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Fit For A Golf And Tennis King

By Erik Skindrud, regional editor

A view from the house towards the property's pavilion overlooking the Tour 18 golf course at Flower Mound, Texas. The landscape contractor designed the pavilion and completed the stonework, with the overall structure completed by housing contractor Sexton Homes

A pavilion, spiral columns and carefully-arranged planting beds give this Texas home the look of a formal European garden. The property sits overlooking the 6th hole at Tour 18, a gated community in the Dallas suburb of Flower Mound. Here, under a canopy of native post oaks, owners Craig and Tonya Martin built their dream retreat in 2004.

To make it unique, the pair contacted landscape designer Gene Freeman of Complete Landsculpture, the aptly-named design-build firm in Dallas. The couple knew that the warm Texas climate gave them the chance to extend their living space from inside the home out onto the patio and beyond. Freeman warmed to the task, creating a series of outdoor rooms where the Martins and their guests can lounge, converse or recover from competition on the property's custom tennis court or nearby golf course.

The foundation for driveway and parking areas were excavated to a depth of 12 inches--then filled with six inches of concrete before the varied, old-European style surface of flagstone and Old Abbey Warehouse brick from Oklahoma was placed on top.

Keeping Texas in the Site

With designer Freeman guiding construction, the project was planned to step lightly on the native post oaks. Compressing the earth that covers roots is a sure way to injure or even kill trees, so the Complete Landsculpture crew designed the construction schedule around their delicate bases. Heavy equipment like trucks or loaders was kept off the site--the home's pond was actually dug with hand tools and concrete was pumped up to 500-feet from a truck on the street to the backyard.

And while many of the landscape details are European in flavor, Freeman chose limestone from Texas' Leuders quarry--which is widely used in the state. The warm, copper-gold tone of the stone is spread across the property and ties the hardscapes and landscape features together.

The pavilion provides shade but the Texas summer calls for additional measures. The vertical-standing units at left and center here are "bollard fans," outdoor swamp coolers manufactured by a company called Intellicool. (Controls are visible at the base of the unit at center.) The landscape contractor continues to maintain the spiral plant arrangements seen here.

With work spread over a site of close to two acres, construction continued for almost four months.

Freeman planned the work sequence to avoid damageand to take advantage of Complete Landsculpture's in-house departments and experts.

First to go in was the tennis court, which was overseen by Howard Mehigan, the company's tennis court guru. The court posed a threat to one of the property's biggest trees, an ancient, 70-foot-tall post oak. To avoid compressing its roots (a major source of stress for oaks) Freeman went to the trouble of laying three 8x12-inch I-beams with a surface of one-quarter-inch steel plate on top. This artificial support was created to hold up a flagstone path leading to the tennis court and to shield a drainage system beneath it.

The warm-copper limestone quarried in Lueders, Texas provides a unifying theme throughout the project. The smooth stone that forms this patio was placed on a bed of concrete that was pumped several hundred feet to avoid driving heavy vehicles over the property.

Second to go in was the property's swimming pool. This job was handled by Joy Pools.

Next was work on the driveways, walkways and fences. Driveways and parking surfaces were restricted to areas without vulnerable tree roots. (With a six-inch support of solid concrete, these surfaces effectively seal off roots from oxygen and water.) Walkways closer to trees use brick and stone set on sand, which lets the plants drink and breathe. It was a big job--workers installed a total of 9,400 quare feet of driveway and parking.

Half a dozen workers labored three days to create this pond feature. (The contractor has a department dedicated to the craft.) The crew excavated the pond by hand to avoid compressing and damaging tree roots with backhoes or loaders.

Irrigation was the next step. Workers put in a range of pop-up rotors, mist sprayers and bubblers in a total of 37 zones. Additionally, spigots for soaker hoses (to let maintenance workers spot-water) were placed near the planting beds.

With irrigation components in the ground, bed prep was the next step. One challenge was the local soil's high clay content, which made digging difficult and required the addition of significant soil amendments. Most beds also required artificial drainage to keep them from drowning during heavy precipitation.

The crew excavated this path site to a depth of four inches before laying down geotextile fabric and filling with decomposed granite. The gold-copper-toned limestone here is a widely-used product called Lueders, which is quarried from a Texas quarry of the same name.

Next to go in was the pond, which was finished by Complete Landsculpture's in-house pond team.

Another team took over to put electrical conduits and connections into the ground for lighting and for the property's outdoor cooling system. A total of seven outdoor swamp coolers manufactured by Intellicool cool the yard's gathering areas by as much as 20 degrees F, Freeman said. Large fans for the patio and loge areas complete the system. (The fans and coolers are also rigged to dispense citronella to keep mosquitoes to a minimum.)

Next came an exciting step for the project--the planting of trees, shrubs and a wide variety of perennials. First to go in were a pair of huge live oaks that required a 50-ton crane to place. Again, holes were dug by hand to limit the compacting effect of heavy equipment. The cranes were carefully maneuvered on plywood paths laid out to distribute the load.

A key part of successful planting included the digging of drainage wells (especially important for the oaks) for the trees and planting beds. Before they finished, crews had installed close to 3,000 linear feet of four-inch drain pipe and French drains. Workers carefully ringed each tree with 12-inch French drains to protect them from pooling water.

Crews finished the job by installing outdoor lighting to show off the trees and landscape features after dark.

A big, 70-foot post oak (at center rear here) forced an innovative solution for this walkway connecting the pavilion at right with the property's tennis and basketball court. To avoid crushing the oak's roots, the crew set the path on a pair of 8x12-inch I-beams. The resulting stone bridge lets air and water reach the tree without interruption.

Finishing the Job

Complete Landsculpture's team of stone workers, arborists, pond builders, horticulturists, irrigation and hardscape experts simplified the problems a big job like the Martin property can pose. Having diverse resources to draw on under one roof meant that Freeman and other managers could draw on trained teams when needed. Completing the job in under four months is proof that planning was complete. Delays were minor--one of the only obstacles was a local meteorological condition that resembled Texas-sized hail. "In the middle of all this construction, you'd get golf balls flying in," Freeman recalled.

Just a year later, the old post oaks are melding well with new dogwood, agapanthus, carpet rose, azaleas and many other introduced species. With proper care, it will only look better it grows-in, Freeman said. "It's a garden that looks good today, but will develop into something even more special as the years pass."


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October 17, 2019, 9:26 am PDT

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