A Rill Beauty

Looking to achieve architectural harmony, ease of access to the outdoors, combined with time-tested water conservation techniques, all within a splendid oasis of green on green? Landscape designers Catharine Cooke and Ian Gribble of Spring Lake Garden Design make it appear deceptively simple.  

Catharine of Springlake 2 by Louis Postel for Aspire Metro, Spring 2015

How ironic that what often comes as an afterthought in the making of a happy and healthy home can actually be the most important element of all, the pivot around which all else turns.

After all the construction bills are paid, “putting whatever’s leftover into some garden design,” sounds like the right thing to do.

Until it’s not.

Take, for example, this second home on the shores of Candlewood Lake, CT. Is the garden one of those delightful afterthoughts financed by money that happened to be left over in the budget? Because the landscape looks so natural, one could easily be misled into making this assumption. A little pruning, a little planting and voila!

20130616-276Actually, the contrary is true. As is increasingly the case these days, the garden and landscaping came first, and the house, if not quite an afterthought, came next. Here’s what happened.

Landscape designer Catharine Cooke and the homeowner went out on the lake to get a view of the property. “There’s a balance issue that we need to address,” she said. “There’s the old deck and that awkward staircase leading to the lawn which is weighing down the entire left side, but there’s nothing on the right. The yin and yang’s way off.”

Cooke and her partner Ian Gribble, both principals of Spring Lake Garden Design in nearby Sherman, CT came up with a solution that solved the balance problem, a deck off the master to balance the right. Not only would this correct the balance issue, it would provide a nice access from the master bedroom to a private deck/patio. “We feel it’s important to have an easy flow from indoors to outdoors by creating good access points,” said Cooke

A rill thrill
A rill thrill

What then began as a concept to add a deck on the right soon morphed in something greater in scope. Ultimately, the homeowner decided that to obtain real balance and real access a new house was the only real solution. Whereupon demolition began right down to the studs, leaving only the original footprint.

“This is all your fault, Catharine!” said the owner standing in the middle of the debris, throwing his hands in the dust-filled air in mock exasperation. A statuesque birch also found itself in same construction maelstrom — ground zero of the lakeside garden. Destined to provide essential shade for the new main deck, Gribble and builder Stanley Jurback  had to carefully angle the septic, utilities & drain pipes while cordoning off the tree’s immediate root zone for the two-year duration of the project.

“Underground, there’s an organized maze of filtration systems, as well as septic, electric and irrigation systems,” said Gribble. “We dug swales to prevent erosion and mitigate runoff into the lake. The grading and drainage was particularly tricky because the property is highest in front by the road and the lot itself is narrow. The deck off the dining room and kitchen was a feat in itself because Jurback and the engineers needed to support the great weight of its granite flooring, as well as keeping moisture out of the family room and storage areas below.”

During construction, the designers found a huge, unmovable concrete slab buried under the courtyard. No wonder it was so hard to grow anything there.

The designer’s solution was in the form of a rill, which is a long, narrow masonry feature once instrumental in irrigating the gardens of ancient Persia. Filled with water lilies, the rill’s gentle bubbling now greets visitors as they proceed up the path.

Spring Lake's front courtyard for a Candlewood Lake homeowner with a nod to Greene and Greene
Spring Lake’s front courtyard for a Candlewood Lake homeowner with a nod to Greene and Greene

Retaining walls in the front courtyard feature rounded boulders jutting out in a nod to Greene and Greene architectural style — a style the homeowners loved and wanted reflected in home and gardens.   They gifted Cooke and Gribble with a photographic book of their work before the project started. Lush and welcoming greens on greens — Japanese Forest Grass, five different cultivars of boxwood, and a potted bamboo complete the scene.

“Good stewardship of the lake water itself was one of our client’s greatest concerns,” said Cooke. “The lakeside gardens to the left and right side of the dock are there intentionally to serve as buffers between the lawn and the lake. The biggest mistake anyone can make in terms of stewardship is to have a lawn like a golf course right down to the water’s edge using chemical fertilizers. We use good compost and organic granular fertilizers, only if needed.”

Good stewardship, structural balance, easy access to inside and out — who can now think of these things as afterthoughts?  Thank you, Catharine Cooke and Ian Gribble of Spring Lake for making this so abundantly clear.


Additional Credits:

Andy Alexander, Architect

Stanley Jurback Contracting

Two Brothers Masonry, Masons

Pascuale Pilato of Artscape, Rill Contractor

Engineers: The Di Salvo Engineering Group

Supporting the weight of the deck's concrete slabs was a feat in itself.
Supporting the weight of the deck’s concrete slabs was a feat in itself.