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Hardscape Solutions: Mansion makeover

September 18, 2020 -  By
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Company: Frisella Nursery
Location: Alton, Ill.

Overlooking the Mississippi River, The Olin Mansion is a well-known historical landmark in the St. Louis area. Frisella Nursery joined the project following a design consultation with the architectural firm working on the restoration.

“You’re dealing with a home that was very old, built in the 1920s,” says Tony Frisella Sr., co-owner of Frisella Nursery, noting past owners had entertained presidents at the mansion. “There were a lot of old trees that were in decline. They had to be as old as the home, maybe older.”

Frisella wanted to restore the landscaping to its original style while selecting unique plant material that would grow well in the area. Because the house is tall, trees needed to be tall enough to stand out.

The reflecting pool in the front of the house features an original fountain with graceful cranes. Frisella says a goal of the design was to keep the original details fresh while adding new ones.

“I was trying to keep in check with the era of that part of the house, with some design flair,” he says.

A major challenge was working around the sinkholes that surround the mansion. Crews used Bobcat equipment to prepare the uneven site. The Bobcat soil conditioner attachment helped work compost in.

Frisella Nursery won a 2019 Bronze Award from the National Association of Landscape Professionals’ Awards of Excellence program for this project.

Hardscape project (Photo: Kim Dillon)

Photo: Kim Dillon

Since 1927, this 40-acre estate has perched high on a bluff with stunning views of the Mississippi River. The estate is an hour away from Frisella Nursery, requiring extensive preplanning of the landscape installation.

Hardscape project (Photo: Historical archive))

Photo: Historical archive

The Olin Mansion gets its name after its most famous owner, Franklin Olin, founder of the Olin Corp. This historic photo shows the home’s facade was once ivy covered; the reflecting pond is still a focal point in the landscape.

Hardscape project (Photo: Kim Dillon)

Photo: Kim Dillon

This is a preconstruction photograph. Frisella Nursery restored stone structures such as the reflecting pond.

Hardscape project (Photo: Kim Dillon)

Photo: Kim Dillon

Symmetry in the form of lilacs, boxwoods and hornbeams line the reflecting pool, which is offset by a playful water feature.

Hardscape project (Photo: Kim Dillon)

Photo: Kim Dillon

Local college classes visit the Olin Mansion to study aquatic plants in the reflecting pond.

Hardscape project (Photo: Kim Dillon)

Photo: Kim Dillon

The uneven grade at the front of the house created a challenge when designing the front landscape, requiring careful consideration to maintain symmetry on either side of the reflecting pond. To accomplish this, Frisella selected six hornbeams to accommodate the lower elevation on one side.

Hardscape project (Photo: Kim Dillon)

Photo: Kim Dillon

Red Obelisk beech trees add height and color among a sea of boxwoods and ornamental grasses on the side of the mansion.

Hardscape project (Photo: Kim Dillon)

Photo: Kim Dillon

Boxwoods enhance the mansion’s original curved stone passage that leads to the carriage house.

Hardscape project (Photo: Kim Dillon)

Photo: Kim Dillon

Frisella chose plantings that would grow to appear symmetrical while not being truly identical.

Hardscape project (Photo: Kim Dillon)

Photo: Kim Dillon

A row of hydrangeas welcomes guests to the backyard.

Hardscape project (Photo: Kim Dillon)

Photo: Kim Dillon

Roses surround the pool to add color and intrigue to the lilac and boxwood landscaping theme carried over from the front of the home.

Hardscape project (Photo: Kim Dillon)

Photo: Kim Dillon

A furry resident enjoys a sip from the crane water feature.

Hardscape project (Photo: Kim Dillon)

Photo: Kim Dillon

Landscaping details accent the front of the mansion with views of the river off to the left.

Hardscape project (Photo: Kim Dillon)

Photo: Kim Dillon

Sinkholes are common in the area around the Olin Mansion. Crews had to carefully work around vulnerable areas on the site.

Christina Herrick

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