Outdoor Living

It’s been a while since designing a landscape simply meant planting beautiful flowers and rolling lawns. Today, homeowners are looking for much more than a thriving garden: They want stunning poolscapes, elaborate stonework and charming water features—and these are often just the beginning. Starting on page 164, landscape professionals weigh in on how to incorporate these elements into their clients’ properties—illustrated by their own completed projects.
Set in StoneFor a patio design in Great Falls, Howard Cohen of Surrounds, Inc. (surrounds, chose reddish porphyry stone, installed using mortar with a concrete base. The stones are incredibly durable and stain- and chip-resistant. The downside is that they have to be imported either from Argentina or Italy—which makes them expensive. “Think of cost down the road, not just cost now,” Cohen says. “The longevity of better-quality stone will give you a return on your investment.”
Techo-Bloc ( pavers were the key to the look of a landscape design in McLean by Josh Kane of Kane Landscapes ( Made from manufactured stone, the random-pattern pavers were used around the pool in warm Mojave Beige. “We usually recommend pavers in pool areas,” explains Kane. “They’re installed on compacted gravel, not concrete, so they can be lifted in case equipment underground needs to be fixed.”
Brian Hahn of Botanical Decorators ( relied on stonework to add interest to a nondescript side yard in Alexandria. Borrowing from the architecture of the house, he created rectangular and circular borders out of mini-granite cobbles that convey a connection between the lawn and the house. “Borders create a feeling that the lawn is flat,” Hahn says. “They invite you onto the grass.”
Make a SplashWhen Mike Prokopchak of Walnut Hill Landscape Company ( saw his client’s property perched along the Chesapeake, he immediately suggested an infinity pool that would emphasize the dramatic bay view. While the owners wanted a pool deep enough for diving, Prokopchak typically recommends a depth of 3.5 to 5.5 feet. “That way the whole pool is useful for pretty much everyone,” he explains. His designs also incorporate a solar shelf or bench.
Before designing a pool in his client’s compact Alexandria lot, J. Mark White of GardenWise ( considered the function and flow of the yard. “A pool should be properly sized for access and for views from the home,” he says. “A rectangular pool has an automatic focal point at one end.” He also plans for lounge seating, fencing, plantings, privacy and light. “Engage a designer to make sure it all gets done right,” he advises.Julie Patronik of McHale Landscape Design ( asked her clients how they would use their space before embarking on a pool design for their Bethesda property. “We talked about lifestyle, entertaining and exercise to figure out what would suit them best,” she recalls. The result was a rectangular pool flanked by a water feature and surrounded with travertine pavers that retain less heat than the more typical flagstone. “It’s a place of cool and peace,” Patronik says.
Falling WaterWhen Jane Luce of Through the Garden ( was called on to enhance a McLean project with plantings, she worked around a sleek water feature that was already being built. With a three-tiered waterfall spilling from a wall tiled in stones, the feature doubles as a spa designed to complement the modern house, but it requires plenty of upkeep. “Select your water feature with your eyes open,” Luce says, “Don’t only think about what’s going to feel special about it, but also about the time and effort to maintain it.”By contrast, a rustic water feature by Greg Powell of Inviting Spaces ( appears completely organic. Asked to create a watercourse that would empty into a manmade pond, he built a berm, giving the flat Middleburg property a slope, and concealed the inner workings of the feature behind mature plantings. For a natural look, he haphazardly placed a variety of stones, all native to Western Maryland. “Take advantage of any existing grade if you want a naturalistic effect,” he advises. “If you have flat ground, go with something more formal like a fountain. Don’t fight the way the ground naturally goes unless you have a lot of space.”
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Outdoor Vision

It’s easy for homeowners planning a landscape project to come up with a wish list of desired features. What is not so easy is creating a design that will organize these amenities, flow efficiently, dovetail with the topography and existing architecture—and look good too. On these pages, two landscape pros share their views on how a design vision takes shape.
An Outdoor Playground is BornLandscape designer Brian Hahn of Botanical Decorators stresses the importance of form and function when devising a successful outdoor design. Not only does the scheme need to be attractive to the eye, but it also needs to incorporate easy, logical circulation throughout. “In general,” Hahn says, “you want to focus on strong, clean lines and work with the shape of the property. You put in the main components first. Then, once you get the concept down, it’s about making it look pretty.”
He recently designed a Potomac, Maryland, landscape for clients who wanted to build a pool, pavilion and grilling area in a small, pie-shaped yard. Where there was once an empty lawn and no access to the yard from the kitchen, the owners now enjoy full access via new stairs and a landing, a grilling and dining area, a free-form pool and, at the other end, a pavilion with a sitting area and a stone fireplace.
While the shape of the lot largely dictated his plan, Hahn made sure that the pavilion would serve as a dramatic focal point from the kitchen and basement doors leading to the garden. “When you come out of both spaces,” he says, “you look across the pool and directly at the pavilion. You always want to have sight lines from one space to the next.”
If space is limited, Hahn says it’s best to make it feel as big and open as possible. On larger properties, however, designers create “transitions” from one area to another. “In larger lots, you can have multiple defined spaces and vignettes and can meander from one to the next,” he says.
Hahn relates that while some clients entrust their landscape professionals to come up with the best vision for their project, others have pre-conceived notions that can be hard to change.
“In those cases,” says Hahn, “we need to do a good job communicating why it’s better to do things differently. Usually, once clients see the plan and the scale, they understand why we did what we did.”
Smooth Collaboration in McLeanFor landscape architect Daniel Robey of McHale Landscape Design, the vision for a project is inspired by a combination of factors, from the topographical constraints of the site to the style of the house and the way the homeowners live. “The best situation is when the homeowners have a general idea of what they want, then allow us to figure out the details,” Robey says. “That way, we have the flexibility to design as we go and work around any issues that arise.”
This was the scenario during a recent project in McLean, where the owners had just purchased a home on a sloped, two-acre site. They were updating the house and knew that they wanted extensive landscaping with a pool, but nothing more specific. “I did initial design sketches and got an idea of the general direction they wanted to go in,” Robey explains. “I asked questions about their lifestyle to get clues. There wasn’t a grand vision beforehand.”
Due to the slope and location of the septic field, the backyard required terracing. A 10-foot-tall retaining wall separates the patio from the 18-by-50-foot pool, which was sited on an axis with the kitchen—a logical connection because the wife is an avid cook and it is the hub of the home. A space beside the pool was left empty while the homeowners decided what kind of structure they wanted there; eventually, they built a conservatory that does double duty as a greenhouse and pool house with a kitchenette and fireplace.
In the front yard, Robey designed a patio that echoes the curved stoop and portico at the home’s entry. Pennsylvania bluestone stepping stones create an informal path from the street and allow a visual connection to the backyard, where the pool coping and patio are also made of bluestone.
“The key is flexibility,” Robey advises. “The beauty of the landscape design/build process is that the homeowner can be in the driver’s seat. Everyone needs to go into it with an open mind.” He adds, “On almost every job, the homeowner teaches me something.”

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