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Form meets function in this dreamy garden

Oct 16, 2020

I want to walk you through a really inspiring residential project we completed last year. This client, Annie, has such a wonderful style pulling together recycled and reclaimed materials with vintage, salvaged, and many handcrafted. The combination of recycled, repurposed, and new materials create a warm cottage garden feel. A seasoned gardener, she asked us to help rework the layout of retaining walls and hardscape in her back yard to maximize planting space and, at the same time, slow and infiltrate water coming from uphill neighbors. Rainwater harvesting provides irrigation in times of drought while directing roof water intentionally throughout the site. A custom-built chicken coop and run offer lots of free-range space for a small flock while protecting plants and groundcover to achieve water management.

Planting Plan

Water Plan

Chickens in an urban/suburban setting can bring some challenges. Free-ranging in a small space often means the vegetation doesn’t grow well. This client was experiencing just that, and the issue was compounded by the amount of overland water coming from her uphill neighbors (are you sensing a theme yet?). Soil without vegetation doesn’t infiltrate water well and instead carries nutrients and sediment into streams and the stormwater system, which negatively impacts our waters’ health.

The other challenge was utilizing the century-old drainage way that bisects her property from many of her neighbors and runs directly under her house to the other side of her yard. Her yard has a tiny drop from the back to the street, so we had to get creative in how we utilized the water in the landscape while ultimately getting it away from her foundation and to the street.


We captured the rainwater from part of her roof and sent it to a 300-gallon cistern. The overflow from the cistern fills a raingarden at the base of a sycamore tree (they love the water!) and then flows from there, back into the existing ancient concrete drain system. To see another rainwater harvesting application, click here.

Raingarden with lots of shade-loving native plants, such as cardinal flower and river oats

A large part of our work in reimagining the space was repurposing existing materials the client had on hand from previous projects. We gathered and piled stone and brick to be reused in paths and walkways.

Piles of stone to be reused

A repurposed brick pathway meanders through the garden

We demolished some existing concrete retaining walls that were mostly decayed and busted the rubble to use in french drains behind the new walls.

Concrete rubble from demo, to be reused as drainage infill

Patio/grilling area (before staining)

Finished retaining walls

To mitigate the erosion and stabilize the soil, we built a custom chicken run attached to the coop to give the chickens ample space to roam while protecting them from hawks and protecting the soil from their incessant scratching. 

We also added a geogrid and built up the permeable hardscape with pea gravel. The geogrid, a spongy 2″ thick rubber grid, keeps soil from compacting, which protects tree roots and allows for more water infiltration into the soil. It also holds aggregate in place over time. 

The result is a beautiful, functional, and enlivened space that manages the water onsite without it being a nuisance, utilizes repurposed materials both in hardscaping and decor, and creates lots of vignettes and gathering spaces throughout the landscape.

Firepit, raised bed, and reorganized planting spaces

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