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Boston Beauty: A Glorious Garden for a Grand Old House on a Hill

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Boston Beauty: A Glorious Garden for a Grand Old House on a Hill

Justine Hand March 21, 2019

Around Boston it’s not uncommon to find many a grand, old home perched on a hill. When these houses were built, such lofty prospects afforded spectacular views. But today the steep sites can present a challenge for modern families who want usable outdoor spaces. Such homeowners often find their way to Bob Hanss, who, with his vintage-inspired stonework, has been transforming New England’s most challenging landscapes for more than 25 years.

One the most dramatic conversions that has benefitted from Bob’s engineering: a classic, shingle-style mansion, located on a wooden knoll in Brookline, Massachusetts. The owners of the 1880s home “wanted an area where their young children, twin girls, could play and explore the outdoors. But the steep, overgrown plot had no flat areas for outdoor living,” Hanns said.

To transform the property, the owners turned to noted landscape architect Matthew Cunningham, who has worked with Bob and his construction team on a number of New England projects. Together they devised and constructed an ambitious plan which employed a system of stepped terraces to create separate outdoor spaces for gardens, a play structure, tennis court, great lawn, entertaining patio, and fire pit. Though distinct, each level is connected by a series of gentle steps as well as stone pathways and buttressing walls, all of which provide a sense of visual unity through out entire yard.

Photography by Justine Hand.

Original stone walls and puddingstone steps which lead to the main house provided inspiration for the new spaces in the back garden. Serving as a privacy barrier, a textured assortment of shade-loving plants, shrubs and grasses, planted along an vintage stone wall, shield the home from the main road.
Above: Original stone walls and puddingstone steps which lead to the main house provided inspiration for the new spaces in the back garden. Serving as a privacy barrier, a textured assortment of shade-loving plants, shrubs and grasses, planted along an vintage stone wall, shield the home from the main road.
The driveway, which continues past the house to the historic garage, was completely regraded. A new cobblestone edge adds a historically inspired detail, and also channels storm water to prevent the site from flooding.
Above: The driveway, which continues past the house to the historic garage, was completely regraded. A new cobblestone edge adds a historically inspired detail, and also channels storm water to prevent the site from flooding.
Though it it looks like a single, cohesive space, the backyard actually has a series of five gently graded terraces. At various elevations are a tennis court (behind the garage); an upper garden with a fountain and berry patch; a lower kitchen garden; a play lawn, and (shown in the foreground) a patio next to the house. Newly constructed hardscaping, including low stone walls and bluestone pathways, defines each distinct space and creates visual unity.
Above: Though it it looks like a single, cohesive space, the backyard actually has a series of five gently graded terraces. At various elevations are a tennis court (behind the garage); an upper garden with a fountain and berry patch; a lower kitchen garden; a play lawn, and (shown in the foreground) a patio next to the house. Newly constructed hardscaping, including low stone walls and bluestone pathways, defines each distinct space and creates visual unity.
Throughout the property, Cunningham and Hanss deployed permeable barriers to define each space while maintaining a sense of openness. One of our favorites: a border of native inkberry and espaliered apple trees separates the play area from the driveway.
Above: Throughout the property, Cunningham and Hanss deployed permeable barriers to define each space while maintaining a sense of openness. One of our favorites: a border of native inkberry and espaliered apple trees separates the play area from the driveway.
A quiet spot for contemplation, an antique fountain—located on the terrace between the tennis court and gardens—was restored and given a contemporary update.
Above: A quiet spot for contemplation, an antique fountain—located on the terrace between the tennis court and gardens—was restored and given a contemporary update.
To create the series of gently stepped terraces, tons of dirts was hauled away. Then, to connect each of the various levels visually and structurally, Bob&#8
Above: To create the series of gently stepped terraces, tons of dirts was hauled away. Then, to connect each of the various levels visually and structurally, Bob’s team laid a natural-cleft bluestone path that leads from the tennis courts, past the gardens and play structure, and eventually to the main patio and house.
A minimalist palette, punctuated but a few bursts of color such as these fall anemones, also unifies the yard and save it from becoming to visually &#8
Above: A minimalist palette, punctuated but a few bursts of color such as these fall anemones, also unifies the yard and save it from becoming to visually “busy.”
The kitchen garden, which has a number of raised beds, can be accessed from both the driveway and the lawn.
Above: The kitchen garden, which has a number of raised beds, can be accessed from both the driveway and the lawn.
Disappearing into the level above, the stone walls both define and seamlessly blend the distinct parts of the yard.
Above: Disappearing into the level above, the stone walls both define and seamlessly blend the distinct parts of the yard.
Though most of the property is planted with natives and perennials, a planter provides a space for some colorful annuals.
Above: Though most of the property is planted with natives and perennials, a planter provides a space for some colorful annuals.
Salvaged granite, puddingstone, and Massachusetts fieldstone were used to in all the retailing walls throughout the property.
Above: Salvaged granite, puddingstone, and Massachusetts fieldstone were used to in all the retailing walls throughout the property.
Adjacent to the house, a sheltered bluestone patio provides the main outdoor eating and entertaining area.
Above: Adjacent to the house, a sheltered bluestone patio provides the main outdoor eating and entertaining area.
Viewed from the play area, another bluestone path leads from the patio to a generous, open lawn.
Above: Viewed from the play area, another bluestone path leads from the patio to a generous, open lawn.
Tucked into a wooded area at the end of the great lawn, a fire pit constructed from reclaimed granite is surrounded by Loll&#8
Above: Tucked into a wooded area at the end of the great lawn, a fire pit constructed from reclaimed granite is surrounded by Loll’s Kid’s Adirondack Chairs in Leaf  Green; $325 apiece at Loll Designs.
Perennial flowers and shrubs such as these cranesbill geraniums and oak-leaf hydrangea provide a textured transitional border between the lawn and woodlands.
Above: Perennial flowers and shrubs such as these cranesbill geraniums and oak-leaf hydrangea provide a textured transitional border between the lawn and woodlands.
Russian sage grows in a bed that leads around the corner of the house towards the front of the property.
Above: Russian sage grows in a bed that leads around the corner of the house towards the front of the property.
Completing the circuit around the yard, another set of inlaid stone steps leads towards the front of the house.
Above: Completing the circuit around the yard, another set of inlaid stone steps leads towards the front of the house.

For more of Cunningham’s landscapes, see Landscape Architect Visit: Clamshell Alley on the Coast of Maine. See more New England landscapes transformed with Bob Hanss’ thoughtful stonework:

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