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Encircling Paradise
By Alli Rael, LC/DBM


At this estate in central Idaho, The Johnson Co. helped install a landscape built for aesthetics and privacy. The entryway features a wooden fence, dry stack and masonry walls, and a custom designed and fabricated steel gate. A team of six completed the initial installation of the stack walls and all of the landscaping on the 4-acre property over the course of four years.


The mortared wall connects to the gate, and was built by a concrete contractor with concrete masonry units overlaid with stone veneer. To build the dry stack stone walls that connect to the masonry walls, Dale Johnson of the Johnson Co. and his crew first excavated about 18" before putting in compacted road mix. The first course of boulder was laid and set about a third of the way into the ground for stability. Additional boulders were stacked on top to build up the wall - they were strapped into backhoes and loaders to lift them most of the way into place. Once there, the final position was set by hand.

The owner of this 4-acre estate in central Idaho had some simple requests for their entryway: privacy, and curb appeal. The design from Lyon Landscape Architects, which landscape contractor Dale Johnson from the Johnson Co. helped to build, achieved that, with, as Marty Lyon put it, "a sweeping sense of entry laid out at a 45 degree angle."

In addition to landscaping the entire property, Johnson installed the dry stack stone walls on either side of the entrance gate.

Walls and Fences
The entrance walls that connect to the gate are veneered concrete masonry walls built by a concrete contractor. Johnson's role in the entryway was to build the dry stack stone walls, which connect to the trellis-topped masonry walls.

First, the crew excavated down about 18" to place a layer of compacted road base. Bedding sand was placed on top of that, followed by the first course of boulder. "That first course sets about a third of the rock in the ground for stability," explained Johnson. Different sized boulders, all of which were mostly square-shaped, were then strapped into a backhoe or loader for placement in the wall.

Johnson and his team found the installation of the stack walls fairly straightforward. "Most of my guys have been with me 20 years," he said. In those years they have installed a lot of dry stack walls - but trying to set the boulders in the right location can be a little bit of a challenge. Once the rock is strapped into the loader, the equipment operator moves it most of the way into position. From there, final adjustments are made by hand before the boulder is placed and unstrapped. The boulders used for the two dry stack walls are a mix of rust-hued "Homestead" fieldstone from a supplier in Montana.

A standard three-rail corral fence built by a local vendor surrounds the rest of the property.


The steel callbox and trellises were custom built to complement the looks of the main house, guest house, barn and gazebo located on the property beyond the gate. The artistically rusted callbox is equipped with a Doorking intercom, and has a pull out drawer for package deliveries. A three-rail wooden corral fence surrounds the property; it was built by a local vendor.


Among the custom elements designed by Lyon Landscape Architects are two steel and aluminum medallions placed on the masonry wall. The fabrication for all the custom metalwork was done by Earth and Structure, Inc., a builder in Fairfield, Idaho.


The steel gate was also custom built to match the buildings on the property, and fabricated by the same metalworkers who did the callbox, trellises and address medallions. Adam Elias, general contractor from Elias Construction, did the actual gate installation. The entryway is paved with rectangular tumbled cobblestones over a glycol heating system. A plumber installed the heating lines; Johnson Co. installed the pavers once the lines were in place.


In addition to building the stone wall, Johnson installed the plants and irrigation system for the entire property. He has also been the maintenance contractor since the project's completion. Crews come out regularly for mowing and another for irrigation. Among the plants to the front of the estate are Karl Forester grass, Jr. Walker catnip, and Colorado spruce. As part of the landscape installation, Johnson estimates he and his team have taken out nearly a thousand trees, just to thin them out, with little noticeable effect.

Gates and Accessories
The gate and callbox were custom designed by the landscape architect. "It's pretty cool, like a work of art almost," said Johnson of the custom pieces in the entry.

The gate, callbox, and trellises are steel, designed to complement the main house, guest house, barn and gazebo located on the grounds. All steel fabrication was completed by Earth and Structure, Inc., located in Fairfield, Idaho. The general contractor, Adam Elias of Elias Construction, did the actual installation of the gate.

Package deliveries are facilitated by a pull out drawer built in to the callbox, which is equipped with a Doorking intercom system. Joining the trellises on the masonry walls are steel and brushed aluminum address medallions.

Landscape and Paving
In addition to building the stacked stone walls, Johnson also installed and maintains the property's extensive landscape. Visible from the entryway are blue oat grass, Karl Forester grass, Jr. Walker catnip, autumn blaze maples, Colorado spruce and quaking aspen. In addition to bringing to life the planting design of Marty Lyon, Johnson and his team have "taken out close to a thousand trees, and it's still so thick that you have no idea we did it." Johnson went on to explain that in the wild, the root systems for aspens are all tied together and the tree removal was just to thin them out. In addition, Johnson installed the custom designed perennial beds, flagstone paths and patios, a fire pit and more.

The driveway approaching and going beyond the gate has rectangular cobblestones on top of a glycol heating system. Johnson and his team installed the paving once the heating system was in place. Where the cobblestone ends, an asphalt path continues the rest of the 1/8 mile driveway.

As the maintenance contractor, Johnson is continually working on this property, but explained that the initial installation took the better part of four years. "If everything was done and we just came in to do the landscaping it probably would have been a six to eight month timeframe," he explained. But since they landscaped while the house was being built and the landscape was constantly changing, it took longer for the team of six to complete the full installation. The result was a stunning entryway that created the perfect amount of privacy.

As seen in LC/DBM magazine, January 2017.

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October 17, 2019, 9:28 am PDT

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