Ecology + Design

Designed Woodland Habitat & Zen Stroll Garden | Dutchess County, NY

What happens when a woodland property with Asian influences gets a native, ecological makeover? GJL designed a woodland sanctuary for pollinators and birds that fit the client’s lifestyle and hobbies.

This project, dubbed ‘Lonesome Dove, Surrounded by Love,’ is part of our Green Jay Landscape Design 2019 Design Highlights series (#5!).  Check back for a discussion of the rest of our favorite projects of 2019!

These clients were a dream to work with! They wanted to turn their wooded backyard into a designed, usable space that would also create habitat.  Avid birders and nature photographers, they wanted a space to enjoy the myriad of creatures in upstate Pawling, NY.

The project had four distinct components: the front yard ornamental grass and perennial pollinator garden (which replaced a huge swath of front lawn!), the backyard woodland area, the sunny backyard lawn, which was to be renovated as a low-mow eco-blend lawn, and masonry revamp.

1)Front Yard Bird & Butterfly Garden

Aside from the wild and magically natural beauty of the ecological composition, this front yard is a oasis for wildlife. Abundant with a diverse variety of beneficial life, from healthy soil microbes to birds, butterflies and insects, this little peace of paradise is happiness incarnate.

Below is an excerpt from the client’s Landscape Design Development Proposal:

Your stunning summer grass and perennial garden will serve as a Pollinator Pathway paradise, encouraging and attracting migrating songbirds, butterflies, and supplying food (host plants), habitat and shelter during the critical growing season. This beautifully colorful garden will provide a parade of successional flower blooms from spring to fall, featuring eco-beneficial enjoyment for all.

Below: BEFORE photo

This kind of landscaping takes effort, resources and expertise in ecology. The overall effect is stunning! This weedy, do nothing lawn contributed very little to the culture and economy of the community. This nascent, vibrate, rich, living landscape contributes much as a model for the New Frontier in Ecological Landscaping.

Full Sun Pollinator Garden | Planting Palette Examples

  • ‘North Wind’ & ‘Shenandoah’ Switchgrass (Panicum)
  • ‘Morning Light’ Maiden Grass (Miscanthus)
  • Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tubersoa)
  • Gay Feather (Liatris spicata)
  • Blackeyed Susan (Rudbeckia)
  • Coneflower (Echinacea)
  • Dwarf Golden Rod (Solidago speciose or Solidago sphacelate)
  • Cat Mint (Nepeta)

The entire left front lawn was dethatched and rototilled.  We applied a lean mix of organic compost and soil amendments, for the planting pallet of mostly native plants prefer a lean (not rich) soil. This project was planted in early August under intense temperatures; we have found that soil drenching with microbes and a wetting agent effectively reduces planting stress during high summer temperatures.

2) Woodland Stroll Garden w. Pond & Faux Streams

The dappled shade woodland will express and exert an Eastern influence over a naturally serene landscape environment. We will create and establish dual faux river stream beds to reflect the potent energy and duality of the male and female. This will be accomplished by creating pathways of positive chi, encouraging you to wander and linger throughout the blissfully still woodland walkway. This in essence captures the feeling of a Japanese cup garden. An assortment and variety of native woodland perennials, ferns and ground cover will harmonize the simple melody to produce the ultimate karmic resonance.

Much of this design was inspired off the existing conditions and natural woodland setting. Beneath the mature trees were some patchy clumps of grass and the remnants of various DIY gardening projects. The property hosted a small, disfucntional pond with a Japanese-style bridge and other Asian garden adornments. GJL revamped the pond, adding a circulating waterfall/stream that gave the pond the grandeur and energy it deserved!

Below: BEFORE photo of backyard. 

Below: Newly constructed naturalistic stream adds a lovely sound, energy and bathing spot for birds!

Drawing on the Asian theme, we designed various cup gardens of woodland shrubs and perennials, each of which can be visited and admired along the winding garden paths. The two faux river streams described above are navigated across with stone bridges, as part of the meandering woodchip stroll paths.  Using two different types of woodchips to differentiate the garden beds from the garden path is a simple but powerful design decision.  We lined the path with boulders found on-site, crafting a simple rustic style that also effectively kept the mulches in place through numerous storms.

We chose a mix of native woodland shrubs and perennials, with a splash of non-natives from similar ecoregions. Ground cover is key for filling in between plants and lessening weed pressure.

Woodland Garden | Sample Plant Pallette

  • Ivory Halo Dogwood (Cornus alba)
  • Chokeberry (Aronia)
  • Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia)
  • Goats Beard (Aruncus dioicus)
  • Black Cohash (Actea racemosa) 
  • New York Fern (Thelypteris noveboracensis)
  • Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)
  • Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina)
  • Woodtoothed Fern (Dryopteris carthusiana)

3) Low-Mow Eco Lawn

Your doggy-friendly low-mow eco-lawn will provide a safe and healthy playground to ensure ease of care / maintenance and enduring longevity. Your landscape environment will respect and honor all your natural resources while supplying year-round interest for your own enjoyment now and always.

Below: BEFORE photo

The other half of the backyard was a sunny and rather neglected lawn.  We re-graded the lawn with premium topsoil, followed by a layer of organic compost and biochar. The eco-blend includes grass seed varieties that are more adapted to our native climates and require less maintenance – mowing about once a month as opposed to every week. Since the client had large dog, a toxin-free, organic landscape was of the utmost importance.

4) Walkway & Patio Renovation

 The existing front walk and backyard patio were constructed of unilock – a man-made concrete paver block.  The client wanted to update the style, and we knew irregular flagstone would give it the timeless elegance of natural materials.  Plus, with what we now know about the carcinogenic component of concrete, silica dust, we try to avoid using concrete wherever possible.

The Guardian wrote a powerful article on the impacts of concrete and silica:

“Then there’s silica. Naturally present in the Earth’s crust in sand and quartz, this material assumes its lethal form of respirable crystalline silica (RCS) dust during heavy industrial processes like cutting, drilling, blasting and demolition. Independently of silicosis, RCS can also lead to asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, tuberculosis and kidney disease.”

We found it was extremely difficult to find a center to recycle the used unilock blocks, especially given our somewhat remote location.  They unfortunately ended up in the landfill.

Instead of using a concrete base, we installed the new stone on a soft base of stone dust, item 4 and gravel. The soft base allows storm water to infiltrate through the joints to the soil and aquifer below.

The clients were thrilled with the outcome of their landscape renovation.  They now have infinite birds and insects to photograph, and their property is a living example of designed habitat


“Every day is a journey

And the journey itself

Is Home”

— Basho



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