- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Capitol Hill resident Michael Timmeny used to have what he calls a "gross" and "uninviting" yard. It contained a patch of grass and weeds and a magnolia tree, whose dropping blossoms and pods threatened to engulf the whole yard in the summer.
"We never used our yard," Mr. Timmeny says. "My son used to kick around a soccer ball, but when he got older and the space became too small, no one used it. It was so uninviting."
Last year, Mr. Timmeny and his wife, Cathy Connor, decided it was about time they created an outdoor space they could use for get-togethers, dinners and fund-raisers, a place that was aesthetically pleasing and comfortable at the same time.
Planting flowers and trees could have taken care of the aesthetic part, but it wouldn't make for a comfortable place to socialize and entertain. They needed what landscape designers call "hardscape," which includes pathways, walls, steps, patios and counters.
They contacted Gary Hallewell, a landscape designer in the District, and told him they wanted an outdoor space that was "like Palo Alto meeting Kensington Gardens" something that reflected their love for the Southwest and traditional English gardens, including rows of roses.
"We wanted it to be an outdoor room," Mr. Timmeny says. "We knew we wanted fire and water features. And we wanted an herb garden."
Mr. Hallewell went to work on the roughly 1,200-square-foot space and came up with a plan that Mr. Timmeny and his wife liked. It included an outdoor fireplace, a concrete counter that is an extension of a counter in the family room inside the house, steps, low walls that also serve as benches, a small water fountain, terraces, a shed, flower beds, tall walls and fences in wood, brick and concrete but it also meant taking down the Magnolia.
Flowers, herbs and other plants were added after the hardscape features were completed, playing an important but relatively small role in the creation of the family's garden space.
"People think 'flowers' when they think 'gardens,' but plants are just 10 percent of a garden," Mr. Hallewell says. "Flowers are decoration."
The hardscape features and design often are costly and require a lot of planning and consideration, Mr. Hallewell says.
Some landscape designers suggest that the homeowner set aside 10 percent of the purchase price of the home for the design, installation and planting of the garden. Ms. Connor says they paid about $50,000 for the design and installation of their garden.
A cheaper way to go about making hardscape changes to a garden can be for the homeowner to consult with a landscape designer and then do some of the installation work on his own.
A trip to a home-improvement store to compare prices of materials also can help lower the price. Brick, for example, is more expensive than cinder blocks and concrete.
• • •
Hardscape features help create and maintain a garden's structure and form, says Adele Ashkar, landscape design program director at George Washington University.
"In a climate where we have winter months, the non-plant features, such as hardscape, are important to maintain the form of the garden year-round," Ms. Ashkar says.
If it's done nicely, the hardscape is not just concrete slabs on which to put deck furniture; it also provides visual interest during the winter when leaves are gone and few things are blooming, she says.
Mr. Hallewell agrees.
"You design a garden based on the 47 weeks of the year when the plants aren't blooming," he says. "The bloom is a bonus."
In the case of the Connor-Timmeny family, the hardscape is done in several colors, materials and textures to be both convenient and aesthetically appealing, Mr. Hallewell says.
The walls and fences surrounding the garden alternate among brick, a purplish-colored stucco and wood, which is painted a light blue.
One of the larger walls has a fireplace built into it, and the wall is done in stucco. To create unity or harmony two of several landscaping principles the fireplace and the top of the wall are done in brown brick, like the original wall of the 19th-century house.
"The brick ties it in to the house," Mr. Timmeny says. "It mimics the old chimney."
The focal point in the garden, as Mr. Hallewell sees it, is a green urn from which water pours down a track through the middle of the steps. The steps lead up to a terrace.
A garden's focal point is something to which your eyes are drawn, Mr. Hallewell says. It can be a work of art, a water feature, a plant or other ornamental detail.
Other colors and textures included in the hardscape are the green flagstone steps and 20-inch flagstone-covered walls that line the three flower beds, which contain everything from roses to thriving basil. The flagstone has an uneven surface that looks like rough, veined marble.
"What I like about this surface is you can sit on it, too," Mr. Timmeny says, sitting down on one of the walls.
Mr. Hallewell says he likes designing features that have more than one use, such as the 20-inch walls. You can sit on them, use them to contain or border flower beds or put potted plants on them.
The yard has two sitting areas, one on the same level as the indoor kitchen and one about three or four feet above it the upper terrace. Wide, shallow steps lead to the higher level.
"A lot of gardens have steep steps, like the ones that are inside homes," Mr. Hallewell says, "but outside, you don't need those steep steps."
It's important to have an outside sitting area on the same level as the kitchen, he says, because that's inviting and makes it easy to go outside.
"You have to make it easy to get in and out of the garden," he says. "You want to be able to drift out with a cup of coffee in the morning, and if you have a step there, it might cut your willingness to go out there by 50 percent."
• • •
Making the most out of a garden space means different things depending on the size of the garden, Ms. Ashkar says. In a large garden, it is easy to overdo things, installing too many plants and thereby making it impossible to create a sense of unity and harmony.
"It's hard for plant lovers to show restraint when it comes to plants," Ms. Ashkar says. "We all have a passion in this area, and it's easy to get carried away with all the wonderful selections in a plant nursery. It's like a candy store."
In a small space, the challenge is to make every inch count, she says. A small space needs a very detailed design.
The 1,200-square-foot place, surprisingly to Mr. Timmeny, looks bigger now that it has lots more elements in it than it did when it consisted of a lawn, a small brick patio and a couple of trees.
"One thing that Gary showed us is how big this place really is," Mr. Timmeny says.
He estimates that he could comfortably host a party for 50 persons in the garden.
Whenever Mr. Hallewell gets an assignment to design a garden, his objective is to create a space that is an extension of the house.
"If it's done right, it can be the most-used space in your house," he says.
Mr. Timmeny says his project certainly was done right.
"We just love it," Mr. Timmeny says. "We have dinner out here; we come out to get herbs from the herb garden; on the weekends we have breakfast here. We use it every day."

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