Meeting nature halfway…

Two Arlington, Virginia gardeners faced very different challenges head on to create wonderful spaces in which they can relax and entertain and welcomed our group of garden bloggers ready to inspire us with their stories.

Scott Brinitzer is a landscape designer and owner of Scott Brinitzer Design Associates. He has been gardening at his 1917 Federal style (I’ll take any corrections on the style–not really my specialty) home for more than 26 years. His street is part of a neighborhood built in what was once an oak forest and he continues to encourage neighbors to retain the ambiance with the addition of new trees whenever possible. The leafy canopy surrounding his home provided us with a cool respite on a hot day.


The unique pea gravel and concrete hardscape, also found on the porch balustrade, is original to the home and deserves a closer look.


This is an area of copious rainfall and Scott’s street drains directly downhill into the Chesapeake Bay which is profoundly polluted. Every feature of his organic garden is designed to eliminate run off and offer water an opportunity to percolate back into the ground.


This wide side yard once had an impermeable concrete driveway from the street to the garage at the back of the lot, partially seen at the far right. Water on the driveway formed a deluge down the driveway right out into the gutter leading to the bay. Scott removed about 2/3 of the hard surfaced driveway, replacing it with wide beds on each side and an attractive gravel pathway which allows rainfall to pass through to the underlying ground. An area directly in front of the garage and adjacent to the classic arched trellis work is recessed even further to alleviate a particularly stubborn flood prone area. This area of the garden is lushly green with plant material of varying heights including this structure covered with mature wisteria. It has classic southern garden written all over it!


The back garden is intimate with structure provided by boxwood hedges, specimen shrubs and bamboo. This garden shed is charming enough to live in.


Throughout patio areas and bed edges are cut stone, allowing water is drain through; walkways are gravel. A sunny back bed offers ferns and Liriope spicata. Lath panels allow vines to scramble up, softening the fence line. Pots abound including those clustered around this small water feature which is in perfect harmony with the home’s style.


The (non-garage) side garden is also very wide and is often used for entertaining. Below you see part of our group of about 40 doing what we do best: talking plants, taking photos, jotting notes for blog posts and use in our own gardens. Scott could easily do a dinner party in his lovely side yard!


I managed to snap this photo before the group flowed toward the front part of the side garden.


The combination of non grouted cut stone patio work and the gravel paths provides continuity on all three sides. This shady bed is filled with Pachysandra or Japanese spurge and the classic southern backdrop of mostly glossy green trees and shrubs provides a feeling of enclose and privacy although we are almost in the front yard. Intimate seating areas invite you to just relax and take in the afternoon.

Dutch elm disease has been encroaching on this neighborhood for some years but until recently Scott’s trees had been spared. A stately elm in his garden is now affected and he has been working with Bartlett Trees to manage it. Tree specialist Steve from Bartlett was on hand to talk to us about tree care and disease management. We were able to look at the diseased tree first hand–sad to see that a huge limb was beyond help and had been recently removed.



The Brinitzer garden felt supremely liveable to me. Although Scott described it as a small garden at 10,000 sq. ft.; for me it was very comparable to the property sizes commonly seen in California. Scott analyzed the garden’s issues and designed solutions to meet the challenges in an environmentally responsible way. The space was a wonderful example of a garden whose substantial use of evergreen plants and shrubs as “bones”–structure, screen and background–guarantees year round beauty. There were fun places to sit and vignettes to ponder. Color was restrained and the landscape in no way competed with the beauty of the home itself, rather it wrapped the home like a leafy green cape! Thank you, Scott, for sharing your home and your talent with us.

The front garden of Jeff Minnich’s home is no bigger than a minute but packed with classic southern plantings. A door side plaque introduces us to Woodland Cottage.


Nothing in this charming postage stamp front garden prepares you for the extensive woodland garden planted on a very steep rocky slope behind the cottage.


I think my fellow blogger has stopped to get a photo but it is possible that she is evaluating whether she will need oxygen on the way back up.


This rock waterfall flows from the level of the bamboo seen in the upper right of this photo and the same position in the photo before. The steps are to the right of this long drink of water which ends in a peaceful pool. We are not even close to the lowest part of the garden yet–less than half way.

At the elevation of the waterfall there is a shallow patio area which extends the width of the house–to me it was the perfect spot for this garden designer and owner of Jeff Minnich Garden Design, Inc. to sit with an adult beverage and survey his domain. However, there was no way to take a quick shot of it without falling off into the woodland below! The lower garden is accessed by a stairway on one side and the tree root studded path on the other, basically forming a U. Suit up, folks–we’re going down!

These were great chunky stone steps with a thoughtfully provided handrail. Colonies of ferns and what I think is Tricyrtis, commonly called toad lily flank the steps. If I am right on this identification these would be loaded with gorgeous flowers spotted like toads in the early spring. A large Cryptomeria cast its shade over the walk and I think the temperature dropped 10 degrees by the time I reach the lower packed earth path. Look at this profusion of white hydrangeas just falling down the steep slope. For the sake of scale don’t miss the orange shirt worn by one of us at the very bottom of the garden.


The coloration of this large conifer on the lower path caught my eye. Unknown to me but readily identified by one of the Virginia gardeners as Thujopsis dolobrata ‘Variegata’, a member of the cypress family. She shared that it was a favorite of hers to cut for arrangements at Christmas time–the white needles just lit up the shadowed lower garden.

When you go down you have to go up again–the path on the far side of the U took advantage of large tree roots to act as anchors going up. Jeff had warned us about these and so forewarned I used them like steps rather than tripping over them.


This peaceful garden was rich in texture, leaf shape and texture and is layered with both evergreen and deciduous shrubs and trees, as well as conifers. Many traditional woodland plants tend to be early spring bloomers so I was not surprised to minimal color at this hot time of year. I have always yearned for a classic green and white garden but never come close to achieving it, giving in to the lure of all that color at the garden center. These two Arlington gardens have renewed that desire. Now I just need a new garden with a lush, high shade canopy in which to develop it–not sure one is waiting for me in hot, dry Central California. No gardener has a perfect site but these two Virginia garden designers have been great examples of balancing their gardening goals with  their property’s assets and challenges and meeting nature halfway.





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