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The Main Line From Philadelphia

By Erik Skindrud, regional editor

A pathway of Pennsylvania bluestone leads to the new home's entranceway. Contractors excavated the pathway and laid down a 4-inch bed of concrete, then set the bluestone on a bed of wet mortar. The final step was "pointing," or filling the joints with mortar mix.

Gladwyne, Pa. is a tree-filled suburb about 30 miles outside of Philadelphia. Part of the so-called "Main Line" region, it's an area where wealthy industrialists once built summer homes. Now those properties are being subdivided into more affordable parcels where urban professionals can put down roots while commuting into the metropolis.

One such home is a handsome, brick-faced structure that sits on its own acre of land. The home was built by spec home developer Ken Cassella in 2002 and purchased by Ira and Ann Cohn. The couple took on the challenge of participating in the landscape design of their new home. They called Newtown, Pa.-based Realty Landscaping and met with landscape architect Bill Tamburro, who supervised construction on the project.

The front yard of this Gladwyne, Pa. home features a bluegrass lawn that crews laid down as sod for a finished look. The Christmas-tree-like conifers at left are dwarf Alberta spruce. The bright, yellow-green foliage next to the spruce is threadleaf cypress. Tall garden phlox yields the white blooms at center rear.

Together, Tamburro and Ann Cohn settled on a pink and lavender color scheme using pink hydrangeas, Russian sage, lavender and day lilies. A separate company, Joy Pools, installed a pool set on the rear lawn. A unique choice here was a white Doric-columned arbor that folds itself around the pool. The arbor was crafted by local finish carpenter Jeff Lewis. For a final step, the team twined fishing line around the columns to help hardy mandevilla vine climb up and add color to the pure white arbor.

"The builder had a very good finish carpenter," Tamburro recalled. "Ann and I had talked about finding a way to give the pool area a third dimension--the result is what happened when those plans matured."

While the Realty Landscaping team had an acre to fill, they didn't have to start from scratch. From its days as part of a larger estate, the site offered a fine stand of mature trees, including American holly and blue Atlas cedar. A local ordinance requires builders to maintain the tree theme, so to replace several trees eliminated by construction, Realty brought in additional Norway spruce, white pine, skip laurel and viburnum.

Tall garden phlox creates the bright, eye-catching display at center. Note the asphalt driveway--local ordinances limit the amount of impervious hardscape permitted on a property. The tree behind the phlox is a zelkovia, a "compensatory tree" that replaces others cut down during the construction process.

Many of the new trees and shrubs were used to create a screen planting to make the pool area feel more private.

Once the big trees and shrubs were in, the crew set to work on foundation plantings put in around the base of the house. A large portion of these centered on Ann Cohn's favorite hydrangeas, which were joined in the scheme by inkberry holly, Korean boxwood, dragonlady holly, threadleaf cypress and magnolias.

The landscape contractor set a katsura tree between the patio at right and the mature stand of trees along the property's border. The tree is a good choice for fall color and, according to Bill Tamburro, also because it resists insects and disease.

To keep it all looking good Realty called in its own irrigation, crew, which took about a week to install a comprehensive Rain Bird system. To do so, workers used a Ditch Witch trenching machine to lay irrigation line 18 inches deep under the future lawn. With substantial precipitation (Philadelphia gets 40 inches of rain and 20 inches of snow in an average year) the irrigation system is a supplementary, rather than a primary, supply of moisture. A rain sensor is attached to halt the irrigation program when liquid appears from the heavens.

Once the controller was hooked up to the valves, nozzles and rotors another crew started the job of creating a spacious bluegrass lawn of close to 17,000 square feet. Workers originally tried to create the lawn with seed, but eventually brought in more than 60 pallets of turfgrass sod to get the front and rear lawns in a finished condition.

A view of the spacious back yard. Most of the landscaping was finished in 2004, but the team returned last spring to put in the attractive arbor at left. Built by local finish carpenter Jeff Lewis, the team twined fishing line around the columns to help hardy mandevilla vine (on the column closest to the camera) climb up and add color.

Next on the "to-do" list was installation of the home's outdoor low-voltage lighting. Workers used the Ditch Witch to sink the power lines 12 inches under the turf. Tamburro specified a total of 16 path lights and 19 well lights to up-light the trees and plantings.

A view of the border between the front and back yard, with its classical arbor (left) and pool. The fence and self-closing gate are mandatory pool-safety features. Another Leyland cypress sits by the path into a side entrance at right.

The last step was to build the arbor, which wasn't finished until last spring. With its classic American look, the structure was a fitting cap to the new country house project.

The team created this screen planting to create a privacy barrier for the back-yard pool (rear). The Leyland cypress at left stays green year-round. To the right and behind it is a sweet bay magnolia. On the right are Nikko blue and oakleaf hydrangea.

Organizing the pool, lawn and planting beds was a challenge because of the local tree-preservation ordinance, Tamburro said.

"Because there is a limit (to how many trees you can cut down) you have to be creative in getting the homeowner all the amenities they desire while you stay within the rules," Tamburro said.

These Pennsylvania bluestone slabs vary in thickness but most are about two inches thick and weight at least 70 lbs. It took two workers to manhandle each one into position on leveled soil. "Once you put these slabs down, they tend to stay down," supervisor Tamburro said.

About Realty Landscaping

oRealty Landscaping Corporation is one of the largest landscape contracting firms in the northeast, was incorporated in 1985 to fill a market need for quality, service-oriented landscape design, construction and maintenance.

oWith offices in Newtown, Oaks, Toughkenamon (Pennsylvania) and Burlington, New Jersey, three divisions (Landscape Construction, Landscape Maintenance and Irrigation) serve customers throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.

oRealty has close to 200 employees. The staff includes two landscape architects and about eight horticulturists and landscape designers. In Realty's stable are skid-steer loaders, Bobcats, a backhoe and several Kubotas and Cushmans.

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June 18, 2019, 6:38 pm PDT

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