STANDING OUTSIDE THE boxwood hedge entrance of landscape designer Lisa Bauer’s home in View Ridge (she owns Chartreuse Landscape Design), anyone would recognize that the yard is a well-loved garden. Every inch looks cultivated. Touched. But it doesn’t overwhelm your eyes with “design.” It doesn’t scream, “I’m a professional.” This subtleness carries on across the property as you move through the landscape.
Bauer and her husband Stephen Dart purchased this property in 2001 and built the two-story bungalow and detached garage, wiping out the landscape completely. Starting with a blank slate, Bauer consulted early on with a landscape designer who was also an artist, and noted the main pathway to the house “was very rectilinear,” she says. Bauer redrew the pathway, and at that moment, she realized, “BOOM! This is an art form.” It wasn’t until years later that she went to school and got a degree in landscape design, but the seed was planted.
Bauer’s parents are ceramic fine artists and sculptors, and she grew up with an entire language full of art principles. “I come from an art background, and that got me on the path of really understanding that layout is critical. It signals everything, and it has to go with the house,” says Bauer. She has applied these traditional “rules” of art to the design of her yard, changing it over the years as budget has allowed.
In 2018, Bauer rehabilitated the front yard after she stood on her stoop and recognized the shape needed to change. She built a half-moon garden up against the house and laid a new pathway to the backyard using saw-cut granite that was hand-torched and chipped. Here, she added a water fountain flanked by a rose hedge. “It’s important that your hardscape allows you to view your plants. I see it as a gallery,” Bauer says. Most recently, she hired Orion Rockscapes to outline each bed with mild steel.
This is where people can go so wrong — they plant once and then never revisit, so plants and trees grow wild and often turn scraggly or expand far out of the sightline. But Bauer is always looking to keep the shape of things and will carefully make reduction cuts to manage the size of trees. “You have to prune as you go so you can keep them, otherwise they can clobber each other,” she notes. “I like to see forms, and so I don’t want a big mixed hedge where things are growing together.”
From the front entrance, you look out over a maple underplanted with heart tongue ferns, grasses, ‘Queen of Night’ tulips and fritillaria. Framing the front entrance to the yard stand tall, fragrant snowbell trees, Styrax obassia, with big, heart-shaped leaves.
The walkway material is basic and simple, but the design is clever and compelling. Bauer laid basic square pavers, leaving big gaps between that are now filled with loose stone, making breaks and rests for the eye. This provides a rhythm of line and turns a simple, affordable material into captivating design.
Around back, a small patio made of Trex has maintained its integrity over the past 10 years — no small feat, given it’s a high-traffic area connecting to the garage, back door and backyard. Everyone must filter through this space, and Bauer has designed it with this flow in mind, creating a peaceful sanctuary that can be seen from inside the house.
Against the back of the garage, Bauer installed a deep pond housing goldfish and floating aquatic, carnivorous plants, though she really built it for the sound of water. Her father is famed ceramic artist Robert Sperry, and Bauer has hung a mural of his over the pond made from poured concrete. On the bench-like edges are her mother, Patti Warashina’s, pieces, two maquettes of crows — remnants from sculptures she made for her and her husband’s future gravestones.
Stepping off the small deck, you enter Bauer’s true fascination — a world of tropical plants. It is totally different from the front yard, and a real surprise. “When we moved in, I just knew I was going to do this back here,” she says. “I wanted to live in the tropics.” On the south end of the property, she has one of her favorite plants, a Chinese windmill palm that she planted when it was just 3 feet tall.
There is a small banana tree orchard. Each winter, she wraps their tops in Bubble Wrap to insulate them from the cold. Given her artistic lineage, Bauer makes totems out of them, covering the wrapped tops with burlap that she dresses up with sticks and buttons. Behind these, she has planted a short grove of black bamboo, surrounding it with a double-wide, 3-foot-deep barrier that works. The bamboo hasn’t jumped in the past 15 years.
There are groupings of Podophyllum ‘Spotty Dotty’, a hybrid mayapple, Japanese stewartia and pitcher plants with vessel-like blooms shaped like a hood that bugs can crawl up and into. These are flanked by Voodoo lilies that produce a huge, purple spathe when in bloom, and reek of rotting meat. These are very special specimen plants that Bauer describes as “supercool and fun.”
Another nearby grouping pairs Gunnera (they look like cactus when breaking ground in spring, but unfold each summer, showing off huge, dark-green leaves), black-lace elderberry with pink blooms on chocolate foliage and Japanese horse lily.
At the back of the yard, Bauer ameliorated a grade change by creating a small “room,” where you can sit on a rock wall and face a massive, bottomless steel container with a variegated laurel as its centerpiece. Many people would have made a fire pit out of this naturally oval-shaped area, but for Bauer, “It’s more space for me to plant — it’s always about: ‘Where can I get more garden?’ ”
Bauer readily admits that building all of these layers and garden spaces is an obsession. Of her successful yard, she notes, “This is a 5,000-square foot lot, and I’ve made many rooms out of it, and I think that’s the key.”