First Impressions . . .
Among the most ambitious projects in the extensive landscape plan developed by Daniel Robey at Huntlands Landscape Architecture (some of which are reasonable, some aspirational) is the creation of a new Arrival Court at the front of the house. As in many old homes, the front entry has faded into disuse—it opens directly into the living room, it’s nowhere near the parking spaces, and the mailbox, coat closet, and keys all reside next to a side door entering into a space curiously called “the Keeping Room”. This arrangement also means that instead of presenting the facade of a fairly interesting 18th century stone house to the world, visitors come upon a somewhat quotidian (albeit tasteful) 1970s addition. Daniel’s idea was to place the charm of Willow Greens Farm front and center for public view.
Thankfully, a long gravel drive curves gracefully from the main road to the front door, and with some strategic planting, you can see how a very nice reveal of the house could pop into view. The less good news is that the main entrance is overgrown and ugly, invisible from the road, and flanked by some rotting three-rail fence and a copse of the dreaded Ailanthus trees. Interestingly enough, the real estate sign from when we bought the house remains as well—flattened by some swerving truck. For reasons that I cannot explain, I am am loathe to clear it until the entrance is complete.
One of the things I really like about Daniel is that he has a real respect for and interest in English gardening and because of this project, he has continued to expand his knowledge of its somewhat quixotic designs and conceits. In fact we just had a long conversation about who got what medals at Chelsea, whether the Best Show Garden winner was really a garden, and the satisfying arc of the posh geezer who designed The Perennial Garden “With Love” (He explained in an unapologetic Oxbridge accent that he expected Gold, and then failed to stiff-upper-lip-it when he was stuck with a Silver. Completely gutted. Fast forward a couple of days and he was redeemed with the People’s Choice Award.)
Daniel recommended Kelley Traditional Masonry for the project, and after four months of weather-and-supply-chain delays, the digger arrived to break ground. As in most projects like this there was a fair bit of fine-tuning when he got stuck in. An unexpected swale that rose from the driveway to the foundation forced us to raise the level, and some less than up-to-date documents had us playing hide-and-seek with the septic tank. One disappointment was that even after we shifted tons of topsoil, and I spent a few hours Time-Teaming it through the spoil, I failed to find even the smallest scrap of archeology. Those transplanted Quakers sure were frugal.
Everything about the job was impressive. The foundation started with two feet of concrete, added six inches of mortar, and then topped it off with another six inches of sandstone. Even by my own over-engineering standards this seemed more than adequate. Within this structure we have a layer of pea gravel that is the color of that which I imagine sits in front of Blandings Castle.
Another real joy was the work crew. On day one, as I came around the corner at lunch, I heard a rather loud radio. Bracing myself for what a thought might be the squawking of some right-wing talk show, I repeated my mantra of “I’m going to be less political. I’m not going to react to other people’s misguided beliefs.” Imagine my surprise when I found the crew happily munching sandwiches leaning forward to hear the details of a Spanish language soap opera. Like nearly everyone who has worked on our house (and our house in Philly) they have come here to work and they work very hard. They even found time for some derring-do*.
Did the job stretch out a couple of weeks beyond schedule? Yes. Were there times that I needed to intervene? Of course. But all-in-all they did a great job and I hope to use them again soon. As the grass begins to fill in I can really see how this has been worth the effort, and I’m itching to pass the baton back to Daniel to create a solid planting plan.
* One day when I went to buy some fence posts, I arrived back to quite a hullabaloo in the yard. It seems that a transformer across the street in a field had sparked and ignited some dry grass. The wind whipped it into a small brush fire. My guys saw it, and simultaneously grabbed the hose that was watering a nearby tree, called 911, began dousing the flames, and directed traffic. When I arrived the local Fire Marshal was shaking their hands and patting them on their backs like some 1950s newspaper photo. They just seemed slightly embarrassed by the attention.