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“I Love Your Garden”

Designers brighten Washington yards with relaxing patios, woodsy paths, lush water gardens, and more.

All photographs by Roger Foley (

Homes > Home Design > Outdoor Living Package

Fire and Water

Scott Brinitzer Design Associates in Arlington created gardens in both the front and the back of this Bethesda house. In the backyard—shown at left and above—the stucco fireplace, designed by Brinitzer’s firm, and the small stone wall next to it are made of the same materials as those used in the five-year-old house. The terrace around the pool is bluestone; the rest of the stone is fieldstone from the local Carderock Quarries.

In front of the fireplace, Brinitzer created a “cutout” in the terrace so its size wouldn’t seem imposing. Shown in the photo above, it’s filled with Korean boxwoods and small magnolia trees from the series called Little Girls; this variety is called Jane. They’re similar to tulip magnolias, but the blooms appear a week to ten days later, so frost is less likely to kill them. The trees are lovely all year, says Brinitzer, who likes the bark’s color in winter and the leaves’ shape in summer.

The biggest challenge was the front yard, shown at left. It was on a slope that dropped 14 feet on the left side of the house, so Brinitzer leveled the yard with terraces and added such plants as serviceberry trees, the groundcover pachysandra, English boxwood, and English ivy.

Two Paths to Wander

A bluestone path, shown at right, leads from this Potomac house to a circular lawn terrace decorated with large sculptural boulders. From there, a fieldstone path, shown in the bottom photo, leads to a lower terrace with a pool and pond. Along the left side of this path, Sheila Brady of Capitol Hill’s Oehme, van Sweden & Associates planted iris siberica; on the path’s right side are a heritage river birch tree and a Japanese ornamental grass called Hakonechloa macra. The small photo below shows daylilies, Russian sage, and fountain grass.

Sleek Urban Retreat

William Morrow Garden Design & Landscaping in Emmitsburg turned the small backyard of this 19th-century townhouse in DC’s Kalorama into a virtual courtyard with a container garden. To make the 650-square-foot black-granite patio seem larger, Morrow had the fence painted a glossy black. Its horizontal lines draw the eye around and add to the feeling of spaciousness, as do the three-foot-square granite tiles—quarried in China—and two-foot-square white pots filled with purple smoke bushes. The planters are illuminated in the evening.

The ginkgo trees along the white wall alternate with daphne odora bushes, which have a jasminelike fragrance. The balcony above the courtyard, shown at right, is made of ipe—a durable tropical hardwood—and outfitted with Janus et Cie furniture. From there, the owners can relax and watch their three children play on the patio below.

Driveway Transformation

A garage turned pottery studio behind a Kalorama house opens to a patio and driveway. The small fountain on the right side of the photo above was custom-made with inlaid Mexican river pebbles in a Moorish pattern. Guy Williams of DCA Landscape Architects in DC adorned the stucco wall on the left with a climbing schizophragma. In the corner where wall and studio meet, he planted a river birch, an inkberry holly, daphne odora and azaleas, hellebores, and black mondo grass.

A stone bench sits in front of a wall on which honeysuckle and a climbing thornless rose, Zephyrine Drouhin, grow. At the bench’s base are black mondo grass, lady’s mantle, white bleeding hearts, and grape hyacinths. In the foreground are branches of a crabapple tree.

Planting Pools

Traveling in the Netherlands, Arlington landscape designer Tom Mannion was fascinated by potted plants installed inside swimming pools. Backyard pools tend to look sterile, Mannion says; using bog plants in the water makes it look lush. In his design for this McLean garden, yellow flag irises fill pots in two corners of the “lazy L” pool and all corners of the square fishpond next to it. The pool’s chlorine, which guards against algae and mosquito breeding, is less concentrated than in tap water, so it doesn’t harm plants; the pond has no chemicals, but the fish devour mosquitoes and their eggs. The soil in the pots stays put because it’s mulched with stones. Around the square pond, a rain garden catches stormwater from the house and terrace. It’s planted with panicum—an ornamental grass that loves wet and dry soil—as well as hibiscus and Virginia sweetspire.

In the pool’s waterfall, a metal piece makes it look as though the water is pouring directly from the stone wall. Along this part of the pool, plantings include hydrangeas and nandina, sometimes called heavenly bamboo.

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