Blog Background

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Residential Landscape Design: The Riley Residence……and a little bit more!

Judd here, when Abby started “THE LANGHAM PROJECT,” I was forced to sign a contract stating I would contribute to the cause. Okay, okay…..I did not have to sign anything, but she has put a “LITTLE” pressure on me recently to contribute to the blog. When we decided to start a blog/platform to share our interests, concerns, and lives, we thought that we should include a section to include all facets of design, specifically landscape design. If my beautiful wife has failed to mention, I am a Landscape Designer/Urban Designer/Planner. I have a Masters Degree in Landscape Architecture and a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture with an emphasis in Landscape Design from Auburn University.  I enjoy educating others about landscape architecture. The landscape architecture profession is gaining recognition as a vital player in today's “green” and “sustainability” movements, and we designers are starting to get recognized from Capital Hill to small southern towns around the region.  If you are not familiar with the term landscape architect, please allow me to give you my definition.  A landscape architect is one who designs or envisions spaces that promote social interaction and enhance life while maximizing preservation and conservation of environmental resources - biological, physical, cultural and economic.  That was a long and detailed explanation, and definitely spliced together from a variety of sources, but I think it speaks volumes to the diverse skillsets and talents that most landscape architects provide.  Representatives of The Olin Studio (where I formerly served as a Landscape Designer), a landscape architecture firm in Philadelphia, PA, eloquently described landscape architects as “advocates for the artful creation and transformation of the public realm, and practice in a range of scales, including ecological and regional systems, urban districts, campuses, civic parks, plazas, and intimate gardens.”

Okay, on to my first project post. Our firm was approached to do a residential design a few blocks from my house in Homewood, AL. The client, the Riley’s, were building a new 8,500 sq. ft. house that was three stories. Most of the house had been completed at the time of my involvement and the Riley’s asked that the project be completed in 3 months. Therefore, I started the project in February of 2009 and completed it at the end of April.

The landscape design itself was influenced by the "Lutyens-Jekyll"garden style. The vernacular of the house resembled the works of the popular 20th century English architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens.  Lutyens was known for imaginatively adapting traditional architectural styles to the requirements of his era. Specifically, Lutyens chose indigenous and relative materials and often emphasized innovative local building techniques. He designed many English country houses in the classical style. Lutyens' longstanding relationship with Gertrude Jekyll, a prominent English garden designer (or planter), resulted in a perfect combination that would eventually influence an entire movement within the field of landscape architecture.  The English Garden movement influenced prominent American Landscape Architects such as Frederick Law Olmsted and others and ultimately became the foundation of the Riley residential design. The Riley residence planting scheme portrays the "Lutyens-Jekyll" garden style overflowing with hardy shrubbery and herbaceous plantings rooted within firm classical architectural elements of steps, stone walls, and terraces around the base of the house. This combined style, of the formal with the informal, exemplified by stone paths, softened by billowing herbaceous borders, full of liriope, lilies, ferns, and various perennials, is in direct contrast to the very formal bedding schemes favored by the gardeners in the Victorian era. This "natural" style was to define the "English Garden" until modern times. The following is a depiction of the design process from concept to implementation. Enjoy!

Before you dive in head first into the the conceptual phase or envisioning aspect of the design process, I always encourage finding a few precedents. Besides, everyone needs a little inspiration. Check out these award winning residential designs from various landscape architects across the nation (you can find them all on the ASLA website) that depict the very idea of blending the formal landscape elements with the informal. The natural planting schemes are in direct contrast to the very formal bedding schemes and the overall symmetry of the house in addition to the geometrical edges or hardscape elements favored by the gardeners in the Victorian era.







The photographs below show what I inherited. The house itself was built into the hillside which helped to hide its shear size and volume from the street. With a little landscaping, the 8,500 sq. ft. house would seamlessly blend into the existing vernacular which consists of turn of the 20th century bungalows typically found in the historic suburb of Birmingham.

DSCN3529 080524 DSCN3519

The Riley’s initially centered and positioned their house around a towering 100+ year Southern Red Oak Quercus falcata. On my first site visit, however, when we turned the corner to see the tree I immediately gasped.  The tree was in major shock and all of the foliage had turned brown. The contractor not only changed the grade to cover all of the existing roots, but he piled debris around the base of the tree causing compaction. I can appraise and assess trees; however, I’m not a certified arborist. At that point, anyone could see that the tree was dying. In tree preservation, standard procedure is to rope off an area under the tree drip-line. This means to rope off and protect everything under the entire expanse of the tree canopy. Sure enough, a certified arborist assessed the tree and concluded it was biologically dead as opposed to aesthetically dead. If this happens to you remove the debris and try and correct the problem. A sure sign of a tree too far gone is to watch for leaf drop. If the brown leaves fall off, then the tree has a fighting chance. If the leaves remain……it’s too late and cannot be saved.

The concept! Aided by a friend of mine (thanks Haley), we started the initial conceptual drawings.

riley - 001

riley - 002

The end design used a combination of English Garden design principles combined with existing natural elements that resulted in a hybrid design that accommodates the existing topography as well as fits within the overall residential context. Sweeping planting beds wrap around the house to help transition the home’s formal architecture into the natural and informal landscape. The asymmetrical planting beds also help to negotiate the grade change and transition the user from the roadway (highest point) to the front door (lowest point).  A small gathering area or hardscaped landing/courtyard was designed to take the place of the quintessential southern front porch. The design stresses the importance of the pedestrian through appropriate scale and movement through the site, and it lessens the visual impact of the vehicular access. The street edge and sidewalk treatment was designed to be a welcome mat that will gather and channel movement from the street to the doorway as quickly as possible while providing the family some privacy when sitting within the courtyard. The backyard was designed to provide space for recreational opportunities as well as a variety of areas for more leisurely activities. The layout establishes the framework for phase II…….the swimming pool! However…..that is a few years down the road. Until then, there is ample space for plenty of fun to be had. 


Perspectives of the concept…..081117-Backyard-Perspective081114-FrontYardPerspective-summer

Construction begins……



The finished product……a month after installation. I will give everyone an update on the site soon. 


  1. Thanks for the beautiful wife comment! You wrote a beatuiful post! Good job dear.


  2. Awesome job, Judd! I've enjoyed showing it off around here!

  3. I'm impressed! Great Job!

  4. The landscaping makes the house look like it has been there for decades and does a beautiful job of softening the lines of the house. The owners must be thrilled.

  5. Kudos to the author for making such an excellent blog. It will certainly help many others.
    Irrigation Southampton

  6. Thank's to everyone that read my first contribution to the blog. I guess this means Abby will expect me to contribute even more. I will update everyone on the Riley's soon and I will also write about another project soon. Thanks again!