Knowing that your landscaping needs help is one thing; knowing what to do to improve it is something else entirely.
Bob and Sherry Colliver knew from the moment they moved into their cottage what was wrong with their landscaping. The steps to the front door were so uneven that people were tripping on them. The access to the side of the house consisted of a slippery gravel slope. And above all, there was the wall.
“There was this eight-foot-high stone wall just a few feet from the front door. You went out the door and you were literally staring at this massive wall, with the driveway at the top of it,” says Bob.
There was a small sitting area beside the wall, says Sherry, “but what use is that? Are you just going to sit there and look at the wall?”
The problem was what to do about it.
They called a couple of landscaping firms for quotes and ideas. The first one hummed and hawed then suggested that they could maybe move the wall back a bit. “We said ‘no, you don’t get it. We don’t want to see the wall at all!’” says Bob. “I don’t think they really knew what to do and didn’t really want to take on a project of this complexity.”
But Collin Dunnett of Stonescaping Muskoka, was up for the challenge. He discussed some options, talked about timelines and budgets, and got to work. “We really had no idea where to start. We just left it to Collin to do his thing,” says Bob.
Envisioning the resultsIt soon became apparent that they had made the right decision. “Collin has an ability to look at the landscape, and to see what it could be,” Sherry says. “He can see things that we couldn’t.”
The first step was to remove the built portions of the wall, and start digging back in order to expose the natural rock. The boulders were moved to one side of the property, to be re-used as the project proceeded.
It turned out that there was a natural rock face buried behind the manmade wall, and it was at least eight to ten feet away from the front of the cottage.
Moving the wall back meant losing part of the driveway, but that was fine with Bob and Sherry: the driveway was oversized anyway, and having parked cars looming overhead when they walked out their front door was never part of their cottaging dream.
With the natural landform exposed, Collin and his crew carefully started reusing the boulders they had removed. This time, though, rather than building a solid wall, they created a natural-looking slope with a series of planting ledges. The result is seamless: it’s nearly impossible to tell which rocks were placed in position and which are part of the natural landform.
Made in the shadeA set of granite stairs – these ones level, solid, and evenly spaced – lead in a gentle curve from the parking area down to the front door.
The result is something not often seen in Muskoka: a showpiece sitting area on the road side of the cottage.
“On sunny afternoons, it can be really hot sitting out on the deck on the lake side,” Sherry explains. “So we often sit out on the other side of the house, where it’s cool and shaded.”
To complete the space, Sherry suggested a water feature. Here again, Collin outdid himself, drilling a hole through a massive boulder, placing it atop a stone pool, and getting pipes installed so that water bubbles out the top. “I was thinking a little water feature,” Sherry says with a laugh, “but we love it!”
“We sit out there, and listen to the gentle sound of the water,” says Bob. “It’s so peaceful.”
Four years later, the plants in the landscape are lush, softening the visual impact of the stone. That, too, is thanks to Collin’s ingenuity. “He designed an irrigation system that pumps water up from the lake,” says Sherry.
This cottage is on Skeleton Lake, which has some of the highest cliffs in Muskoka, so pumping water from the lake is no easy feat. “It took Collin’s guys a fair bit of work to do it, but it works perfectly,” says Bob.
With the addition of some resort-quality lighting, the project was perfect.
So, four years later, how happy are the couple with Collin’s work? Happy enough that they’ve hired him again.
“He’s coming later this summer to redo the waterfront for us,” Sherry says. Whoever did the waterfront landscaping initially didn’t get it quite right, but with Collin and his crew, Bob and Sherry are confident it will be perfect.
TEXT A. WAGNER-CHAZALON | PHOTOS SCOTT TURNBULL