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Creative Custom Designs Enhance a Home’s Natural Surroundings

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Photos courtesy of DiSabatino Landscaping

A Chadds Ford family transforms their backyard into a gorgeous outdoor space with the help of creative, expertly conceived landscaping.

It took just two months to transform the “blank slate” of a backyard at this Chadds Ford home.

To John Fridy’s practiced eye, the loveliest landscapes are fresh as a daisy and old as dirt. He’s a long-term thinker, creating natural spaces that thrive over the years with minimal human intervention. “I design with the future in mind, so no one ever needs to sheer a plant,” he says. “I don’t believe in turning shrubs into balls or hockey pucks.”

Fridy conceives plans for gardens, meadows and other outdoor spaces at Naturescapes in Paoli, which specializes in environmentally sensitive landscaping, using only plant-based pesticides or none at all.

Environmental landscapes also focus on indigenous plants—defined as trees, flowers and mosses that grew locally before the first European settlers arrived in the 17th century. Among his favorites are eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana), whose dense foliage offers shelter for birds, and summersweet (Clethra alnifolia), a shrub with spice-scented flowers that are magnets for butterflies, hummingbirds and bees.

On his own 3.5-acre piece of the Main Line, Fridy is establishing four beehives among the native plants, guaranteeing a steady stream of pollinators who buzz from flower to flower, playing essential roles in propagating the species. “Without pollinators, we’d have no plants,” he says.

Fridy’s environmental approach to hardscaping centers on local stone, which doesn’t require extensive amounts of fuel to transport and minimizes wear and tear on roads. He’s partial to flagstone quarried in Cochranville—either in organic, irregular shapes or machine cut into geometric pavers. “Salmons, tans and grays, a blend like the stone you see on old Chester County farmhouses—and it doesn’t have to be trucked very far,” he says.

Before he became a landscape designer, Fridy trained as a clinical psychologist. He soon decided he’d rather work outside in people’s gardens instead of looking inside their heads, studying at Morris Arboretum and Longwood Gardens. “It’s much more therapeutic than sitting in an office listening to other people’s problems,” he says.

Fire and Water

Knowing a homeowner’s lifestyle is an essential part of outdoor design. In devising a plan for a recently constructed home on a flat, two-acre plot near Chadds Ford, David Mull talked with the homeowners about their vision for the property. “We were starting with a blank slate,” says the landscape architect with DiSabatino Landscaping, which is based in Wilmington, Del. “There was no deck or patio in the back and a walkway of 30-inch pavers in front.”

The homeowners’ wish list included a fire pit, a water feature, and areas for grilling, dining and conversation. They also wanted to retain open grassy space behind the house for their two young sons to practice soccer. In front, they were keen on enhancing curb appeal and access to the main entry. “We were looking for a minimalistic design with clean lines,” the owner says. “Dave introduced us to materials that matched this and created a design that makes the patio visually appealing while still meeting our practical needs.”

The foundation of the entertaining and relaxation area is an expansive patio of concrete pavers in a sandy, pale hue. “It looks like high-end travertine marble you’d see on the West Coast or Florida,” Mull says. “It’s much cooler than flagstone or bluestone, plus about a third less expensive than real travertine.”

The water feature is double-sided, serving as an artistic centerpiece for both the dining area and firepit. Creating zones allows for everything from solitary contemplation to convivial family gatherings. The waterfall cascades in a clean, unbroken line into a receiving basin, where it’s recirculated. Illumination provides ambient light at night. “The sound of moving water adds to the tranquility of the space,” he says.

Indoor-Outdoor Connection

Mull’s plan enhanced the connection between house and patio. Large single-pane windows were installed in the breakfast area. Retractable glass doors in the kitchen slide away, essentially removing a wall between the home and garden. “The floor-to-ceiling windows and sliding doors have allowed us to enjoy lots of light, along with views of our landscaped garden and nature 365 days of the year,” says the owner.

A natural gas line fuels both the firepit and a large grill. There’s no wood to haul or ashes to be removed—and no need to swap out propane tanks on the grill. Hedges and groupings of hardy hornbeam trees ensure privacy from neighbors on either side. Flowering hydrangeas provide blue blooms on the north side of the house, balanced with fragrant viburnum at either end. Mull recommended plants that wouldn’t attract nearby deer. “Daffodils, ornamental grasses, sedge, geraniums, boxwood—and barberries because deer don’t like the stickers,” he says.

Curb Appeal

To create a stately welcome at the front of the house, masons installed a four-foot-wide bluestone walkway, flaring out to a full width of eight feet in front of the steps. “It’s a much grander scale, a much nicer entry than walking up the driveway,” Mull says.

The façade faces south, making it ideal for colorful sun-loving plants. The new design bolsters existing plantings of hydrangeas with roses, spirea and glossy abelia (a gracefully arching shrub with shiny leaves and fragrant, long-lasting white flowers that resemble tiny bells). Perennials like dianthus and yarrow are dependable producers, year after year. Dwarf ninebark, a deciduous shrub with clusters of pink flowers that bloom in the spring, boasts purple foliage. “Although the homeowners appreciate the flowering plants, they’re really into textured foliage and plants with foliage that’s other than green,” Mull says.

The DiSabatino crew completed the project in two months. With a personalized landscape design, the house feels firmly rooted in its surroundings— and the owners feel more connected to their home. “The highlights are summer evenings grilling steaks and enjoying the atmosphere while eating outdoors with our kids, family, friends and neighbors,” the owner says. “The upkeep on both the patio and landscaping has been low. Whatever maintenance is required, it’s truly worth it with the pleasure it gives you back.”

6 Landscaping Trends

  1. Going native. Indigenous or native plants date back to the days when Pennsylvania was inhabited by First Americans. There are lots to choose from, as the Keystone State boasts more than 2,100 types.
  2. Pollinator gardens. Designed to attract butterflies, bees and hummingbirds, they’re on the wild side, providing places for pollinators to lay eggs and nest. Plant clusters of brightly colored flowers and heirloom plants are rich in nectar. Think blueberries, sunflowers and asters.
  3. Smart technology. Water the plants, heat the pool or turn on the patio lights from your smartphone.
  4. Outdoor lighting. Add ambience with tiki torches and spotlights tucked into tree branches. Also try lighting along garden paths, uplights on walls, and strings on arbors, pergolas and pavilions.
  5. Front-yard living spaces. Designers are reinterpreting the front porch with patios or terraces sited in front of the house. It’s a neighbor-friendly option that also expands outdoor living spaces.
  6. Singing the blues. This year, blue is the hue for fashion-forward gardens. Landscapers are incorporating blue fortune, delphinium, hydrangea, globe thistle and grape hyacinth into their designs.