And a surprise around every corner
Story by Jamey Bradbury • Photography by Photo Arts by Janna
Gazing out the front windows of Jim Landry’s den, you have the impression of a mountain gradually growing tame: The house is situated on a hillside in Stuckagain Heights, literally perched on a terrace, with a steep slope that ends mere yards from the front door. Between the door and the slope, which is braced by a rock retaining wall, lies a quaint garden, reminiscent of something more commonly seen on a French estate. Yet, somehow, the tasteful fountain, the circular stone walkway, the carefully selected and maintained shrubs don’t seem out of place in this bucolic setting.
Front and back, Jim’s yard epitomizes “rusticity meets elegance.” And that’s no mistake, says Konstantin “Gus” Gaskov, owner of Green Acres Landscaping.
Since the homeowner had a fondness for the architecture he encountered as a student in Colorado, Gus wanted to preserve the “ski chalet” feel of the house and yard, while also introducing touches of sophistication. “We have a couple concepts going on,” explains Gus. “The back yard is mostly rustic, but I wanted to add a little elegance with the fireplace there and the ornate fountain in front. In combination with the rustic Colorado theme, it works well.”
Initially, Jim’s only specific request was for the retaining wall in front of the house. “I had some other general ideas,” he recalls. “But really early on, Gus understood what my vision was, then took it and amplified it and made it so much better than I anticipated. At the end of the day, I got even more than I was expecting.”
Exceeding expectations wasn’t easy, though. The hillside placement of the house presented a number of challenges, as did its elevation. “That high on the hillside, you’re in the alpine category and extremely limited to what you can grow there,” Gus describes. “As soon as you start climbing into the mountains, all your green concepts go out the window. Plus, when your house is literally perched on the hillside, part of your landscape solution has to be a retaining system – but too much stone and rock will make the property look cold.”
To liven up the landscape without the aid of the usual colorful flowers, Gus incorporated several water features. In addition to the front fountain, five different waterfalls cascade over natural-looking stone and are flanked by evergreen trees and shrubs hardy enough to withstand both weather and the occasional moose trampling through the yard.
“I’d wanted a fountain right outside the living room so in the summer when you open the windows, you can hear it,” says Jim. “In the end, though, every room in the house benefits from some feature of the landscaping – you can hear water, or you have a spectacular view.”
A gravel pit created by the construction of the road on which the house sits presented yet another challenge. Gus’ solution to the huge crater? An artificial pond. “Situated next to the gazebo, we spruced it up to where it looks extremely purposeful. What was initially an afterthought is now a prime focal point.”
Another of Gus’ innovative solutions to an existing problem – in this case, a rapidly eroding hillside – resulted in a dramatic staircase leading to the pond and gazebo. The gazebo, which features a large stone fireplace, echoes the timber frame design used in the entry of the house. “With a big property and a big house, we wanted to keep everything to scale,” explains Jim. “Using timber framing for the main backyard structure kept the gazebo in proportion without being obtrusive.”
All the elements of Jim’s hillside retreat combine to create a sense of discovery, or what Gus calls “the holy grail of landscape design.”
“The concept of discovery means the further you go into the setting, the more you see,” he says. “You enter, and your subconscious tells you to wonder what’s around the next corner. The landscape itself invites you to explore.”
The idea of discovery and transformation is embodied in the plants Gus chose to adorn the courtyard area and waterfalls. Diablo ninebark, false spirea, Canada red cherry trees and crab apple trees – all have leaves or blooms that change colors as the summer peaks, then wanes.
“It’s incredible, how Gus was able to pull off some color at this altitude,” Jim enthuses. “There’s definitely a transition from when everything starts to bloom then changes in July, then changes again in the fall. It gives us a sense of seasons in a place where we don’t often have that.”
As spring gives way to summer, Jim and his girlfriend are eager to explore, entertain and unwind.
“We’ll really have a chance to use the outdoor fireplace for the first time this summer,” says Jim. “But we’re already loving the transformation. We get home, we don’t want to go anywhere. Before, we were always on the run, eating dinner out. Now it’s nice to come home, relax, have the water elements and the natural sounds, the view. All the design elements incorporated into the yard have changed how we relate to home, and to Alaska.