Preservation and enhancement of this site’s forest, and the use of native materials, with innovative and visible rain water collection systems, define and organize these gardens, by highlighting water collection strategies. An intensely collaborative process from inception allowed our firm and project architect to work simultaneously, allowing a dialogue through planning, design resolution and construction of all site and garden elements.
This residence in northwest Louisiana occupies a five acre parcel. The site is vegetated with wooded slopes of pine and a mix of native hardwoods. A ravine, the drainage corridor for approximately 100 acres of surrounding forest, runs north /south on the site’s western edge. Water levels in the ravine can rise as much as 8-10’ feet above normal levels after intense rains. A steep river escarpment, formed by the former route of the nearby Red River, vegetated with a dense hardwood canopy, comprises a large area on the site’s eastern boundary.
Our clients, natives of this area, resided seasonally in England’s Cotswold region for over 20 years, before returning home and beginning this project. Our firm collaborated with the clients and architect for two years preparing the site master plan and construction documents. Our firm began planning by developing proposals for the location of the residence, ultimately recommending placement on a ridge near the site’s eastern boundary and near the river escarpment. This allowed filtered views of the residence through the pine and hardwood forest. We also developed schemes for the gated entry, drive access, as well as garden spaces adjacent to the residence, including walks, walls, terraces, parking/service areas and rain water collection systems as garden features.
The entry drive is an elevated, curvilinear stone structure suspended above potential high water levels, so as to not impede flow in the ravine during rain events. Most of the site’s existing forests were preserved, and supplemented with generous plantings of native ferns, shrubs and understories along slopes and visible edges for erosion control and interest from drive views. A walking path also meanders much of the site.
Lawn terraces as flexible play areas for the client’s grandchildren also help organize the garden rooms immediate to the residence, and give spatial clarity to the heavily tree canopied drive and forests. Architectural and site details were inspired by the stone cottages and low walls of the Cotswolds region, a request of our clients. We admittedly struggled with this aspect of the commission, as this was not consistent with a local materials vocabulary. However, we became more comfortable once our suggestion to use limestone rip-rap for the stone, as many river edges throughout this region are stabilized by using this material. It made this application seem more local.
It was our desire from the project’s inception to preserve, and engage the forests, ravine, and escarpment with the clients program and preferences. Our design goals also included:
1| Create simple and relatively small and level garden rooms for play, defined by woodland edges, gardening venues, rainwater collection, and portals into forests.
2| Showcase and make visible drainage systems and rainwater harvesting techniques for garden spaces surrounding the residence, (even though annual rainfall typically is approximately 60-70” inches, it has decreased by more than 25% over the last three years. It is our belief that the perception of water as a valuable commodity will increase, even in this environment.
3| Choreograph an interesting and memorable entry and arrival sequence with an elevated drive to minimize site grading and disturbance in order to preserve tree canopies, all while slowly and ultimately revealing the residence and gardens upon approach.
4| Accommodate client requested venues for herbs, perennials, and vegetables in an unobtrusive and simple way that were accessible and easy to maintain, while not detracting from the proposed rain gardens.
5| Subtlety regrade and vegetate ravine edges with natives to control erosion and preserve the ravine as a site amenity.
Many of our design decisions were guided by adapting native materials and precedents to recall and reconcile the client’s preference for a foreign landscape. We emphasized the use of low horizontal lines for hardscape and landscape features to allow the powerful vertical character of the forest to be amplified and dominant.
Many design aspects became as much about what we elected not to do, than we did, ……….. Constantly editing and distilling our ideas to the essentials, allowing the beauty of nature against minimal built components, in our opinion, would be compelling. The garden design is intentionally simple.
The rear rain garden became directed by the clients request for lawn, yet another request….. “bring the forest up to our bedroom window, so we can enjoy the wildlife and birds that it might attract”! This sunken garden with birch, ferns, iris, and beautyberry became the defining gesture, further educating and selling the client on the beauty and virtues of natives, while also being a working landscape that collected rain water from the residence’s rear roofs and the adjacent lawn terraces. This feature also directed views to sunrises in the east.
The plank bridge, of milled cypress logs, connected otherwise disconnected spaces and extended linear views from the master bedroom toward the escarpment. The clients deemed this an immediate success, as they did the drive entry, and have often told us they enjoy the drive as much as the house and garden spaces, recalling early meetings where we explained how the entry drive could be a beautiful experience. They confessed their initial doubts early in the process, yet the completed work, in their opinion, validated our early descriptions.