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Integrating a landscape project into the natural lay of the land

By Tracey Hesse

Nature provided the framework for this project and a responsive, professional design team helped realize the full potential of this spectacular site.

When a glimpse of a garden leaves a homeowner’s guests speechless, something extraordinary has been created. Designing landscapes in a natural setting requires a careful balance between enhancing existing features and adding new elements that integrate harmoniously into the surroundings. Working with nature as well as managing a team of consultants and contractors requires organization and tact, above all, however, a vision of the final design is needed to guide the project through its various stages.

When a client in Mont Tremblant, Que., hired Hodgins & Associés, a landscape architectural firm based in Westmount, Que., to design a family garden space and oversee the project’s construction, the challenge was twofold. The design was to look as ‘natural’ as possible, but also incorporate several water features (e.g. swimming pool, spa, and waterfall). The site had some existing pathways near the residence, but most of the property was still heavily covered in woodland.

Inspired by nature

From the residence, visitors can descend a staircase to a welcoming firepit and spacious terrace, which overlooks the entire pool and offers a spectacular view of the neighbouring hills.

The main residence is located at the top of a slope with a valley running perpendicular (north-south) to the back of the house. From the house, a staircase descends into a clearing wedged between the base of the slope and another exposed rock face. A tiny waterfall had been constructed on the exposed rock; however, it was barely visible from the back patio.

Farther away from the house, where this clearing widened, the client created a play area for their grandchildren. Unfortunately, most of the useable space was out of sight and too far from the house.

In addition to bringing the living and entertaining space closer to the home, the client wanted a swimming pool and spa. Other requirements included integrating the various means of access from the main house as well as selecting an area to install a pool house. Above all, the clients wanted a pool that would look like a natural pond nestled between the stone ridges running the length of the site.

Nature is complex; therefore, creating a ‘natural’ design can be quite challenging. Therefore, the idea was to draw inspiration from the existing elements while also keeping the impact of the construction process to a minimum.

A trickle-down effect

To do this, a detailed study of the site’s topography was performed to understand the lay of the land as well as to develop a concept that would make the most of the property’s existing open spaces and plateaus, and lessen the need to use dynamite to break up large rocks and earth. As such, the concept used prominent rock faces to frame the pool and spa, while plateaus at different levels were developed into terraces to resolve a 9-m (30-ft) height difference throughout the site.

The design concept used prominent rock faces to frame the pool and spa, while plateaus at different levels were developed into terraces to resolve a 9-m (30-ft) height difference throughout the site.

This ‘going with the flow’ strategy minimized intrusions into the existing rock and surrounding woodland, while also revealing a backbone that provided an organic structure to the space. Further, it also allowed the orientation of the new gardens to take full advantage of the views towards the southern hills.

A planting strategy was developed to progressively introduce more native species along the perimeter of the garden to soften the edges of the pool and patio areas while creating texture and seasonal colour. Safety throughout the site was also a concern; therefore, the design concept not only maintained the project’s visual continuity, but restricted access to certain parts of the rock outcroppings, which in turn helped shape the final design.

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