In The Field: Prairie Style Nears Completion

With the weather being less than an ally this year, progress has been measured in stops and starts, but we are near the finale. The most recent progress involved fine tuning some details on existing stone work, creating new rock "outcroppings", bed preparation and installation of plants.

Autumn descends on the newly planted garden
A detail overlooked by the masons that worked on the house itself was the treatment of the edges of the Pennsylvania bluestone at the foyer and entry terrace. While the tops of the stone have a lightly textured, dimpled finish, the edges were sporting a very uncouth saw cut that looked raw and incomplete in contrast to the adjoining face.
Unfinished bluestone edge
The solution to this problem is "flaming" as described in an earlier post. This involves extreme heating of the stone surface with an acetylene torch to the point that a thin layer of stone shatters with its sudden, heat-induced expansion. Our masonry subcontractor was careful to protect the surrounding area with a heavy and quite disposable sheet of plywood while he performed this task. The sound of hissing gas and exploding rock made me think of being inside a giant popcorn popper, as I silently prayed that only the intended edges were the things exploding.
Joe artfully demolishes one millimeter of bluestone
Cardboard boxes fill in for shrubs
Quick digital manipulation aids decisions
The bluestone was not the only thing in the garden having its edges tended to. The intersection of the garden with the cul-de-sac also needed some attention, with the driving motive of making this huge circle of asphalt seem a little less imposing. We studied this at length from many angles, both inside and outside the house. The images show the view through the dining room window and the street. The cardboard boxes are a mock-up of where shrubs might be placed to soften the visual impact of the street, while some quick photo manipulation aided us in imagining the final appearance of the improvements on approach to the house. This exercise ultimately led us to the conclusion that this area of the garden needed more of a backstory to avoid it appearing trite and one-dimensional, so we expanded upon the stone theme prevalent not only on the property, but in the surrounding cultural landscape that features boulders and natural stone constructions. Large, flat slabs of indigenous rock were scouted at a nearby quarry and tagged by the owner and myself, and placed in the garden to simulate the fractured leading edge of a massive and largely buried geologic formation. Care was taken to place the boulders to suggest eons of imperceptible, tectonic plate-like movement, while opportunistic witchhazels (Hamamelis x intermedia 'Primavera') and stonecrop (Sedum ternatum) leap into the resulting gaps.
Stone slabs suggest a buried geologic formation
With the constructed elements installed and the heavy equipment out of the way, we turned our attention to the improvement of the soil and installation of plants. The aesthetic of the front yard was envisioned to balance the man-made with the natural, pairing recognizable geometric shapes, such as rectangles (in the case of the house), circles and arcs with natural plant communities such as those found in local woodlands and stream banks. While the plant list does not strictly demand Mid-Atlantic or even North American natives, the selections do embrace naturalistic or naturalized species that do not possess any weedy, invasive tendencies. Sod was used for the lawn installation to provide instant erosion control and expedite aesthetic gratification.

Soil conditioning, planting and mulching in progress

Epimedium 'Sulphureum' is planted between the heavy steppers

Installing Sedum ternatum at the stone outcropping

Plants were selected and placed to suggest natural communities, with sod providing instant erosion control. 

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