Ecology + Design

Backyard Grading, Organic Lawn Installation & Terrace Garden | Harrison, NY

One part landscape grading, one part organic lawn renovation and one part ornamental grass and perennial pollinator garden, this was an incredibly satisfying project that allowed us to flex many unique skills in our landscape design and construction tool box.

This project, dubbed ‘Above the Fields of Grass’ is part of our 2019 Green Jay Landscape Design Design Highlights series (#3!).  Check back for a discussion of the rest of our favorite projects of 2019! Read about projects 4 and 5

The client has a young family and the main reason they booked a consultation with us was because their yard, at a significant slope, created a pesky and somewhat dysfunctional play area for their children.  Playing ball almost certainly lead to loss of the ball to the slope, and likely across the path into the golf course that abuts the backyard. What’s more, the row of yews that lined the southern edge of the property had grown so that the dense part of the shrub blocked the rolling green hills and skyline, while the yews’ thin trunks revealed the road behind and golfers’ legs in a most frustrating way.  To top it off, the previous owner, apparently a golf fan, had left a ten-foot gap in the center of the yews, so that he could watch the golfers tee off! From the back patio!

Clearly this was not an example of modern, family-friendly, inviting and intimate, ecological landscaping!  We had a large task at hand but were up for the challenge!  The client signed on for a Landscape Design Master Plan that included the entire property.  The front foundation landscaping was dated, overgrown, and created confusion between the front entrance and secondary entrance. We created an AutoCad drawing and provided plant photo visuals to render our vision. The client ultimately decided to move forward with the backyard design and construction in 2019, with the intention of completing the front yard as phase two in 2020.


To solve the slope issue, without completely blowing the client’s budget, we proposed a rip-rap retaining wall constructed of large boulders that supported a two-tier, terraced planting bed that effectively lifted the overall grade of the backyard around three feet.  We brought in premium topsoil by the truckload, and graded with a machine and by hand.

The rear terrace was to be planted with assorted viburnum shrubs – the dense, deciduous shrubs would provide necessary screening during golf season, and open up the expansive views in the winter. The second, front terrace was to be planted with ornamental grasses and pollinator-attracting perennials.

Since the garden bed is in full sun with a southern orientation, perennials that like hot dry environments were a no-brainer (think prairie perennials like Echinacea and Agastache).  The seed heads of Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’ and native Pannicum ‘Northwinds’ provide incredible texture and movement from summer through winter!  (t is a common misconception that all Miscanthus are invasive.  The straight species can be, but cultivars like the ones in this garden are sterile!) Tardiva Hydrangea replaced a stretch of yews on the lower lawn, and between those and the perennials, the property was absolutely filled with butterflies!

The organic lawn installation required installing hay blankets on top of the seed for stabilization during the germination phase.  This installation took place in July, and a series of intense rain events demanded that we take extra precautions with the bare soil.

The client was thrilled with their newly level, lush, organic lawn and playspace.  Thanks to modern landscaping, they now have the privacy, beauty and excitement they deserve, in the form of a living border of shrubs, grasses and flowers that attract a host of birds, bees and butterflies for their family to admire, learn from and grow alongside.


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