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A Hudson Manor Redo

By Erik Skindrud, regional editor

The tree-shaded site in Leonia, N.J. is less than a dozen miles from the center of New York City. A 2004 redesign added a driveway of tumbled pavers and a recreational center to the formerly overgrown backyard.

The house needed some help. The asphalt driveway was eaten up by years of ice and rain. The compact backyard had potential but was dominated by mature cherry trees that provided a spring bloom but overwhelmed the space later in the season.

The new 800-square-foot driveway is composed of Country Manor Paving Stone by Anchor Concrete Products. The hardscape is supported by 15 inches of compressed gravel and stone dust.

The Approach

First: the front driveway. The Montville, N.J. design/build firm Green Earth Landscaping & Design, Inc. chose a popular paving stone with mottled brick and slate tones for the 800-square-foot area.

Preparation is the key to driveway installation, explains Mike Hartman, the project manager and designer.

"Most driveways can look great when they're done," he said. "But if they're not done right you'll get ruts where the wheels of cars roll over them. It not only looks bad, it's almost impossible to fix without ripping the whole thing out and replacing it."

With a driveway of badly-eroded asphalt, the home's front yard was badly in need of a makeover. A skid-steer loader was brought in to excavate the old driveway.

The weight vehicles apply to a hardscape means that preparation for driveways is much more important than for a sidewalk and patio. For the Leonia project Hartman brought in a skid-steer loader to remove the asphalt crust. Then the workers kept on excavating down to a depth of 15 inches.

To fill the hole, they brought in several tons of supporting mix. The fill is composed of 3/4-inch quarry-process gravel mixed with stone dust. The crew was careful to spread the compound evenly and firmly tamp it down every two inches. For the compaction step, a plate compactor was used. "It looks like a lawn mower," is how Hartman describes the tool.

With a full foot of the mix installed, the crew put down a final layer (less than an inch) of stone dust to seat the pavers, which were carefully set on top. The final step was to grout the assembly using a polymeric sand product that sets everything in place.

The revised backyard has an open cedar fence that lets light and air into the enclosed area. The saplings here are goldenrain trees, which erupt with yellow flowers and pink seed pods in autumn.

The result is a resilient, long-lasting surface that adds a traditional look to the property.

The retired couple that owns the home wanted to avoid the standard foundation landscape, Hartman said. So the team added a low-maintenance, shade-tolerant mix of perennials. "They didn't want the same old plants you see in yards everywhere," he said.

Decades-old cherry trees lining the property's rear fence were removed to let light into the backyard. A weeping cherry (Prunus subhirtella) was planted near this spot to create similar spring bloom.

In the Backyard

During the initial consultation, the owners told Hartman that they preferred a driveway of pavers over concrete or other surfaces. Both parties thought it would be a good idea to use the same product for the backyard patio that would replace part of a turf area and a small, raised gravel bed for a barbeque.

There were some differences for this part of the job, however, Access issues meant that the skid-steer loader couldn't be maneuvered in back, so most of the job was done with hand tools. While the general plan was the same, the excavation for the patio was done to a depth of eight inches (versus 15 inches for the driveway). The lack of vehicle traffic accounts for the thinner cross section.

This arbor passage facilitates entry to the property's backyard along 2 x 2-foot bluestone pavers. The arbor was built by a local carpenter.

One of the biggest decisions concerned the mature cherry trees that bordered the property's rear fence. The homeowners liked the annual spring bloom, but the trees were too big for the space and had irregular, lopsided limbs.

Hartman convinced the homeowners to replace the cherries with goldenrain trees. The trees (Koelreuteria paniculata) burst with yellow flowers during the summer and autumn and tolerate a wide range of soils. Adjacent to the goldenrains, however, the design team planted a weeping cherry (Prunus subhirtella) that blooms in familiar cherry-like bursts. The new tree satisfies the homeowners' desire for a cherry-bloom each spring.

Adjacent to the patio, the team clustered other features to keep them close to the home's rear sliding glass door. Accessibility was one consideration for the retired couple, so a raised soil bed was created to the left of the rear door. The crew kept planting to a minimum there, to satisfy the homeowners' desire for an area to complete their own gardening project. The stacked Pennsylvania fieldstone that makes up the retaining wall doubles as a bench for gardeners or as seating for a backyard social event.

The pond was excavated to a depth of three feet to give fish room to survive winter in a state of dormancy. An electric heating coil is placed on the surface to keep the pond from completely freezing over in winter.

Between the home and the planting bed the crew placed a small deck big enough to hold a propane grill. The barbeque could have gone on the patio, but that would have used valuable and limited space.

On the other side of the planting bed, Hartman and the homeowners decided to put a small pond with a short cascade. The crew started by creating a three-foot-deep hole. Some ponds are shallower, but the team wanted this water feature to be deep enough to let fish survive under winter ice in a state of dormancy. (An electric coil placed on top of the ice in winter lets the pond breathe in freezing weather.)

Getting the Job Done

Green Earth Landscaping & Design, Inc. is one of the bigger landscape design-build firms in north New Jersey and has served the area for close to 15 years. The company completes close to 100 construction projects each year--most of them with hardscape components.

The pond includes a pump and filter system by Aquascape Designs, Inc. A maintenance firm handles the lawn, but contractor Green Earth returns on a monthly basis to take care of the pool and to fertilize garden shrubs and perennials.

The Leonia project took a crew of one supervisor and two laborers about two weeks to finish. The project cost close to $32,000 to finish. Considering the huge change it makes to the home's appearance, the owners likely realized a significantly higher increase in the property's value.

Green Earth took in a net profit of about 20 percent of the total cost. That figure is the company's goal on each construction or installation project, Hartman said.

But Green Earth picked up something more when the job was done. While the company doesn't mow lawns, the firm does offer monthly maintenance to keep the pond clean and to fertilize and monitor the progress of shrubs and perennials. The relationship with the homeowners will continue to bear fruit for Green Earth.

The rear patio occupies close to 200 square feet and is constructed of the same Country Manor stones used for the front driveway. The raised bed at far right includes a small retaining wall of stacked fieldstone that doubles as a bench.

Learn more about Green Earth Landscaping & Design, Inc. at

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June 26, 2019, 11:57 am PDT

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