When Michael Coutu, president of the Sudbury Design Group in Sudbury, Massachusetts, saw the property his firm had been hired to transform, he knew his award-winning crew of horticulturalists, stonemasons, and construction experts would have their hands full with a job that needed to be completed in less than a year’s time. The project required a new driveway, parking areas, a circular courtyard, stonewalls, patios, an outdoor fireplace—as well as the relocation of an existing garage and the construction of a completely new guest house with water views and a gymnasium on the first floor.
Right from the outset, Coutu knew he had to address the location and placement of the house. “The topography of the site is relatively flat, with the house depressed and set down very low on the property,” says Coutu. “As you pulled up, the first floor was really below the level of the driveway beneath a two- to three-foot grade. The house was surrounded by stonewalls on three sides. There were serious aesthetic and environmental issues.”
Coutu says the new homeowners were looking for a landscape with more character, visual interest, enhanced privacy from their neighbors–and dry ground underfoot for a busy family with several grown children and rafts of summer visitors.
“The plantings around the property were pretty scanty and in rough shape,” says Coutu. “There were no shaded areas, not much screening from adjoining neighbors, and worst of all, it never really dried out around the house because of drainage problems created by poor site planning. You could be there in August and the ground would still be squishy.”
As lead designer on the project, Coutu and his crew of experienced project managers created an extensive conceptual plan for the homeowners. Then the real work began. “First, we started with the grade problems,” says Coutu. “We laid out a completely new driveway, several parking areas because there are lots of drivers with guests in the family, and a completely redesigned drainage plan. We actually lowered the grade as much as we could around the house, to set it off when you approach.”
To enhance the approach to the house, Coutu designed an allee of London Plane Trees at the end of a long gravel driveway that winds through native woods of scrub oak, sassafras, and pitch pine. “We wanted the presentation on the street to be understated, typical of the surrounding landscape,” Coutu explains.