Ecology + Design

Whimsically Wild Woodland | Landscape Design in Briarcliff Manor, NY

Often, the key to elevating a residential landscape is leaning into the existing features, accentuating them, and improving access to them. That was the case at this Briarcliff, NY property, that featured a mature tree woodland in sections of the front yard and backyard. When GJLD arrived on site, it was clear to us that these grand woodland zones were underutilized because there was no clear way to a navigate them – circulation had been largely ignored in these areas. The clients also wanted to revamp their property entrance, reduce their front yard lawn area, and develop the woodland understory in the backyard.

Woodland trail meanders through revitalized understory planting.

Designing Garden Paths & Native Understory for Woodland Functionality

Green Jay Landscape Design sought to make the woodland areas of this property as inviting and interesting as the more traditional garden zones. We designed a woodchip path that meanders from the driveway, weaving through the front yard woodland and its new understory additions: native ferns, forbs, flowering and evergreen shrubs.

Native Oakleaf Hydrangea is a must-have for woodland understories.

Drawing off the Japanese tradition of aForest Bathing (shinrin-yoku) this path invites a slow and meditative wandering, allowing oneself to feel the forest with every sense, to feel its oneness and interconnectivity, to let one’s internal struggles melt away if only for a moment. Large, sculptural boulders accent the woodland zones, creating naturalistic seating areas to further encourage respite and reflection.

A trio of sitting boulders invites reflection and relaxation in the front yard woodland.

The woodland trail continues near the front entry, guiding you from front yard to backyard beneath the security of a mature tree canopy. For this understory, we repurposed some yews from the front yard, transplanting them to create a “shrub island” for the trail to wrap around.  The new native understory focuses on extending habitat for wildlife – providing nectar, pollen, seeds, and berries that will feed birds and other threatened species year-round.

New curvilinear plant beds frame the front entrance and create depth.

Creating Planting Layers Through Front Yard Lawn Reduction

Another major component of this Landscape Design Master Plan involved the front lawn area. It was quite expansive, stretching from the edge of the front foundation to the property border, where it abruptly ended at mature tree trunks. This lawn-to-tree dynamic is a common feature in today’s landscapes, yet it offers nothing other than whiplash and vertigo as your brain makes the visual leap from carpet to skyscraper. It is much more aesthetically pleasing to bridge the transition with a perennial and shrub layer – a garden border that fills the visual plane in a human scale.

Ecological planting features native plants in every niche, from ground cover to perennial to shrub to tree.

With this in mind, we knew we had to reduce the front lawn area and create new garden beds. After learning more about our clients’ lifestyle, we collaborated on a curvilinear lawn shape that would allow ample space for the true function of that lawn area – playing fetch with their dogs! The fetch area is encircled with the new garden space, that simultaneously frames the front entrance and softens the edges of the hardscape (driveway, front walk, home).

Lawn area is functional and more interesting by limiting its extent.
The new lawn area frames the home and guides you to the backyard trail, inviting exploration of the property.

We designed a matrix-style planting, featuring an assortment of native ornamental grasses to create consistency, structure, and reduce weed maintenance. Native perennials contribute color, nectar, and form for the modern front entrance landscape. Towards the back of the new garden bed resides the shrub layer, a mix of flowering, fruiting and evergreen shrubs and small trees. Collectively, they fill the visual gap with a tapestry of plant material that likewise offers screening of the neighbor’s homes and the road.

Naturalistic driveway planting continues the woodland understory with contrasting textures and native shrubs.

Elevating Curb Appeal with Driveway Garden Beds

Wooded properties often appear hidden from the road and are thus easy to miss for first time guests. We wanted to maintain the valuable woodland, while creating a unique and eye-catching entrance clearly seen from the street. This involved radical pruning of overgrown shrubs and low tree limbs, as well as extending the understory right to the property border. We opted for ferns, perennials with contrasting foliage, and low-growing evergreen shrubs for year-round greenery.

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