Imagine you built a home beside a meandering creek, a spot where you could sit on the patio and enjoy the peaceful sights of Mother Nature. Hot Texas days and nights were cooled by the breeze and softened by the sounds of a trickling stream.
Then imagine that a new house is constructed next door; it not only blocks your view, but creates a massive brick wall at the zero lot line, closing in what had been your connection to green. What’s more, the roof of this new home—nearly 5,000 square feet of surface – now channels rainwater toward your side yard and creates drainage problems where few had existed.
What do you do? You hire the company your neighbors recommend to recreate—as much as possible—the creekside retreat that you lost.
Company: Roundtree Landscaping Inc.
Owner: Johnette Taylor
Year established: 1984
Location: Dallas, Texas
Specialty: Our company is all about design, and it’s critical that it fits the customer right.
Philosophy: We believe good design is the most important aspect of every project. We also believe the highest quality landscape architecture and design services should be affordable. See more at: http://roundtreelandscaping.com/about-us/roundtree-philosphy/
Awards: The project highlighted here received a Bronze Award for residential construction projects under $25,000 in the 2010-2011 Texas Excellence in Landscaping Awards program sponsored by the Texas Nursery and Landscape Association.
Roundtree Landscaping Inc., a 30-year-old company based in Dallas, was responsible for renovating a few other properties nearby, and the homeowners were familiar with Roundtree’s reputation for quality and innovation. Founder and owner Johnette Taylor met with the homeowners and discussed what needed to be done. “There were two problems,” she says. “Suddenly, with that house being built, there were some drainage issues, because everyone’s roofs were dumping into this one narrow area. It slopes off toward the back, so it goes off toward the creek, but making sure the water was going to go that way was a little bit of an issue. And screening that new house needed to be done, so that [the homeowners] didn’t feel they were right in the next door neighbor’s yard—or, rather, their house.”
The existing patio had provided a place to relax, but closed in by the new construction next door, it soon functioned as a heat trap. Combine that problem with the obstructed view—who wants to stare at a massive brick wall?—and the space was rendered practically unusable.
Fun and function
Shut off from the view and subject to mounting drainage problems, the space cried out for renovation. Diverting runoff was essential, but so was diverting the homeowners’ attention from a large, blank structure.
After meeting with the homeowners, Roundtree’s team developed a plan to address both problems. Taylor explains the brainstorming: “We’ve got a drainage issue, so can we channel that to the creek? How would we make it work? We started talking about the options on how to fix things and came up with, well, what if we had a creek there? How would we make it look like the creek? They lost that view, and they really missed that; wouldn’t it be nice to give it back to them?”
Restoring the feel of a creekside location required both functional and aesthetic renovation: proper drainage coupled with lush plantings and the sound and movement of water.
“So that became our concept,” she continues. “‘You bought a creek lot, let’s give you a creek back.’ But we can’t do it in 100 percent the traditional way; what we’re going to do is give you the feel of it. And we needed a strong focal point to detract from the house next door, and that became the bubbling pot. It would bubble over into what would look like a creek—or a dry creek bed—that would actually be a reservoir that’s buried under the ground. We were able to create that feel of the creek in their own little side yard.”
Training is key
“When we started out, we were all about design, but education became a byproduct because one of the things I realized is that a lot of companies didn’t train their people. And I wanted to know that my people knew what they were doing, and that the people that I got to work with were really awesome and amazing,” says Johnette Taylor, founder and owner of Roundtree Landscaping Inc.
“We do a lot of training,” she continues. “We have an in-house training program that the crew guys start as soon as they start with the company. It’s a different subject every month, and we do one-hour training twice a month. They get a book with all the training material in it to review, and once a month they have the opportunity to come in and test on it, and either myself or the production manager will test them. If they pass the test, they get a small bonus. Passing the tests is critical for them to be able to advance, so if they want to advance in their career and make more money, or move to a higher position on the crew, then they have to pass the tests.
“We teach them everything from plant identification to proper bed prep and safety, fertilization—all the horticultural aspects. We developed the source materials ourselves.”
Education extends to clients, too. “Often, our customers don’t know anything about landscaping; they don’t understand what professional landscaping is,” Taylor explains. “And so a lot of the education became how to help a client understand. Even today, if a client doesn’t hire us for a project, one of the things we’ll talk to them about is, no matter who you work with, here are some things you need to know.
“We train our personnel to train our customers and our potential customers,” she continues. “Because if a client chooses to go somewhere else, that’s great. I just want them to know the right way, so that if somebody takes a shortcut, they’re not getting the full value of what they’re paying for.”
Creating a retreat
Access to the now-enclosed side yard was “a little tricky, because there was already a fence and an iron gate,” Taylor says, “so we were trying to use material that would fit through without having to take down any of the fencing. We ended up using moderate-sized materials and left some of the bigger things that were already there and worked around them.”
The existing, bluestone patio remained in place, but Roundtree’s plan called for an arbor “so that [the homeowners] would have a shady area to sit in, because even with the plantings, at midday as the sun came over, with all the brick wall of the house next door, their brick wall and that stone patio, it was very, very warm,” Taylor says. After the new home was built, “Air circulation was not as good as it could be in there,” Taylor continues, “so we wanted to make sure that we gave them some shade.” The company added a ceiling fan to help move the air and mimic the creekside breeze the homeowners missed.
A gravel path was replaced by natural stepping stones, and the barren space surrounding a live oak—a tree the residents insisted on keeping, despite its potential for outgrowing the space—became home to the large bubbling urn that now serves as the premier focal point of the small space. French drain was installed to channel excess water, both from the fountain and the occasional Texas storm. Groundcovers and small shrubs filled in, and a screen of border-garden plants helps soften the effect of vertical, linear brick. A ‘Forest Pansy’ redbud graces one corner; its foliage blends with the color of the brick and the natural wood arbor. At the request of the homeowners, a few Japanese maples were incorporated, also to play off the reddish brick and wood tones.
Roundtree Landscaping performs maintenance on the property, including rotating seasonal color in blue containers that tie in with the bubbler and the gray-blue tones of the patio.
Having to deal with excess water in an area prone to drought might seem odd, but diverting runoff and directing irrigation both are critical to this installation. The bubbling fountain recirculates, and should it overflow, the drainage installed beneath the dry creek bed handles the surfeit. Plants were carefully chosen for their ability to withstand the lack of water as well as their ornamental characteristics: “[The homeowners] are water conscious,” Taylor explains. “We have Japanese maples and a few other plants in there that need a little more water in the Texas heat, but we also used abelia and dwarf wax myrtle, and some plants that are native for us. They’re using really good irrigation and bubblers that are able to water very specifically so that we don’t feel that we’re wasting water. The existing system needed work, because we were addressing the specific water needs of the specific plants.
“We were able to use the zones that were there,” she continues, “but just go in and retrofit them with different heads. Even though this site is near the creek, in Texas, everything has to have additional water.”
As the landscape has matured, the homeowners have realized some water savings. “The first year, it’s definitely going to use a lot more water, but as it’s matured and the plants have really grown in, we’ve been able to cut back a lot on the watering. We’ve definitely created more shade,” Taylor says.
The project took the three-man installation crew about 90 days to complete, and the space now is enjoyed daily. Even when the residents are not actually outside, “the curtains are always open,” Taylor says. “They take full advantage of it.”