Who lives here: A New York City-based couple with two kids, who enjoy the property as a weekend home
Location: Hudson, New York
Lot size: 3½ acres (1.4 hectares)
Landscape architect: Dale Schafer of Wagner Hodgson Landscape Architecture
Installation was phased over three years, giving time for the landscape to take shape. Of the finished design, Schafer says, “It is in keeping with the simplicity of the architecture — not competing for attention, but rather a complementary foreground to both the house and the long view beyond.”
The entry sets the tone for a modern landscape: Colors are kept restrained, the number of plants used is limited, and forms are well-defined.
Floor-to-ceiling windows look out onto the entryway garden, which features three types of ornamental grasses planted in bands along the pathway and clipped turfgrass. ‘Morning Light’ Chinese silvergrass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’, USDA zones 5to 9; find your zone), the tallest, acts as a shimmering screen for the gravel parking lot. Variegated ‘Ice Dance’ sedge (Carex morrowii ‘Ice Dance’, zones 5 to 9) and North American native prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis, zones 3 to 8) border the walkway of bluestone pavers leading up to the home.
In the backyard, a tiered lawn slopes gently away from the house, accentuated with raw steel beams. The repetition of the beams set into the lawn echoes the lines of the home’s architecture, bringing the geometry of the metal-edged windows into the landscape. A gravel patio sits close to the house, with outdoor furniture placed to overlook the garden and views. Around the corner, on a second smaller gravel patio, the clients can enjoy outdoor cooking on the grill.
Not only does this arrangement feel contemporary and unexpected, but it also leaves planting pockets for ‘Dragon’s Blood’ stonecrop (Sedum spurium ‘Dragon’s Blood’, zones 3 to 9) and helps integrate the hardscape with the softness of the surrounding grasses.
In winter the ornamental grasses are left as they are, and stalks dry and turn tawny colors that add a subtle warmth to the landscape. When it snows, the flakes outline the grass stalks with white and silver. The leaves of the hornbeam usually cling to the plant once they dry, adding another hit of bronze. “When grass plumes and golden winter foliage are highlighted in the sunlight, especially against a dark cloudy sky, the visual experience is wonderful and painterly,” Schafer says.
Schafer shared two design tips for creating a similar landscape.
1. Limit the plant and material palettes. Reducing the number of plants and materials used for a project simplifies the design and gives it a more modern look. For example, massing a single variety of plants yields a more minimalist (and often more calming) result than planting a bed with many varieties and colors.
2. Think out of the box when it comes to using plants. “Use plants to contrast nature, rather than try to mimic it,” Schafer says. For example, he uses grasses in distinct planting blocks — hornbeam trained into a wall or blocks of grasses as landscape carpets — to become architectural elements of the design.
Schafer cites the comparably low-maintenance needs of ornamental grasses as another reason he choose them for the landscape design. Particularly for a weekend home, having a landscape made up primarily of plants that require only an annual cut-back (done in winter, before new growth begins) makes a lot of sense.
Beds are set on drip irrigation, and the lawn is on spray — both are connected to a smart controller that adjusts by season and according to rainfall to keep excess water use down. Other landscape maintenance required includes trimming the Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata, zones 4 to 8) on the building, pruning a few hedges and mowing turfgrass.