Article: Better Homes and Gardens Magazine, September 2003
Story: Doug Hall
Photographs: Rob Cardillo
Plants and architecture strike a beautiful balance in this redesigned landscape, bringing new vitality to a 1910 Philadelphia home.
There are two main garden areas in the Putnams’ yard: the formal garden with its reflecting pool is centered in front of the house, and a circular sunken garden lies to the side. Paving materials, such as Pennsylvania bluestone and bricks, were cut and fitted with precision.
Landscapes are living things that grow and change–sometimes for the worse. When Kathy and Ned Putnam bought their Philadelphia house in 1996, they inherited a once-grand garden that was overdue for an overhaul.
“The plantings were decades old,” Kathy says. “They were maintained well, but plants put in for screening had gotten so leggy that they could no longer provide privacy.” A welcoming garden lacked the polish its front-and-center location demanded; its encircling privets were overgrown and the central fountain was crumbling.
Kathy and Ned Putnam’s landscape contractor suggested either new or used Belgian block to line the drive. The Putnams went with the old for its worn-edge appearance of age. “It looks like it’s been there as long as the house,” Kathy says. The plants hugging the foundation, including small trees and bulky evergreens, stand up to the house’s heroic scale.
Burke Brothers, the landscape contracting firm that had tended the grounds for years, was the Putnams’ choice to renovate the garden. “They knew the property intimately,” Kathy says. “Kevin Burke has a finely tuned eye and knew instinctively what colors would work with the pinkish gold of the stucco.”
Kathy and Ned, who admit to knowing little about gardening, didn’t burden designers with a list of demands. “We didn’t want to limit their creativity with our own ideas,” Kathy says. Instead, they challenged the design team to come up with a modern landscape that respected the house’s Arts and Crafts aesthetic.
Kevin Burke recommended that the Putnams keep the formal garden’s oval shape, but he replaced the privet hedge with yews, and he relaid the brick paths. The original fountain was too far gone for restoration, so a reflecting pool took its place. Wedge-shaped garden beds are given to bright seasonal colors: pansies in spring, “Orange Profusion’ zinnias and white roses in summer, and asters and ornamental kale in fall.
“The placement of the formal garden is wonderful,” Kathy says. “The house opens onto the front terrace, and from there it flows down the steps directly into the garden.” A band of brick paving across the driveway emphasizes the link between house and garden. When the Putnams entertain, Kathy throws open the big double front doors and lets her guests wander. The reflecting pool and its symmetrical arrangement of blue-glazed urns inevitably draw guests out for a closer look and a stroll among the flowers.
While the formal garden is suited to festive occasions, a more secluded part of the landscape serves as a refuge for Kathy and Ned. This is the sunken garden, an austere and understated space that is hidden from the street. “Unless we walk people into the sunken garden they don’t know it’s there,” Kathy says. This area may someday showcase a sculpture, but until the right piece comes along, Kathy and Ned enjoy the unadorned, almost mystical architecture of the stone circle.