transitions.


ABOVE:  Garden entrance, I especially like the drainage swale at the bottom of the wall. Simple, attractive and effective.

ABOVE:  Here are two adjacent rooms dressed up in fall colors.  The one on the left is a couple steps down from the one on the right.  Taking this photo, my perspective was from a wonderful wrought iron balcony (see below) in a third room – the rose garden.  Each room in this big garden has a well-designed view to at least one and usually more adjacent rooms.  This is what created the sense of journey we felt as we explored.  The patio on the left, makes you feel as though you are surrounded by water, when really there is only a little still water which acts like a glassy floor under the pavilion (see Lucy playing in the “glass floor” two photos down).




ABOVE:  The fluid lines of the concrete patio edging make you feel as though you are inside of a fountain.

Every room in this garden has beautiful attention to walls, ceiling and especially the floor.


ABOVE:  This is Lily in the “Prunus Walk” hallway orchard.  Lining the path is epimedium for ground cover with warm brick edging the aggregate walkway.  The growing garden is to the right downhill and the vegetable garden to the left uphill, now in fall is filled with windflowers.


ABOVE: The famous pleeched American Hornbeams Caropinus caroliniana a.k.a. the “aerial hedge”.  The circular shape of this room couldn’t be made more apparent than by the shaping of these cool trees as walls.

ABOVE: As I mentioned, the floors in this garden are phenomenal.  I will use this idea for brickwork.  The landing above has a diamond pattern in it.

ABOVE:  “Pebble Garden” has THE most amazing floor, as you can plainly see.  The 4″ high raised bed is planted with sedum amoung other things. The walls in ths room are covered with lattice.  There is a beautiful espalied magnolia on one wall to the left and just beyond it a wonderful window with a view (below).  Lily and Lucy couldn’t resist laying themselves down smack in the middle of the stone design (Two photos down).



ABOVE:  Here is yet another charming path, very simple in design and materials which could be done at anyone’s house going around the corner to the back.

ABOVE: We took a little rest in a private “Star Garden” just next to the house.  We wanted to drink tea here.

ABOVE:  Then we couldn’t resist going back for a look over the veranda to this view of the swimming pool, the “Pebble Garden” is just beyond and then of course you can see some majestic trees and rolling hills beyond that.

ABOVE:  Here is one of my favorite rooms.  This room is called the “Beech Terrace” where you can also see down the rolling hills and pool.  But the simplicity of the ceiling here is fantastic.  One unbelievable Beech tree shelters us, Fagis grandifolia.  We can really appreciate it’s beauty this way.  If I lived closer, I think I would read in this part of the garden.  Its very quiet.  Apparently, the roots of this tree are covered in blooming bulbs in teh spring.  I can’t wait to see that.
BELOW:  The finale – The “Orangery”.  Many people start their tour in this room but I’m so glad this was our last sight.   Covering the walls is a Fig tree that has been here since before the Civil War.  YIKES!  I’m in awe.

Design Idea: Steel Beam Trellis

小弟作品 – CMT6, originally uploaded by ‘navopaul.

This bright red steel beam “trellis” walkway is a beautiful addition to the urban landscape. The color works so well with other primary colors on the building behind and the lush green ground cover.

thanks, navopaul 小弟作品 – CMT6

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.



Cornus florida | American Dogwood

Cornus florida | American Dogwood

Native to MD and the East Coast Piedmont woodlands, yes, I admit that I love them. I can’t help it. They were everywhere in Atlanta where I grew up and definitely have a southern charm.  Dogwoods are so happy. Their upturned swooping branching habit creates the illusion of floating blossoms when they bloom in April before the folliage. They are at home in almost any type of landscape design, formal and informal. They look great in mass or as a focal point specimen. I’ve even seen them used succesfully as a screen.

Dogwoods should be planted in shade, since they are an understory tree.  This is very important to successful growing conditions and preventing undue stress which could make them suseptible to disease.  Dogwoods have been famously suffering from an “anthracnose” in recent years which can kill a healthy tree in a couple of seasons.  The first noticeable symptoms are when leaves turn fall color and drop early, even in July.  If you see this begin to happen while it is only affecting a few leaves, you still have a chance of preventing the disease from taking over completely, but you must act by cleaning up any fallen leaves and removing any new water sprouts which tend to spread the disease.  There are many good articles on this topic.  Here is one from Clemson.



The name “dogwood” may have been originated from the Gaelic term “dag”, a pointed tool used to punch leather or meat. Another possibility comes from England. Years ago, people there used the bark of the bloodtwig dogwood (Cornus sanguinea) to bathe mangy dogs. On this continent, flowering dogwood has been used by Native Americans to make scarlet dyes and tinctures. Although the fruits are poisonous to humans, in the late 1700s, colonists made a tea from dogwood bark to reduce fevers and soothe colds. The wood of the dogwood tree is used today to make small tools and ornaments. It has been under cultivation in North America since the 1730s. Today, flowering dogwoods are popular landscaping trees. They are slow growing (often only a few centimeters per year in dense shade), resilient, and beautiful.

‘Cherokee Cheif’ available, heavy fruiting 15′ tall
ZONES HARDINESS | SUN OR SHADE ….. 5 – 9 | full sun to full shade
GROWTH RATE ….. medium
HEIGHT / WIDTH ….. 20′-30′/7′ to 15′
PLANT SHAPE & BRANCHING ….. Loose, rounded; many horizontal and ascending branches
LEAF FORM & SHAPE ….. 1.5″-3″ obovate, impressed veins, obtusely serrated, thin, light
LEAF ARRANGEMENT ….. simple, alternate
LEAF COLOR ….. Deciduous | dark green, turning bright orange and soft red in fall
FLOWERS | small white in spring
BERRIES | beautiful bright orange red

SOIL does well in moist to dry and slightly alkaline
Native MD to FL and west to TX

Design Idea: Japanese Garden Stairs

Japanese Garden – Stairs 01, originally uploaded by darthservo.

These garden stairs are so beautiful, I had to stop and add it to the garden ideas posted here. The contrasting colors and shapes of the stones make a great effect, especially where you see the smaller darker stones laid within the smooth treads. The curve down the hill is so comfortable and slow. I’m going to try this at home, I think.

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.



IMG_9987.JPG IMG_9992.JPG

CCW Path Plan.jpg

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]
IMG_8094.JPG IMG_8822.JPGIMG_8092.JPG IMG_8826.JPG

[Below : Hydrangea paniculata 'Limelight']


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



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