Creating a bold new landscape involves thinking about the future, considering how the property will evolve as plants mature and the seasons change. But sometimes, doing it right also means taking a close look at the past.
Future planning is particularly critical when it comes to large, structural changes. Or when doing any kind of work on a waterfront property. “Everybody always underestimates the amount of time that permits and approvals take, especially on the waterfront,” says Joanne Mohan of Parklane Landscapes.
The most recent round of work on this Beaverton-area home, for example, involved installing and landscaping around a dryland boathouse, and installing steps down to the water’s edge. The project required consultations, meetings and approvals with the town, the region, and the conservation authority, a geotechnical study, and even a lot line adjustment, all of which needed to be done before shovels could hit the earth.
“It’s important work – it’s about balancing the needs of the environment with the desires of the property owner,” says Anna van Maris, owner of Parklane, “but it can take many months.”
As part of the process, the Parklane team also took a close look at some of the property’s history.
“This part of the lake has an interesting water table,” Anna explains. “There’s often water found just four or five feet beneath the ground, which is seeping down toward the lake. You dig into the banks here and the soil will be absolutely soaking.”
Many of the creeks and ravines where that water used to flow have been filled in and buried over the years. But they were marked on maps in the 19th century. “The water has to go somewhere. By looking at those old maps, we can get an idea of where it wants to go and plan our work accordingly.”
Started with a renovation
Parklane has seen enormous changes on this property since they started working here in 2017. “We were called in to do some renovations to the grounds around the house, and we’ve been coming back ever since,” says Joanne.
Projects have ranged from the boathouse (which a contractor built) to creating paths and charming picnic areas on the vacant property next door.
Managing water around the house was an early priority. “There were large, wet areas on both sides of the house,” says Joanne.
They came up with a series of measures to move the water away from the house and let it soak safely into the ground through deep gravel beds. That approach is part of Low Impact Design (LID), something which is being demanded by municipalities and conservation authorities, in a quest for more climate-resilient landscapes. Parklane has been doing this for years, and are even offering workshops this summer and fall on climate resilient gardening, as well as on garden therapy and gardening for kids.
“We started installing rain gardens and other water management features over a decade ago, before LID was even a part of the lexicon,” says Anna. “It’s just a key part of who we are as a company: the landscape can be beautiful and sustainable.”
A large house sheds a lot of water – particularly in the heavy rain events that have become much more common as climate change hits our area. The same goes for paved driveways, flagstone paths, and all other impermeable surfaces.
Before LID, the preferred approach was to speed that water off the property as quickly as possible – sending it into catchment ponds or storm sewers in the city, into ditches in the country, or directly into the lake. But that rushing water carries with it oils and other pollutants, as well as nutrients from fertilized fields and lawns, all of which is damaging to the lakes.
Rain gardens and soakaways are designed to capture much of that water instead, keeping it on the property and allowing it to seep into the soil. It can then percolate through the ground, being cleaned and filtered as it travels underground or is taken up by the surrounding vegetation.
The trick is to achieve all of that while also creating a landscape that looks gorgeous – balancing the needs of the environment with the desires of the property owner, as Anna says.
Some of the rain gardens and soakaways surrounding this home were designed with planting pockets – areas where lush ornamentals grow and thrive. Others are topped with permeable pathways and sitting areas.
In some spots, it’s impossible to tell where the water is being stored underground, because the above ground landscaping is so effective. The sitting area outside the boathouse, for example, looks like a charming flagstone patio. Beneath it is a soakaway, capturing and holding the water from the boathouse roof.
There are still changes in store for this property – like every landscape, it will morph and shift as the plants mature. The property will benefit from a major pruning every five or six years, and the owners may make more structural changes. But at the moment, it is doing what it should, capturing and cleaning water and looking stunning in the process.
TEXT A. WAGNER-CHAZALON | PHOTOS ANDREW FEARMAN