This project won the 2009 MNLA award for Excellence in Landscape Design in the sustainable landscape category.

It also won the 2009 Judges Choice award for Best Landscape Design in all categories.

I could not have been more excited!  A client came to me and told me they had acquired a seven-acre property on White Iron Lake near Ely, MN, and they wanted me to design and coordinate the entire project from start to finish.

The only direction I was given was that when completed, they wanted the project to “look like it has always been here.”

On my first trip to the site I was like a kid in a candy store.  I couldn’t even decide what I wanted to look at first.  The property was completely forested with mature Red and White Pine, White Cedar, and native trees.  The only access to the site was a very narrow path cut by the surveyors to get to the peninsula, the highest ground on the property.  I expected to find some relics from Native Americans but never did find anything that would lead me to believe anyone had been there before.  I could tell that every direction framed a spectacular view, but the vegetation was so dense you could barely see the lake.  The logical building site is a knoll featuring clusters of very large Red and White Pine.

The terrain is very rugged, with many large granite rock outcroppings and boulders.  I carefully selected the features that needed to be surveyed and hired a reliable surveyor.  The goal was to do as little damage to existing vegetation as possible while gathering all the necessary information.

The diversity of native plants was amazing, and I knew there was much to learn about the property.  I quickly decided that on each trip I would spend a certain amount of time just exploring the site and cataloging all the existing plant species.  As I began photographing and forming my list, my clients became very interested in the native diversity of the site and agreed with my idea “to use only those plants that we found on the site when it became time to replant the project.”

For architectural design of the buildings, I suggested two design/build firms for my clients to interview. I was pleased when they selected my first choice, Nor-Son Inc., for their design/build firm.  I also located an excellent local excavator, Low Impact Excavators, from Ely for the site work.  Although both firms were committed to preserving the site as they worked, they had to quickly adjust their thinking about just how little space I was willing to let them use.  I was amazed how quickly they got on board; they even suggested ways they could get by with less space to complete their work.
The most difficult parts of the project were to determine the exact footprint for the house, select the least intrusive route for the drive, and locate not only the well but also the primary and secondary septic sites.  (Visitors to the site now find it difficult to locate the septic mound.)  I selected a route for the drive that would preserve the existing large pine trees on the high ground. This was difficult to do as it required considerable blasting of bedrock to gain access up a steep grade. When completed, this “cut” looked like a natural outcropping of bedrock.

As the design was evolving, the clients and architect were willing and excited to follow my lead and incorporate the stone I recommended from a nearby iron mine to complement the native theme.  We also selected a dark roof product and stained the log siding to match the sulphur color in the native Red Pine trees.  As we blasted and excavated, we found we were able to use all of the blast rock for our grade changes but then selected some large boulders nearby to supplement the feeling of “building on the existing bedrock.”  These boulders were numbered, photographed, and planned into the design so, when they were needed, we knew exactly where and how to place them for the desired effect.

As we neared completion of the structural work, we began the process of transplanting plants from our inventory to restore the site.  We used some of our design staff and local workers to transplant the materials.  We were successful in restoring the entire site with native materials without using one potted or B&B plant for the entire project.

As you enter the site now, you can’t help but wonder when the home was built and how so many of these fantastic native flowers and shrubs are capable of growing on this site.  It must be because “this home has always been here.”