How This Gladwyne Homeowner Created an Intimate Backyard Oasis

All Photos Courtesy of Wallace Landscape Associates. 

When his estate was under construction in 2006, the owner of a three-story Gladwyne manse wanted opulence inside and out. To create an outdoor setting to accompany the home’s stone architecture and cedar shake roof, he turned to Laura Miller, managing partner and principal landscape architect at Wallace Landscape Associates in Chadds Ford.

The result is a lush landscape that unfurls in a series of open-air rooms, blending formal plantings, velvety green expanses and a classy pool—a tranquil oasis that anyone would be happy to return to after a busy day. “The goal was to make the design fit the site and complement the architecture,” says Miller. “The landscape shouldn’t make it look as if it was imposed on the property.”

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Sense of Intimacy

Topping off the owner’s wish: complete privacy. “I also wanted beautiful gardens with flowering plants for three seasons, a formal layout to match the house’s architecture, and room for cars to park and easily maneuver,” he says.

Miller’s design bolstered existing plantings to create a deeper buffer zone and enhance the sense of intimacy. “There were beech trees and evergreens around the perimeter, which provided a lot of privacy,” she says. “We added Norway spruce, white pine and native American hollies to make it even more private.”

The heated saltwater swimming pool was constructed by Armond Aquatech Pools in Bridgeport. It forms a visual bridge between the patios that extend from the back of the home and the pool house.

Twenty by 40 feet, the pool’s rectangular shape echoes the formality of the house. Flanking the entryway to the pool from the back patio area, manicured boxwood hedges are bordered with liriope, a hardy, drought-tolerant groundcover. Choosing the right variety is important, Miller notes, adding that liriope is ideal for edging shrub and flower beds because, unlike the creeping varieties, it’s not invasive.

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Waterfalls and Roses

The decking around the pool is indigenous Pennsylvania bluestone, which is compatible with the schist used to build the house and the framing of a walk-up spa adjoining the pool. “When the spa is running, the water runs down the steps into the pool, like a little waterfall,” Miller says.

On either side of the poolhouse, extravagant plots of English roses produce a profusion of scarlet blossoms. “They bloom for a long time and are absolutely spectacular,” she says.

Miller wanted to define outdoor rooms with two terraces separated by boxwoods, placing the pool on a lower level than the house so the cover isn’t visible from inside the home during winter. In warmer months, the owner is frequently on the patio with friends and family, and the pool is clearly visible from the outdoor space, shimmering like a sapphire surrounded by emerald swaths of green.

Grass is a crucial element in both the form and the function of this landscape. The soft and verdant expanse provides a visual pause that refreshes the eye. It’s also a flexible recreational area that can readily be used for lacrosse practice, badminton or volleyball.

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Behind the Gate

Various architectural elements offer a framework for plants and an invitation to linger. A wooden garden gate with a portal window is set into a stone wall, ushering visitors from the front of the house into the intimate grounds. “When you approach the garden gate, you instinctively want to see what’s around the corner,” Miller says.

On the other side, hydrangeas and mist spirea erupt in clouds of blue blossoms that entice butterflies. Two varieties of climbing clematis trail an arbor that provides color and shade. “It’s a beautiful place to sit and enjoy a glass of iced tea,” says Miller.

Two noteworthy trees—an umbrella pine and a Korean stewartia—were already on the property before construction began.
To preserve them, specialists dug the trees out by hand and replanted them in a safe place. Once the house was built and the landscape design was approved, they were moved once again.

Considered a sacred tree in Japan, the umbrella pine is now flourishing in front of the house. With its saucer-size blooms and peeling bark, the Korean stewartia stands alone like a piece of living sculpture in the back garden.

Seasonal Splendor

Thanks to Miller’s design acumen, there’s something lovely to behold all year round. Native witch hazels planted near the property line bloom in February and March, unfurling golden and rust-orange blooms against neighboring stands of evergreens. “I enjoy the many specimen plantings and the complete privacy that the perimeter landscaping provides,” the
owner says.

In front of the house, the landscaping is designed to give the impression of a grand entry, with a circular driveway edged in Belgian block. In the center of the drive is a large urn with annuals, which are changed seasonally. “In spring, we’d do daffodils, tulips and something that spills over the edges­—perhaps a vinca vine,” Miller says. “In summer, it would be canna lilies, black coral elephant ears or whatever’s in season that’s colorful and looks good—including herbs like basil and lavender.”

As autumn debuts, it may be tall grasses with plumes. Miller is partial to blue oat grass (a heat-tolerant ornamental with stiff, tapered foliage) and pink muhly, with colorful shoots that can be plucked and preserved in dried flower arrangements.

Even winter can offer a showcase with Miller’s designs, in the from of branches of winterberry and arrangements of glossy magnolia leaves. “The texture of the leaves is just as important as the color,” she says.

With each passing year, the carefully thought out plantings send their roots deeper as the entire scene evolves and matures. “With a new landscape, it takes three years before you’ll see more plant and less mulch,” Miller says. “That’s when you start pruning.”

This owner prefers to leave the work to the professionals, having the Wallace team handle pruning and deadheading. That way, he can enjoy his surroundings without worry—from the appearance of the first crocus in spring until the lawns sparkle with frost. “The interior and exterior spaces of the home align in every way,” he says. “Laura helped create a beautiful oasis.”

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