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Land Expressions Creates Two Relaxing Retreats

By Michelle Ryan, regional editor and Kathy Swehla, Land Expressions LLC

A lighting kit was brought to this site in Spokane, Wash., by Land Expressions to create tropical splendor in a Northwest garden. The result was the dramatic effect of the five separate lighting zones that illuminate the aquascape. Up lighting was applied to the trees and rocks surrounding the pond, which is lit by two swimming pool lights. Copper path lights line the walkway and three in-stub LED lights are barely visible as they light the Iron Mountain slate steps.
Photos courtesy of Land Expresions
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Land Expressions is in its 20th year as a design/build firm headquartered in Spokane, Wash. and working throughout the western United States, Canada and Japan. The firm, which specializes in custom rock work and water features, has a staff of two landscape architects and four designers.

The finished product took 10 months to complete and turned a dated front yard into a private sanctuary. It features a functional front entry, water feature, increased living space, lush plantings and visual drama. A 20 ft. x 7 ft. poured in place, single span concrete bridge stretches across the 7 ft. pond that was created in the middle of a native ponderosa pine forest. The only access for rock setting equipment was the 65 ft. long, 8 ft. wide ramp just barely large enough to fit a Bobcat through.

Tropical Splendor in a Northwest Garden

When creating the first project, the client desired the feel of a tropical retreat that would work with their Tudor style house in a native environment of Ponderosa pine and volcanic cliff. The existing front yard required a total overhaul. The only access was over a 10-foot wall or up a ramped sidewalk.

To enable the work to proceed through the winter, a heated canvas tent was installed over the entire area to allow completion of the concrete in below-freezing temperatures. The piping for the pond was covered with shotcrete. Yellow annuals, sweet potato vine and geraniums reside near the quartzite patio.

Months later the vision is realized. Tucked into the tiny front yard (25 ft. x 55 ft. of level space) is a “tropical lagoon” surrounded by increased living space, lush overlooks and a relaxing hot tub. The dramatic entrance is a 20-foot bridge spanning the lagoon. Beach glass of amber and brown in the surface of the bridge sparkles in the sunlight.

Stone carved copies of China’s imperial lions act as the mythical guardians at the front entrance to the home. White petunias line the Iron Mountain Slate steps along with chartreuse coral bells and native impatiens.

The project called for Tudor formality rapidly transitioning to native forest. Carefully arranged plant selections and gracious furnishings provided formality near the house. Rustic furnishings and informal plantings transition from the formal areas to the surrounding trees and rock formations. Touches of the tropics were added by using plantings of hot colors and installing Chinese lions (Ra shi da), traditionally used as mythic protectors of imperial palaces.

The 45 ft. water feature starts atop a 30 ft. tall volcanic rock on the forest edge. Forty gallons per minute circulate from the pool and over the falls. Japanese maples, cedars and Douglas firs surround the area. Baltic ivy, the only ivy that will grow in the cold climate, acts as groundcover around the basalt rock waterfall over a natural rock formation without the use of a chisel to direct the water flow.

The volcanic outcroppings became an asset in the simulation of the tropics. A spectacular 30-foot waterfall atop the closest precipice feeds a 15-foot stream cascading into the pool. Native rock was gathered on site for seamless rock formations.

Contractor Dan Bledsoe used a mini-excavator with a thumb attachment to grasp the natural appearing mossy boulders that were harvested on site for the 15 ft. tall cascading stream. Three separate submersible pumps were required for flexibility of operation and sound control.

The clients were so pleased they made changes in the home for greater enjoyment of the landscape. To view the new pool and water feature, they added glass front doors and outdoor mirrors, enlarged windows and installed an elaborate lighting system for night enjoyment. Remotely controlled lighting zones create a varied ambience.

The concrete aggregate bridge is embedded with tumbled sea glass, which accounts for the warm, amber color tones that bring out old European ambience. The landscape architects desired a more formal feel close to the house and a more rustic look nearer the forest. This was accomplished by formal plantings near the house and changing from a mortared stone patio to a sand set stone sitting area with the cast concrete table and chairs.

Once completed, the design team was pleased with the result. Blending Tudor, tropical and Northwest native styles was a challenge. Pulling this off cohesively in this small yard required careful design and construction.

The tall, vertical cedar logs inspired a design consisting of a reflecting pool by Land Expressions in Liberty Lake, Wash. The logs, which are visible here in the circulating water within the reflecting pool, also support the front porch of the house. Autumn colored granite boulders were chosen for the specks of iron that yield the red and gold tones that add to the warmth of the native plantings. Once the weeping blue Atlas cedar matures, a blue curtain of color will compliment the clear water.

Project Scope

The scope of the work for the landscape architect and designer was all-inclusive from initial client interview, through site survey and investigation, design, construction details and supervision of the installation. The yard, a 25×55-ft. level area, was sandwiched between an outdated brick porch and an intrusive and overgrown volcanic rock formation. The site was made difficult by limited access, which included an existing 8 foot ramped sidewalk cut into the toe of the hillside and an existing 10 foot vertical brick wall. Material from excavation of the pools was shuttled to a dump truck and sent over the wall and down the ramp via a small loader.

Veneered slate stepping stones with invisible supports seem to float on the surface of the water leading to the bench rock on the center island. The space was designed to allow the homeowners an opportunity to interact with their new landscape by resting on a bench rock and touching the water.

Reflections of Home

The design for Aspen Creek Lodge in Liberty Lake, Wash. captured a 2006 Street of Dreams award.

An important aspect of the designer’s work was to advise and educate the builder and owner of the home. For instance, the owner knew water features would be a tremendous asset, and wanted three or four in various locations. As landscape architects, the proposed solution was to create a foreground pool to frame the building and reflect the golden-peeled cedar columns.

To achieve the glowing effect of the light rising to the surface of the pool, holes were drilled into the small, round rocks that line the base of the pond, giving the illusion of invisible underwater lighting. The cedar supports are illuminated with up lighting and attention is drawn to the naturally-occurring flare at the bottom of each log. Uniquely, the bark has not been peeled away and these logs have not been milled, which give them a more rustic appearance.

The expertise of the design team was important in the manipulation of the planned outdoor entertainment areas. All views were carefully mapped from the inside of the home as well as out. For greater use of the outdoor space and an improved experience in moving through the grounds, placement of the hot tub, patios and walkways were largely changed from the original plans.

A chipped basalt stone mulch was used as groundcover on the island rather than bark mulch because of high winds off nearby Liberty Lake. Water enters the pond in two places to maintain healthy oxygenation and to create a series of visual and sound effects.

Natural materials and forms were the primary theme of this large-style home. That theme was carried into the landscape by use of natural landscape materials and careful selection of plant material. For instance, multiple trunked trees, dwarf and full-size conifers and mass planting are suggestive of native plant forms.

Around the side of the house is a barbeque area complete with a fireplace and 15-foot evergreens and Frasier firs adorning the yard. Modular concrete blocks and natural stone steps lead down to the hot tub and sitting area, which was set lower than the Iron Mountain slate patio in order not obstruct the view of the lake.

People love to get close to water features. To allow for interaction, “floating” stepping-stones were installed that led to an island. The island has two core-drilled boulders, one of which is a bench where one can site next to the flowing water. As much as visitors enjoyed the experience, the highlight for the design team was seeing their vision realized as the pond filled and the sunlit columns were mirrored in the softly-rippling water.

BEFORE: The large circular drive surrounding the Aspen Creek Lodge project island was done with concrete pavers that matched the gold tones from the house. A large reflecting pool was installed beneath the front entryway. Canadian red cherry, dwarf white pine and clump vine maple are some of the plantings that add to the rustic theme.

AFTER: Chlorinators and ionizers are added to the pond to maintain clarity. A filtration system with a skimmer collects debris as the water, which is circulated by several jets, passes through. Lily pads float near the water’s edge where trout can linger. The three-and-half-foot-deep pond is not an ideal habitat for the fish, but can sustain them for special events.

Project Scope

Landscape architect Clayton Varick RLA worked with a senior designer Kathy Swehla to deliver a design worthy of this lodge-style home crafted of natural materials. Estimating, presentation and overall project management were the responsibility of the landscape architect. Design of the water feature’s hydraulics and overall construction observation and guidance were also part of the design team’s role. Day-to-day decisions were made to deal with unforeseen problems, control quality and ensure the project was completed in a month-and-a-half time frame. The project included all landscape design work and the completion of soil work, irrigation, water features, drainage, rockwork, planting, soft paths and hardscapes.



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November 13, 2019, 8:17 pm PDT

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