The Big One: A tranquil retreat

June 19, 2019 -  By

Location: Libertyville, Ill.
Company: James Martin Associates

This property’s landscape was originally designed and built by James Martin Associates, and created a restful environment where guests could view the water feature, flowers and outdoor elements from a variety of vantage points. After the design/build project was completed, the company’s maintenance team took over the upkeep of the project.

Account Manager Drew Prociuk explains that the property’s many maples have posed a challenge. “We’ve had to treat for scale on those maples and clean the patio and patio furniture due to the honeydew from those insects,” he says.

Turf dormancy has also been an issue in hot weather, even with irrigation, he adds.

The maintenance team uses Scag mowers and Echo handheld equipment on the property.

The crew inspects and cleans the drainage inlets near the lower waterfall every week to ensure the system is clear and does not end up overburdening the house’s sump pump. During the growing season, the project manager monitors irrigation, ensuring the shadier zones don’t become too wet, which would cause pathogen issues in the lawn and planting beds.

The project earned James Martin Associates a 2018 Silver Award from the National Association of Landscape Professionals’ Awards of Excellence program.

View of house (Photo: James Martin Associates)

Photo: James Martin Associates

The homeowners built this house to be their forever home. Despite the fact that they also had winter home in the South, they wanted this home to not only be a place they could enjoy their retirement years, but somewhere that their extended family could use as a peaceful and enjoyable respite.

Front-side view of house (Photo: James Martin Associates)

Photo: James Martin Associates

One of the key features of the landscape design was the sweeping lines that invited guests into the site. The maintenance team helped emphasize the dramatic curves of the planting beds with seasonal colors and then used key placement of flower pots to draw the circulation flow to the front door. Those same bedlines must be meticulously shaped by the team in order to hold to the original design intent.

Front view of house with landscaping beds (Photo: James Martin Associates)

Photo: James Martin Associates

The year starts with a kickoff meeting between the project manager and the homeowners to review the goals of the upcoming season. One of the goals is to find the right seasonal colors that will create a bold statement but will also complement the home’s exterior color and details.

Side angle of house with beds (Photo: James Martin Associates)

Photo: James Martin Associates

The maintenance team selectively prunes all of the flowering shrubs and trees to ensure optimal bloom times and full canopies. The annual flowers are rotated so that as the shrubs’ and trees’ blooms fade, the annual flowers will provide striking color.

Flowers in front of house (Photo: James Martin Associates)

Photo: James Martin Associates

To ensure the longevity of the colorful annual pots, each one is watered via a drip irrigation line which has its own irrigation zone. All of these lines are monitored to make sure the pots are not over- or underwatered. The lines are also periodically checked for kinks, clogs and leaks.

Front door view of house (Photo: James Martin Associates)

Photo: James Martin Associates

The entry to the house is an important feature of the landscape. Boxwood hedges are used to embrace the space and help create an intimate garden seating area. The maintenance team must selectively prune each boxwood to help retain their natural shape and vigor. The hydrangea flowers are retained throughout the season to provide texture and body throughout the wintertime. Then, in the early spring, the old wood will be pruned to allow fresh blooms for the upcoming season.

Plantings in front of house (Photo: James Martin Associates)

Photo: James Martin Associates

With such diverse planting beds, it’s important that the shrubs and trees are allowed to reach their mature sizes, displaying their colors and textures without crowding each other. The maintenance team proactively schedules their pruning so that peak bloom times are achieved and growing habits are kept in check.

Driveway and house (Photo: James Martin Associates)

Photo: James Martin Associates

Hand weeding is not only an important detail within the planting beds but also in the hardscape areas. The maintenance team checks all of the hardscape joints for unsightly weeds on a weekly basis. If needed, yearly power washing of the walks and driveway help clean away the winter dreg and brighten up the site for the upcoming summer months.

Plantings and retaining wall (Photo: James Martin Associates)

Photo: James Martin Associates

Entry into the rear yard was designed to be dramatic. Groundcover is maintained to keep its vigor but pruned back to allow the outcropping stones and perennials to blend into the beds. Plant material in the back is pruned and shaped in a more natural form to reflect the casual nature of the outdoor living space.

Back patio view (Photo: James Martin Associates)

Photo: James Martin Associates

Since the patio had to be elevated from the existing grade, a boxwood hedge acts as a buffer between the patio and retaining wall. The maintenance team ensures the hedge’s vitality and size to fulfill its safety requirements.

Water feature (Photo: James Martin Associates)

Photo: James Martin Associates

One of the striking features of the landscape is a water feature that can be viewed from the patio as well as the basement windows. The team begins each year with an inspection of the pumps and filters of the waterfall, then the system is filled and primed to make sure it will run properly through the summer season. The system is drained and the pumps removed for storage in the late fall. Throughout the year, the water level of the stream bed is monitored so that any leaks in the liner can addressed quickly.

Stepping stones (Photo: James Martin Associates)

Photo: James Martin Associates

Plant material is pruned to create a natural feel of the stream bed. As the perennials grow and spread, the maintenance team selectively divides and transplants the perennials to minimize overcrowding and enhance other parts of the garden.

View of plants and water feature (Photo: James Martin Associates)

Photo: James Martin Associates

The water feature turns and cascades down into the window well so that it can be enjoyed from the basement living room. The maintenance team monitors and cleans out not only the terminal point of the waterfall but the surrounding catch basins that drain rainwater out of the window well.

Back view of house (Photo: James Martin Associates)

Photo: James Martin Associates

Sometimes the maintenance team has to make a few enhancement tweaks. Originally the broad steps used lawn for the treads, but because of the constant circulation and wear of the grass, it was replaced with stone steppers and decorative gravel. Plant material is maintained to allow the gravel edges to disappear into the beds. Weekly hand weeding allows for an elegant transition from the patio to the rear yard.

Back-side view of the house (Photo: James Martin Associates)

Photo: James Martin Associates

The roof downspouts splash onto gravel and then through the beds to the lawn, which helps dissipate the runoff into the planting beds. This can create issues with the lawn especially since the rear yard is so shady. The maintenance team has programed the rear zones of the irrigation system differently from the front, but because of the shallow drainage patterns of the site, the team must constantly monitor the turf to ensure its vitality and appearance.

This article is tagged with , and posted in 0519, Featured, Mowing+Maintenance, The Big One
Abby Hart

About the Author:

Abby Hart is the managing editor of Landscape Management. A native Clevelander, she spent 10 years in Chicago, where she was operations manager of a global hospitality consultancy. She also worked as managing editor of Illumine, a health and wellness magazine; and a marketing specialist for B2B publications. Abby has a degree in journalism from Boston University’s College of Communication.

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