Paths and Walks: A Lesson in Natural Landscape Design

By working with the contours of the land, restoring native plants, and using natural materials that blend in with their surroundings, a couple turns an overly-artificial country home into a wooded masterpiece.

| July/August 1990

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    The previous owners cleared a 50-foot-wide swath of forest down to the water's edge and laid a strip of concrete from their back patio down to the shore.
    MALCOLM WELLS
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    Following the Brewsters' natural approach to landscaping, a path winds around the base of a knoll rather than intruding on the territory of the giant oak tree at its crown.
    ILLUSTRATION: MALCOLM WELLS
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    The Brewsters discovered an old stone foundation on their property, which they cleared of debris and designated as a picnic area.
    MALCOLM WELLS
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    An earth-covered bridge uses a wooden form, reinforcing bars, and concrete for strength and stability. It is then covered with rich compost soil and allowed to grow over with the ground cover of the forest floor.
    MALCOLM WELLS
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    Finding the usual stair alternatives too mechanical-looking, the Brewsters devised "planter steps" with stone risers and pebbled treads, in which they planted sedums and miniature native grasses. The sloping banks at the sides of the steps made the steps appear to grow right out of the hillside.
    MALCOLM WELLS
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    Pieces from the broken-up concrete walk were used as bench slabs.
    MALCOLM WELLS

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This is the story of how Arthur and Kate Brewster turned a mess into a masterpiece of natural landscape design. 

Back in the early '70s, another couple found the property they'd dreamed about: three acres of woods on the shore a big lake in semirural Ohio. The land sloped gently to the south. A stream ran through it. There was a beautiful old stone foundation in the woods (although the couple never discovered it). And a huge oak tree with a spread of more than 90 feet capped a knoll near the little brook.

So they bought the property. Then they proceeded to destroy it.

First, they cleared away an acre of big beech and maple trees along the road. Then they threw up the most unimaginably conventional house you could ever imagine. This entire cleared area was then planted in lawn grass. A picket fence was built along the highway frontage. Italian poplars and Japanese maples alternated in a military row—dot-dot-dot—along the fence. And, as soon as they had a chance, the couple got someone to mow all the underbrush on the forest floor, taking out shrubs, vines, wildflowers and saplings.



Parklike, they called it.

Now it was time for them to turn their attention to the lake, so they summoned the bulldozers once again, clearing a 50-foot-wide swath of forest right down to the water's edge.

Isabella
9/5/2014 9:48:45 AM

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Margret
1/31/2014 10:27:10 AM

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