A Prairie Grows in Bronxville

A former eyesore is transformed into a celebration of color and texture.



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Photo by Karen Bussolini

When the prairie is in high prime, blossoms spill into the walkway that Welsch created to let visitors become submerged in color.

Nobody knew how the neighborhood would react when a prairie began sprouting in Bronxville. But the feedback came the instant the mini-meadow started strutting its blossoms: the block is green with envy.

Garden design takes true grit. Everyone knows that gardening requires a heaping dose of plant savvy and ample experience jiving the weather with the terrain and coming out on top. But Robert Welsch of Westover Landscape Design has learned that creative gardening also requires moxie.

For example, he could have taken the well-trod path when he was called in to reconfigure a very suburban Bronxville property. But instead, he came up with a smart and sharp front entry display, several terraced areas surrounded by shrubs for seclusion, and—here’s the tightrope walk—a no-holds-barred prairie to jazz up the steeply sloped “hell strip” leading down to the street.

Actually, he didn’t go it alone. The homeowner provided ample input into the process. Some garden designers prefer minimal client intervention when they’re hired to handle the horticultural end of a property. But Welsch didn’t flinch when the homeowner handed him notebooks bulging with magazine clippings of plants that tugged at her family’s heartstrings. Not only did Welsch welcome the collaboration, but he keyed into the list of preferences for clues to solving the site’s problems with a heavy dose of individuality in what has become known affectionately as Shanti (“peace” in Sanskrit) Garden.

Photo by Karen Bussolini

With grasses swaying, water lilies unfolding and water tripping down the seemingly natural waterfall beside the back patio, Shanti Garden is a peaceful oasis that piques all the senses.

Plus, another facet of their initial dialogue helped him to create the garden of his clients’ dreams while also achieving the cohesion Welsch craves as a designer. The homeowner requested a variety of entertaining areas capable of hosting family and friends who come to visit from India during their sticky monsoon season. His clients needed an outdoor kitchen, lounging areas, and space for company to mill around or find a shaded, contemplative nook. Those diverse but versatile areas had to be tucked into one suburban acre. As an added challenge, the property was sharply sloped (the aforementioned “hell strip”). The puzzle pieces fell into place when Welsch decided to create a series of garden rooms.

He segmented the landscape into sections and tackled each space individually. That would have been “end of story” for most garden designers. They would’ve done the predictable and gone home smiling. But there was another tricky element that pushed the envelope over the edge. Although they would love some spring interest as well as early-summer zing, the homeowner absolutely needed the garden to be in full regalia from mid to late summer when most landscapes sputter into a stalled halt. That request pushed Welsch into prairie mode.

Photo by Karen Bussolini

Welsch kept his color palate white and green with a lawn surrounded by an elegant string of liriopes. To create a sense of privacy on the terrace, hemmed by a natural stone promenade, a screen of silver blue evergreens were planted behind the hydrangeas and lilies.

A prairie could handle the more flamboyantly hued plants from the homeowner’s hanker-list (and their notebook was filled with flowers sporting daring shades of color). Plus, the prairie’s primetime synchronizes with the influx of visitors from afar. And the plants that take guerilla tactics to survive the hot/dry cycle in the prairie would find the daunting slope a piece of cake. In the back of his mind, Welsch may have wondered whether the sweeps of cheerful color might shake up the neighborhood. If so, he certainly didn’t pause for a moment.

Although the prairie is definitely the property’s head-turning feature, it’s only part of the picture. Shanti Garden begins with a nod toward formality —and tradition—for the front entryway. Given an imposing stone-and-brick Tudor house and a ferocious lion statue standing guard, grand seemed the obvious way to go when greeting visitors. The scene is softened by the late-blooming oak-leaf hydrangea. But it’s also edged neatly with a tidy, white variegated, grass-like liriope providing what Welsch likes to call “a string of pearls.” He echoed that motif elsewhere in the landscape to unify the theme and bring the entire picture—including the prairie with its larger-scale grasses—into the dialogue.

 

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