Shangri-La Style

A Contemporary Garrison Retreat Is Transformed Into A Spectacular, Free-Flowing Oasis

words by Stephanie Schutz photography by Larry Merz 

While Shangri-La is fictitious, we all can relate to the desire of owning an earthly paradise, or a happy place, that isolates us from the outside world. The development of a relaxing and private retreat seemed like a modest vision to the new homeowners of this Garrison, New York residence, but the reality was much more complex when they began a complete landscape overhaul on their property.


With five very distinct objectives on their list, the new homeowners sat down with Wilton, Connecticut-based, landscape architecture design-build and maintenance firm, The LaurelRock Company to discuss their ideas. Their objectives included: creating wooded walking paths, making the house invisible from the road, opening up the woods to take advantage of the views from the deck, adding a swimming pool, and creating an attractive and welcoming entry court.

Garrison 6.jpg

The three-phase, five-year, landscape project was inspired by Ken Druse’s book, The Natural Shade Garden, which explains how to design and maintain gardens in all types of shade: wet, dry, dense, or partial. The homeowners wanted to establish a lush foliage effect on their naturally shady property. According to LaurelRock President, Burt DeMarche, “the existing woods presented a dense canopy and fibrous root mat that required selective thinning before any new ground floor planting could be successful.” The solution included removing dead, dying, and diseased trees to create better growing conditions. Native flora, typical of a northeastern mid-slope oak forest habitat, were introduced and irrigated through the first few years until they became established. In addition, experiments with various hybrid Rhododendron and Dogwood were tried, along with various perennials and grasses such as Hosta, Primrose, Phlox, sedges, ferns, and mosses.


The next step of the project was even more intricate: creating a hidden oasis with a driveway angled off the access road at about 60 degrees and a garage that’s only 50 feet from the neighbor’s driveway. Undeterred, the LaurelRock team developed a solution that shifted the entry point of the driveway about 30 feet up the access road so that it intersected the road at a right angle. Today, the realigned driveway is no longer viewable by passersby, and the redesign permits a visitor’s first view of the house to be from this vantage point, framed by beautiful plantings. Visitors are welcomed by flanking beds and a masonry landing to emphasize the entry itself. Additionally, an arbor was added to create a courtyard feeling, define the space, and drawing attention to the front door, versus the view beyond.


Nature’s gifts are often the best ways to find relaxation. For the homeowners, the dream of standing on a deck overlooking the Hudson River at sunset or taking in the sunrise with a hot cup of coffee in hand while listening to the birds chirp was at the top of their wish list. To fulfill their vision, The LaurelRock Company began opening up the woods on the slope to the west to take full advantage of the views from the rear deck to the Hudson River Valley. This phase of the project required a careful execution in order to avoid exposing views to the private school situated down slope and to the west. “After careful analysis our team decided to limit the view to the northwest quadrant only, highlighting the dramatic bend in the river at West Point without sacrificing their privacy,” said Allan Broadbent, LaurelRock Lead Designer and Project Manager.


Having envisioned a special place for their children and grandchildren to gather for years to come, the homeowners’ design concept included the addition of a pool and spa to the landscape. Unfortunately, the logical location for a swimming pool was occupied by an existing septic system that the client did not want to disturb. Situating the pool in the only other desirable location necessitated placing it close to the house and on ledge rock and required careful blasting in order to not undermine the foundations. “The solution included drilling a close knit pattern of charge holes for the blasting allowing for a “softer” detonation, and a smoother, more regular edge to the remaining rock. Much of the blasted rock was then used to retain the slope in the spaces between remaining ledge. The rocks were placed with ample space between to allow for planting to add interest and increase soil retention,” added Broadbent.


After working through many challenges, the homeowners’ landscaping dreams came to fruition. The view of the Hudson River, woodland garden, pool and spa, expansive deck, and private entrance satisfied their need for a quiet and visual relief and achieved their vision of a personal Shangri-La … a secluded place of rest.