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Landscaping the Garden
by Dr. Oneida Cramer

Out beyond the flagstone bridge, a stream of water rushes over the Pacific Northwest garden rocks, and you lean back into the lush tranquility of the spring; only, you?re seated in the heart of your own backyard in Dallas. Here, as if in a cocoon, your private backyard can transport you to an imaginary Italian Tuscany or the equatorial tropics or, perhaps, the mountain streams of Colorado, wherever you wish.

?The best thing that ever happened to Dallas was the airport,? said Landscape Concepts owner Mike Dickerson, referring to the continuing influx of new homeowners, who are creating interest in styling home environments atypical to the Dallas native terrain.

?Very few people want to walk out and see Plano,? Dickerson said. Consequently, hardscaping and landscaping have been traditionally important in home environmental design. Today, much of the local thinking remains stoically behind the times because homeowners don?t know what materials can actually live here and so they tend to benchmark new ideas against habitats cultivated years ago. Incoming residents, on the other hand, often bring in different perspectives that they don?t necessarily want constrained by the scope of prevailing designs. So, these people are, in effect, creating somewhat of an evolution in the field of landscape architecture.

Take the front porch, for instance. The front porch is creating a new style of community in Silver Lake development near Grapevine, a downtown heritage of homes going back to the early 20th century, according to Martin Schelling vice president of Wright Development. In the Silver Lake development, newly built period homes reminiscent of the 30?s 40?s, and 50?s (all with front porches) have sold out completely, and plans are to begin building phase two?the Villas at Silver Lake Estates.

?From an observation standpoint, the development (Silver Lake) was highly in demand and very successful. And it has increased the pedestrian traffic in the communities by having these porches and people sitting out on them and gathering up on them on week nights and Saturday nights to visit with their neighbors?that?s just from going through the community and watching it evolve,? said Schelling.

In Park Cities/ North Dallas, however, rare is there a request for a front porch design, according to Southwest Fence and Deck owner, Jamie Turrentine. Instead, primary focus stays in the backyard: the fireplace, barbeque, and fire pit have been the most frequent requests, over the past year. And homeowners have gotten extremely creative in configuring designs for overhead architecture that go far beyond the making of an arbor square.

?I like to think that anybody can build an arbor,? said Turrentine. ?But it takes someone that really has imagination to build the right kind of material for it to be able to fit the environment so it looks like it was designed for the house and the whole plan. The arbor will bring the yard together; it will help whatever you build. Arbors add character to the house in the fact that they complement the elevation of the house when done properly.? Large arbors also provide privacy?screening from people next-door or, perhaps, an unsightly structure such as the electric lines. Along the back of the yard, a large arbor covered with outgrown vegetation can make a dramatic statement to be seen from the house exterior or front door.

?It (arbor) takes the place of a tree and adds architectural detail,? Turrentine said. Arbors also draw people into the yard?generally through a walkway leading from one garden area to the next or from one planting to another.

Likewise, bridges transport people over backyard terrain, usually in yards of a grand scale, according to Turrentine, who builds about ten a year. One of Turrentine?s earliest bridges built about fourteen years ago covers only a small one to two step area of walkway along the side of a pool, where a waterfalls builds up among the rocks. In fact, water features, ranging from the fountain to a coi pond, have become extremely successful backyard structures.

The gazebo (about 20 built each year) makes a cozy retreat in a larger yard, where it creates the best aesthetic architectural value balance to the house at a distance. In close proximity, a gazebo competes architecturally against the house; here, the arbor or patio provides a more satisfying solution. Often, patios built today are too small, and homeowners want them enlarged and covered.

?Overheads probably add more character than anything else a person can do in the backyard,? Turrentine said. ?An overhead gives you a feel that it?s a room?a part of the house.? A lot of people are building their bars underneath and making the space comfortable so they can spend more time outdoors. And comfortable includes furniture?chairs, tables, ceiling fans, and low voltage lights for evening entertainment?and keeping everything dry in rainy weather, now possible since the introduction of Lexan, a polycarbonate sheet of high impact strength transparent glazing. Lexan makes a watertight overhead covering that is 90% effective against ultra violet rays and virtually disappears into the aesthetics of the gazebo, arbor, or overhang.

Other popular hardscapes include decking for areas with lots of trees and steps for changing elevation. You can choose open steps for a lighter airy aesthetic or closed steps for architectural mass?both provide proper support.

?Here we use materials, taking that hardscape construction?architectural assignment?and creating some kind of effect and then embellishing it with softscape to create the theme idea. And when successful, the homeowner will find the yard complementing and enhancing family life.? Dickerson said.

And judging from the current environmental design concepts, homeowners are looking to create outdoor space for privacy and entertaining.

?A backyard is supposed to be your haven,? Turrentine said. ?You are suppose to be able to walk in your backyard at night and, if you have a swimming pool, to swim.? Most of all, you are supposed to be able to relax and feel comfortable because you just got out of traffic.

-by Dr. Oneida Cramer
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