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Creative design helps transform running water into attractive landscaping features

The team at Parklane Landscapes is used to managing waterflow – as waterfront hardscaping specialists, every project they undertake includes a discussion of where the water is going to flow. But this property offered some unique design challenges.

Their clients’ new home was spectacular. It stretched along the shoreline and had been built to take full advantage of the waterfront view.

But heavy rainstorms and spring melt made it clear that water features would have to play a prominent role in the overall landscaping plan.

“There was a significant amount of water running down this property and it struggled to find an efficient path around the house,” explains Ally Lauer, Parklane sales manager.

One of the problems was obvious: the property behind the house featured a substantial slope. So melting snow and rainwater from a long way inland collected on the surface and poured downhill toward the lake, reaching the uphill side of the house first. There was so much water on the uphill side that it couldn’t flow efficiently around the house.

Compounding the issue: the underground water level on the property was higher than is typical for this area, adding even more liquid to the equation.

“Understanding the hydrology of the site was just the first step, though: the owners were also concerned with finding an effective landscaping solution that blended in with the natural beauty of the property,” says Ally.

Directing the flow

To manage water flow, explains Parklane owner Cassie Zalewski, you need to give it room to move. “Water will always flow where there’s the least resistance, so our job was to provide that path.”

In this case, that meant starting uphill from the house, building a series of swales and rain gardens to divert the water around the house.

More than just a diversionary path, though, the swales and rain gardens also slow the water on its course. “Rapidly moving water has tremendous destructive potential,” says Cassie. “It can shift large boulders and carve out its own path long before you have a chance to react.”

Slowing the water down also turns it from a challenge into a resource. “In the spring or during heavy rainfalls, the focus is all about controlling the water,” Cassie explains. “But in summer, you want that water to be available to plants.”

That means providing spots where some of the water can remain on the property. Parklane was a pioneer in the development of rain gardens, and they remain an important tool in the company’s repertoire.

While the term “garden” implies plants, the magic of a rain garden has more to do with its underground structure. Cassie and her team dig pits and trenches, lining them where appropriate and filling them with a clear stone aggregate.

In spring melts or rainstorms, water fills these underground storage areas where it remains available to plants – sometimes for weeks afterward.

“Infiltration pits also clean and filter the water before it enters our waterways” says Ally.

These catchment areas can be topped with anything – a permeable patio or driveway, a stone path, or even a planted garden space.

From dry to wet
Not all the water is stored underground on this property, though: on one side of the house, a dry riverbed provides an element of visual interest in all seasons. During the dry summer, the artfully arranged stones look like a natural dry river. When it rains, though, the river roars to life as thousands of gallons of water rush past.

A stone pathway and steps alongside it provide retention and a safe and pleasing route around the house. Walking along it is a multi-sensory experience: you can see, hear, and even smell the moving water beside you as you catch a glimpse of the gorgeous lake in front of you.

Once on the lake side of the house, visitors are gently guided along winding flagstone paths toward a series of interconnected sitting areas near the house. A woodchip path meanders beneath the mature birch, oak, and pine trees, leading toward the dock.

These cottage owners also participated in Parklane’s shoreline greening project. This program is free to property owners in the watershed who want to enhance and protect their shoreline by planting

and maintaining native plants. Homeowners who sign up will receive 10 free plants to enhance the ecological value of their gardens, shoreline, and environment.

With the project completed, the homeowners and their guests now have multiple spots where they can enjoy the property. “They get to be at the lake and appreciate all it has to offer,” says Cassie. “And the water features have become an attractive element of the overall property’s charm.”



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