Every great landscaping design has a starting point, an element or an idea that inspires and gives shape to everything else that follows. This home to the east of Lake Simcoe had two: the water that wasn’t yet on site, and the rock that most definitely was.
The rock is buried just beneath the surface, a massive slab of granite that shapes the entire site, forming a steep slope from the house down to the golf course that is the backyard neighbour. In fact, the homeowners had originally planned to situate the house a bit lower when they were building, but when the excavators uncovered the rock, they had to either change their plans or hire blasters. The rock stayed put and the house was built on top of it.
The water was one of the elements they wanted to add to the landscape. “We had koi at our home in Uxbridge, and wanted to have a pond for them here,” says Ryan, who owns the house with Vivian, his wife. The couple also knew that a water feature can be a magnet for birds and other wildlife, and they wanted their garden to be alive with the sounds and sights of nature.
The first attempt at creating their dream landscape, though, had not gone well. When the team from Parklane Landscapes arrived on the property, they found the beginnings of a pond that a previous contractor had tried – and failed – to install. “The owners were very discouraged, and we really wanted to show them that they could count on us to deliver their dream,” says project manager Cassie O’Neill.
Cassie and team carefully studied the site, working with the natural contours in the rock to find a depression deep enough for the pond. Rather than just a static pond, they opted for a biofiltration system with a stream feature. Water gently flows across the rock beside the house before entering the deep pond. It is then recirculated through hidden pipes back uphill to a wetland bog that cleans the water naturally.
The design allows for several shallow areas – perfect for bathing birds and other creatures – while also providing the soothing sounds of moving water, audible on the deck just a few feet away.
The effect is completely natural, looking for all the world like a spring that bubbles up out of the rock, flows and then seeps back into the ground. A small arched bridge crosses the pond, creating a visual cue that leads visitors to follow a pathway down the hill and through the garden.
The naturalistic impression was a key consideration for the homeowners, not just for the pond but for the entire site. “We really didn’t want big smooth walls of armourstone,” says Ryan. “We wanted it to look as though the rocks had always been here, and we had just planted the garden around them.”
Achieving that look, Cassie explains, begins with selecting the right stone.
“We wanted to use material that’s as local as possible,” she says. This part of Ontario is a transitional zone – there are limestone outcrops as well as massive granite boulders left behind after the glaciers retreated. Even if you don’t know one kind of stone from another, your eye recognizes the difference: a block of marble or black volcanic rock would look out of place here, no matter how skillfully it was placed.
Even with the right stone, though, placing it is still an art. “You have to find the middle ground between making the rock work for you – doing the job you want it to do in terms of retaining soil – and having it look great,” she explains.
Ryan says it was amazing to watch site foreman Drew Wiseman placing the rocks on the site, lifting each one into place with an excavator, then turning and adjusting it until it looked just right. “I’m very particular with my rock placement,” Drew acknowledges.
That was particularly challenging on this project because the site limited the size of the equipment that could be brought in. “Some of these rocks really did not want to be moved with the equipment that we could use here,” Drew says. “We needed to be patient and creative.”
To finish the look of the project, the Parklane team worked with Ryan and Vivian to introduce the right plants. Many of them – including a large collection of hostas – came from the couple’s former home in Uxbridge. Others were carefully selected to complement the hardscape, choosing forms and shapes that soften the roughness of the stone.
The end result, Ryan says, is wonderful. “Are we happy with the work Parklane did? I guess we must be: we had them come back the next year to landscape the front yard as well!”
TEXT A. WAGNER-CHAZALON | PHOTOS ANDREW FEARMAN