The challenge: Redo a narrow strip of lackluster land between neighbors.
The result: a thriving garden with an entry and private outdoor living space.
Marilyn and Bill Geib took on the project recently at their home in Williamsburg, Va. Inspired by visits to gardens in Charleston, S.C., Italy and Colonial Williamsburg, they wanted something more than just a row of Leyland cypress separating their small lot from the house next door.
“This was a relatively unique project in that it encompassed a small space with a towering nondescript neighboring wall,” says Bill. “The 35-foot-tall Leyland cypresses engulfed the space and the resulting shade proved difficult to cultivate.”
Inspired by Charleston
The Geibs purchased their home, placed on the lot so the front is perpendicular to the street, about nine years ago. They had an 18-by-60-foot space to work with – dimensions similar to the favorite gardens they saw on their travels. When they moved in, the cypresses were relatively small and cute, but those cuties grew into giants that kept growing.
“Two years ago we began to explore possibilities for a new landscape plan that would give back our yard and also create a sitting area that would allow us to enjoy the outdoors,” says Bill.
“Our neighborhood is quiet and sitting outdoors to read is a favorite pastime of ours.
“In visiting Charleston we had observed that many of the historic homes were also located on lots perpendicular to the street. We learned that this was due to the city’s policy of taxing homes based upon the length of property along the street. The beautiful gardens in the side yards sparked our thinking and led us to our solution.”
Preparing the site
First they worked with architect Tom Tingle of Guernsey Tingle Architects in Williamsburg to design a trellis-like feature that would become the background for the new outdoor room.
Next they collaborated with landscape designer Barbara Schuler of Creative Garden Design, also in Williamsburg, to create a garden with an Italian feel. A fountainhead of Neptune that Bill found at an antique store was used as a centerpiece for the sitting area.
Last spring, the cypress came down, stumps were ground and the soil was prepared.
“The work was a labor of love as I did most of the work over months, occasionally hiring some of the neighboring high school-aged young men to help with the heavy work of digging the holes and setting the plants,” says Bill Geib.
During the summer the mammoth trellis was built, all in PVC, to withstand any outdoor elements.
“Plant selection was complex due to many of our desires and site conditions,” says Bill Geib.
“Deer snack in our yards, so deer-resistant plants were a necessity. The space delivered part shade, and direct sun, and we needed confidence that our other essential item, Italian cypress, would thrive in that environment. They would grow tall to fill the vertical space, but not grow wide and recreate the problem of the lesson learned with the prior Leyland cypress.”
Choosing the plants
Barbara took the Geibs on visits to several wholesale nurseries in the area where they explored and selected plants.
“We wanted plants that would carry the eye from one interest to the other,” says Bill Geib.
The Italian cypress is spaced with Tuscan Flame nandina – red winter color as well as new red spring growth – on each side of the central fountain. Yuletide camellia, a December red bloomer, frames each end.
“The camellias are expected to grow large enough to balance the central trellis and provide privacy,” says Bill Geib.
Variegated boxwood, fragrant daphne, Golden Nugget barberry with contrasting Golden Ruby barberry and heuchera for the shade areas contribute interest with leaf patterns and color.
Splashes of flowering color are found in the Sombrero Hot Coral coneflowers mixed with Yellow Sand coneflowers. A climbing rose called Joseph’s Coat will frame the central fountain, while coreopsis and dianthus are located throughout the garden.
At the last minute, Marilyn decided she wanted a restful area with an Asian feel, so a Bonsai Japanese maple and a dry riverbed were added to create tranquility. Some sheet moss spotted along roadside construction was harvested and placed under the maple to create a peaceful carpeted look.
A stone pathway encourages strolls to see the garden and then sit and relax.
Drip irrigation provides efficient water use; LED lighting helps the garden glow, highlighting the fountain at night.
“At sundown, the garden changes and becomes more intimate with the lighting,” says Bill Geib.
“We invite friends to come for dessert and conversation in the early evening. We found an unusual pitcher plant and placed it as a table centerpiece, leading to interesting conversations about this carnivorous bog plant.
“It’s where we relax, unwind, talk about our day and enjoy the peace of our own small piece of the world.”
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