From blank slate to blooming sanctuary, a family reimagines their landscape

The CARBO team worked to visually link a new outdoor living area to the existing home and back porch, giving the homeowners the perfect site for al fresco get-togethers. Built by Todd Normand of Bernhard Normand Construction, the new space includes comfortable seating, a fireplace, a grill and cooking area, and even a water fountain for the kids. Boston ivy and flowering vines climb the new structure’s brick columns, further connecting the hardscape to its natural surroundings. Photos by Eric Garcia

The backyard was completely unadorned when Shannon Blakeman first saw it—just a vast stretch of grass with nary a flowerbed or water feature in sight. Blakeman, a landscape architect with CARBO Landscape Architecture, had been tasked with creating a master plan for this site surrounding his clients’ newly purchased home in Capital Heights, and in that void he had a vision: a space suited for entertaining that would double as a serene private retreat.

Dramatic swaths of plantings including Limelight hydrangeas, Mrs. G.G. Gerbing azaleas and liriope play supporting roles
to the live oak tree in the front yard.

“There was absolutely nothing back there when we started,” Blakeman recalls. “The backyard was lawn, and that was really about it—no trees, nothing.”

Blakeman’s plan involved creating lush garden spaces that would complement the family’s interior aesthetic, an updated take on traditional style. The new backyard design caters to contemporary tastes while managing to look as though it has always been here. A pool big enough for hosting friends, but not so big as to take over the yard, runs perpendicular to a sunken rain garden, which helps to manage drainage issues created by heavy clay soil. 

The front yard’s design places equal emphasis on form and function, though its focal point—a massive live oak tree—was already in place. New “moon lighting” in the oak as well as in nearby Southern magnolia trees adds a sense of security to this area, while old Southern garden plants and hardy native varieties are sprinkled with colorful annuals that add interest each season.

“Overall, the simplicity of some of the things we’ve done—these broad strokes of plantings, these clean lines—really help to kind of root the design in its place and not make it too busy,” Blakeman says. “It just feels comfortable when you’re in the space.”

The backyard’s potential is met in a landscape design that includes a brick-framed pool by Russell Pool Company and a sunken garden teeming with native flora. Teddy Bear magnolias, Slender Silhouette sweetgum trees and a small grove of Alphonse Karr bamboo provide privacy at the property line.
A custom gate created by Nathan Logsdon of The Metalsmith echoes the lush greenery of the new landscape. This area includes Japanese maples, low-growing ferns, and fig ivy-covered brick walls.
Fig ivy creeps along the brick step risers that lead to the front porch, while pops of pink from annuals fill the adjacent beds.
A depressed area of coping at poolside gives the appearance that water is flowing into the sunken garden, when in fact it is recirculating back into the pool. Bluestone step pads provide passage from the outdoor living area through the sunken garden to the lawn beyond. Plants here include juncus, wood fern and wild flame azaleas, among other native specimens.