Artistic landscaping frames Homearama sites
Tips from the pros

Saturday, June 20, 1998

Enquirer contributor

A naturalistic pond, built with gray and honey-colored creek rock, fronts the Wilmont home.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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The same features that make Homearama houses the stuff of dreams make Homearama landscapes the stuff of envy.

But just a few weeks ago, the "artwork" surrounding the 11 homes at Heritage Club in Mason, site of this year's Homearama, was little more than piles of clay and mounds of compost.

When Cincinnati landscape designer Lynne Fraser, a native of Scotland, began last November to plan a lavish exterior for one of the Homearama entries, the Wilmont by WoodCrest Homes, a division of Camden Homes Inc., she had to rely on her artistic imagination.

She and landscape contractor, J.R. Thomas Landscaping Inc. of Loveland, visited the home site months before construction began.

The landscape team had only blueprints and the builder's description of "an eclectic English manor transitional," a country house.

"These are beautiful homes, and you want the landscape to look natural, elegant and sophisticated" Ms. Fraser says. "You want to carry the architect's ideas out to the garden."

Ms. Fraser begins every project by creating a strong framework. For the Homearama project, she chose 20-foot Deborah Norway maples (Acer platanoides Deborah) (four of them will grow 30-40 feet high), 20-foot clump maples (Acer rubrum Red Sunset), and 10-foot Colorado blue spruces (Picea pungens) to soften the home's hard edges.

Then, she says, she "adopts the homeowner's skin for a while." "I have to think as the homeowner when I step out the front door," she says. "What feeling do I want to get? Do I want to see down the street? Do I want to pull myself into my own little world?"

With the homeowner in mind, her next step is to create gardens. There are five "garden rooms" in the Wilmont's landscape, featuring architectural elements such as urns, teak benches, wrought-iron gates and fencing by Elm Industries, downtown.

Some of the gardens are enclosed, private gardens; others reveal a sweeping golf course vista.

One of the most stunning elements of the landscape is the naturalistic pond, built with gray and honey-colored creek rock and located in front of the home. The contours of the pond echo those of the home's bay window, while the roundness of the stones create an unbroken flowing movement in the water.

Mr. Thomas and his team have been involved with Homearama for more than 15 years. He placed first in landscaping competition in 1988 and 1995, and placed second last year.

"We got a very high response rate from our '97 project, with our least expense," says Mr. Thomas, whose showcase landscapes typically cost $30,000.

Ms. Fraser suggests appropriating at least 10 percent of your home's value to landscaping. "Nationwide," she says, "the figure is 19-20 percent."

That doesn't mean that you have to take out a loan for the entire sum.

"The desire for properly landscaped, designed, developed homes does not have to be in the upper scale" homes (only), Mr. Thomas says. "It can be affordable. The plan can be developed, and even if it takes five years to implement it, the increments can be dissected and accomplished."

Tips from the pros

Unless you have a creative eye, a thorough knowledge of plant material and a strong back, it's a good idea to work with a designer and contractor to create the garden you've always wanted.

While visiting Homearama, make a list of contractors whose landscapes attract you. These represent the contractors' best work. Take pictures. Pick up business cards of your top two or three choices.

Make appointments with the contractors. Mr. Thomas suggests visiting the contractor's location rather than having the contractor come to your home.

"You'll be surrounded by a conversation of landscape" with fewer distractions, he says.

Bring your ideas, pictures and magazine clippings to the meeting. A good contractor will welcome your involvement.

If you're doing the landscaping, give everything you plant a great beginning, experts says. Use clay as a base for elevation, but amend the soil with leaf-mold compost and a good grade of humus top soil. And don't forget to water frequently while your plants' roots are getting established.

Create a strong skeleton that is in balance with your home. For example, a two-story home looks out of proportion with landscaping consisting of tiny shrubs and immature trees. Also, evergreens are not your only answer to privacy. Consider deciduous trees: flowering crabs, maples and ash.

Put the right plant in the right location. For example, azaleas or rhododendrons would have been good choices for spring color, but the front of the Wilmont site is too hot and dry to support them. Instead, Ms. Fraser kept it simple with a row of boxwoods. Visual interest comes from urns, which can be filled with colorful annuals, and the wrought-iron work; perennials and bulbs may be added for color.

Aim for equal amounts of landscaping toward the street as at the foundation. This will give your landscape a three-dimensional feeling.

Work with combinations of plants. Odd numbers work best. For instance, choose three weeping cherries or five maiden grasses for a single bed.

For impact in the patio area of the Wilmont, Ms. Fraser chose five Winter King hawthorn trees. In the spring, the trees' dusty white blooms will feel like "you're floating on a cloud," the designer says.

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