Softening Virginia Landscapes – Plants and Stone Make All the Difference

Surrounds landscapes in Sterling, Virginia, has a beautiful portfolio of work that beautifully demonstrates how the benign and basic are not actually all that attractive – and how, with the addition of some thoughtful planning, beautiful plants, and timeless stonework, any landscape can feel much more elegant and appropriate to the site where it lives.

A Pool with Dated Office Park Vibes Transforms to a Hilly Oasis

Before: Brick and concrete constructions are angular and full of acute angles that make the design feel tight, overworked, and uncomfortable.

Surrounds work first caught our eye years ago with a naturalistic pool makeover that makes you wonder if you are actually in the same place. The before feels hot and uncomfortable and like an overlooked motel in a forgotten office park that corporate forgot existed. I think I can see the dust and cobwebs on the overly clipped evergreen shrubs.

But the after is like happening upon a cool oasis in the beautiful rolling Virginia hills. The beautiful stonework provides generous curves and shapes that feel in scale with the overall view. Note how peaceful the subtle color scheme feels as well. Soft greens, silvers, and blues are offset with creamy tones in the planting choices, the stone, and garden umbrellas.

After: Boulders and sculpted level changes that are buried in planting beds feel more inviting and calm. Our favorite part is how the long view has been expertly composed and framed to hide the nearby neighbors and the safety fence and make you feel like you can see for miles.

A Virginia Exit Ramp Entry Becomes a Pleasing Parkway Landscape

Before: Rip Rap stone (the angular stone on the side of the road that helps with erosion and is the go-to solution for your average highway and public works department) and freeway guardrail solution to a private driveway is about as incongruous to a serene arrival to your home as it comes. And the pointless naked fence that keeps out what? (trees?) – doesn’t help either.
A tree-lined virginia driveway landscape with lit lamps on stone pillars leading to a distant house in Virginia, labeled "after.
After: It is not just soft and serene, but this Virginia landscape also adds tens of thousands of dollars in curb appeal value.

Removing all the industrial markers and replacing them with timeless stonework is a better solution. And we should point out that fencing, rip rap, and guard rails aren’t cheap or free- and while stone work comes at a premium price, my guess is that the three main elements of the original solution weren’t much cheaper.

In the grand scheme of things – plants are always the best value for money – those Pennisetum along the walls are doing a much better job of erosion control – plus, they are cheap (Each plant probably costs less than $20) and even without the stone wall for contrast – they are softer and prettier in the landscape. Plants keep the soil healthy, too.

The design team did a great job of making the boundaries disappear in this project, too.

A Pinched and Over-Lawned Sideyard Becomes an Elegant Entry

Before: Does this look familiar? Like every northern Virginia suburban landscape?

This before and after has so many great insider lessons to learn from.  To look at the before, I suspect many people would not think this isn’t too bad (some say clean, tidy, weed-free grass – yay! – but I say boring, lifeless, and numbing – meh)😬. 

The after is so much better.  The stone post gate is a focal point where there was previously nothing noteworthy to focus on. The open fence design keeps beautiful light shining through, and the pleasant mix of low-maintenance plants (spirea and Russian sage could not be easier) has transformed this view entirely.

After – Take up all the space. Don’t feel like you have to hug the house and make room for the lawn – fill the garden with more real plants and something actually to enjoy.

Want to know the tricks that make this work?

  1. The steps.  Before, they were quite tight and tiny, and you hardly even noticed them. But being rebuilt, they have a lot more room to breathe, they lead your eye on a pretty path through the image, and they are more comfortable to use and simply look more natural.
  2. Plants, Plants, Plants.  I’m sure I’ve mentioned this already – but if your garden doesn’t look like this – you probably have two problems – not enough plants and not enough of the same plants. (i.e., buy plants in bulk! Repetition and swaths that require many of the same plants grouped together will always look more elegant, and it is better for the environment).
  3. The naturalized look is very useful for blending and creating interest where there isn’t any.   I find this technique particularly helpful when dealing with gardens around McMansion homes in neighborhoods where developers have unfortunately strip-mined the land before commencing construction.

A Steep Slope Becomes a Rock Garden Like No Other

Before: Steep and hard to maintain – not to mention completely wasted real estate – this sideyard is a liability and not an asset.

Too much hardscaping (the love and lifeblood of so many contractors) can often be simply too much hardscaping – but not here. The before leaves us with questions – How was this space even functional? how many people were hurt exiting those French doors? And who is the poor soul with the terrifying (or impossible) job of mowing this lawn? Yikes!

This makeover leans in the slope and the need for extensive retaining walls to carve out a few level spaces. The stone is beautiful and so expertly done that even though this is all stone – it still feels natural and inviting.

The design is for an attractive rock garden as much as an extensive engineering project. The trick of a rock garden is to keep variation and textural changes in the stonework in the same way you would in a planted garden – and to have enough pockets for planting that don’t feel like you have installed quarry.

The boulders spread things out and breathe a little, letting elevation changes work themselves out with rugged slopes rather than too many walls.  The site seem like it was carved from a mountain rather than a treacherous but bland suburban lot.

This Northern Virginia landscape is now an inviting oasis with a cabana that overlooks a lagoon-style pool.

If you are in Virginia and need help creating your own beautiful landscape, make sure you explore all of the projects designed by Surrounds. Plus, they have a great downloadable guide to help you hire the right landscape design company for your project.

More great garden transformations with pretty plants and natural stone:

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