Grapevine Resort and Convention Center
David Rolston Landscape
Rebecca Sherman -
Dallas residents love their landscapes and gardens and plant everything
from tropicals to alpines. In this show, we visit 2 very different
Dallas gardens. One is designed by a landscape designer who has used
clever editing techniques to give the landscape a unique look and feel;
the second, the backyard of a landscape architect who has applied
clever but classic principles and pulled it off beautifully. With the
right techniques, gardens can be made to feel larger or more intimate
or both. Even the feeling of movement and energy can be achieved
creating a unique and special place. The landscapes seem larger in
Dallas. You're in for a treat as we examine 2 very different gardens in
Rebecca Sherman is the Executive Editor at D Home and Garden Magazine
in Dallas, Texas. At D Home they cover houses, interiors, lifestyle and
they cover gardens. The gardens we visit today are atypical. Rebecca
believes that when a lot of people think about or visit Dallas they
think of the stereotypical big house or big yards. That trend has been
changing over the decades. Dallas is in the 9th year of below average
rainfall and this summer there is a drought. Dealing with the water
shortage has been a bit of a challenge, particularly keeping
inappropriate plants, shrubs and grasses watered. This problem is
changing the face of gardens and Dallas residents are looking at new
possibilities, they're rethinking the types of plants they utilize. At
D Home and Garden Magazine they are launching a series of articles
beginning in January of '07 that address the topic, "Rethinking The
Front Lawn." "D" will show their readers how to do it well. Two Dallas
gardeners, who have created atypical gardens while incorporating plants
and flowers that most haven't used or seen in Dallas, are featured on
this show. Rebecca is excited that people will get to see these 2
gardens because they're very special gardens, done by 2 extraordinary
gardeners in the Dallas area.
Joe first meets Robert Bellamy. He has a company, Robert Bellamy
Design. Robert has been working in the dirt for about 25 years.
Robert shows us one of his latest landscapes. He finished this project
last week but is still playing with it a little. Joe gets the feel that
this is a Texas or Dallas landscape but can't put his finger on the
reason. Robert says it is because of the texture, plus there are a lot
of native trees, and native plants, most of them low water oriented.
When Robert is working with a homeowner and their design, he wants to
incorporate and accent different features. Importantly, the color of
the house and the textures of what is there should be emphasized. This
homeowner said "Take everything out because it doesn't look good."
Robert felt the owner had chosen this space for specific reasons. He
must have liked something. Thus, they retained some, edited quite a
bit, then reassembled it, putting it together like they were
rearranging furniture. This gave the homeowner more of the quality of
what he wanted without reinventing the wheel and starting over. For
example there are about 3 trees from a grouping of 6 or 7 in the front
that they rearranged, as well they lifted some things up and moved them
around, rearranged and massaged it all. As well, they made changes to
the land itself.
Joe notices many of those vignettes in the front yard and wants to get
started looking. A natural place to start is the front entrance. Joe
and Robert first focus on the area between the sidewalk and the street
because so few people do anything with that area. When Robert inherited
the job it was a solid landscape, like a rock quarry. They bracketed
the front yard with 2 Mesquite trees and then placed a few plants
around, just to soften it up. It frames the house and yard and leads
one up to the yard and straight to the front door. But there is a lot
of interest before you get there.
Earlier there were some big stepping-stones. They tightened that up,
flared out the sides, used some of the boulders, then wrapped them with
some soil. A small amount of grass was utilized, an idea of the owner.
They've utilized Buffalo grass rather than gravel or ground cover.
Robert likes the texture, it rarely, if ever, needs mowed, it tufts up,
provides blossoms and gives a Texasy landscape feel. It's unusual for
mainstream Dallas but Robert likes it.
Joe likes the use of space between the stoop and driveway. It has the
feel of a room. Robert says that is a perfect word. They've made a room
in the front of the house that provides a place that's more
contemplative. It's conducive for sitting. By berming up the soil and
using some of the boulders to make a retaining wall, it sort of wrapped
this little area and made it cozy. Both Joe and Robert feel it would be
a great place for a morning cup of coffee. Joe likes the use of plant
material. There are a lot of different textures; especially important
is the use of appropriate plant material. It is to scale in this area
and is great, it's not overpowering. It worked well because wrapping it
up with the trees provided the venue for smaller things that can be
sort of surprising, as the owner likes to say. Little sedums and
flowering things, small texture junipers, sort of cushion the ground
and wrap one in. From the inside of the house, one can look onto this
space without seeing cars or houses beyond. From the street there is
privacy into the house because they see plant material rather than into
the windows. As the plants grow they will wrap the area even more, that
will make the water sound even stronger when walking to the front door.
The water makes one take notice of the garden or sense the garden is
Another great look in a small space is laid out in a 5 by 5 area.
Robert in this area has repeated patterns and themes, for example the
Buffalo grass from the center garden. One doesn't need a whole lot of
repetition just enough to provide unity. Robert likes this space. It's
a good vignette in the sense that the grass comes in, you stair step up
to the rock and you've got the prostrate Deodara Cedar (Cedrus deodara
'Viridis Prostrata') which pulls in the texture of the Deodar Cedar on
the side. Another boulder was sunk into the ground to make it more
subtle. The grey against the Kelly green, against the Weeping Yaupon
that will have berries in the winter, pulls it all together. Joe
notices that there aren't flowers in this area to provide color but
there is enough interest in different shades of earth tones to match
and blend it all together. For example, the crushed gravel next to the
wood mulch provides completely different looks but they blend nicely
together. Robert likes the fact that the gravel works somewhat as a
mulch, but it's completely traversable. It holds out the weeds, yet one
can walk through the garden, all while enjoying the fact that the
textures are balanced.
Robert in a side area was able to take trees from the front, where they
looked ghostly, and put them someplace he never would have thought
about using them, lining the driveway which previously was dreadful and
boring. The end result is so much fun, it hides the fence, yet the
energy from the weeping trees, cascading over at night, although
somewhat ghostly, are wonderful looking. Joe feels it is a perfect
marriage. Where else will one find something tall and narrow, with the
added bonus that no new plants were needed. Robert says he will use
this idea again.
Robert has recycled other material in the yard. One spot was a stone
quarry, bone yard, because there were originally boulders here. Robert
thought this was a great space to make a raised bed and plant a tree.
The foundation was high enough, plus it was a great way to make a
gateway to the garden. It was also a perfect place for the Japanese
Maple, the owner had wanted because it had shade from the neighbor's
big overhead Red Oak tree. Robert pushed the envelope with the cost of
plant material and bought a specimen Japanese Maple. It's a beautiful
tree. After planted the owner wanted Robert to come in and put in
little surprises. Robert told him that he should do that, be
autonomous, don't be afraid, try something, find out if sun or shade
oriented and put it in the garden yourself. Then you'll have ownership
and be involved with your garden. Although the owner wasn't a gardener,
he found, chose and planted the plants the next day. He previously had
some great ideas but hadn't developed the confidence to do it himself.
With the bones of the garden in, which meant one couldn't really make a
mistake, he developed the needed confidence. Plus, Robert says, it's
easy dirt to dig in.
Joe finds another small space. Robert has given it its own look and
feel. Robert says it was the hottest patio in Texas when they started.
The owner wanted the feel of a submerged patio. Robert tightened it up,
punctuated it with a River Birch, something the owner wanted. This gave
the area the feeling of shade and a little bit of dappled light, they
then added a fountain on one side. The owner gave Robert another good
idea with a picture of rough cedar posts coming out of the ground. To
accommodate these they bermed the surrounding area, giving it a feeling
of layering and texturing. The plantings will, again, texture up,
they'll layer in and one will feel the effect of the different color
qualities. It should, hopefully, with time, give the impression that
one is snookered down in a garden.
Joe thanks Robert and tells him we're off to see Dave Ralston. Robert
thanks Joe as well and tells him he will enjoy Dave's garden. He has
worked on it for years and it is beautiful.
Dave Rolston is a landscape architect in Dallas and has been here for
20-25 years. Joe, by looking at the front of the house can tell we're
in for a treat but asks first about the house. This house was designed
as a modern house in 1949 and was featured in a magazine. The owner
gave it to the contractor and said, "Now, make this house colonial."
When Dave got the house it was a weird mix of styles. Slowly they've
been transforming the house making it a bit more contemporary, a little
When they bought the house they got a book with it. The book described
how the previous owner built the entire house and included her dreams
for every room as well as the landscape. It showed garden rooms,
fountains, little nooks and all. It was an incredible set of wishes
that she had for the garden. But when they got the house it was a
square patch of St. Augustine lawn with Iris planted in a straight line
around the perimeter. Joe is anxious to see the transformation.
Dave first shows Joe a Coral Bean Bush where some of the Iris had been.
The Coral Bean Bush (Erythrina herbacea) is a perennial that freezes
back to the ground every winter, comes up and burst forth with foliage
in the spring. Then about a month after it comes out of the ground it
blooms incredible coral-red flowers that cover the plant. It's a real
Joe asks Dave about his landscape signature or trait, something that
might be consistent from project to project. If Dave does a formal
landscape, a gardeny type of landscape he has a certain way he arranges
plants, the juxtaposition of plants. It's something he feels, he
arranges them in a way that is Dave Rolston. It's somewhat intuitive,
it's what he feels.
Although it doesn't look that way, Joe asks "Are you the cobbler's kids
who doesn't have any time to work in the garden?" It looks like Dave
spends hours out here. Dave said it took years to establish the garden
and in the beginning he spent 20-25 hours a week in this garden. He was
addicted to his landscape and garden and constructing it. About 5 years
ago, he and his wife adopted a daughter from China and it was an
incredible change in their life. They had to change their life and
needed to make time for her and for raising her. Thus, he's remodeled
the landscape, changed a lot of plants and learned a lot. He now has
low maintenance plants and is down to about 4 or 5 hours a week. Dave
has changed the way they are arranged and the way he works with them,
making it easier. When gardening 25 hours a week he had a Monet type
garden, a lot of perennials, a lot of annuals and he kept everything
blooming in sequence. It required a lot of thought and planning,
rearranging and dividing plants. Since he cut back on his labor, he has
gone more towards texture and color. It is now much easier, actually
more fun, because the subtlety of creating a really great look with
texture and color and just a few perennials here and there makes the
As Joe looks across the garden the views go on forever, yet at the same
time gets the sense that he's in a more intimate space. Dave tells us
that this lot is 2/3 of an acre which is pretty big by urban standards,
but he has borrowed a lot of views. There's an iron fence on 1 side, on
the other side the neighbor's yard which is 1 and 1/2 acres and on the
backside one can see into the park. Keep the plants low, you get to
look at them, you don't lose that much privacy, but you do get to
borrow the view.
Dave says he loves to prune, in fact some say he prunes to a fault,
possibly too much. But pruning can be a good thing. An example is a
Winter Honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) that had been so full one
couldn't see anything underneath. Dave started pruning and exposing the
trunks and branches and found that it was a beautiful tree. By doing
this he created a focal point and it allowed for the borrowed view.
They next talk about the garden rooms Dave has created. Although on 2/3
of an acre one can feel they are in their own special place. Dave, to
accomplish that, didn't want the eye to see everything at once; he has
blocked one's eye, making the eye move around. Additionally, the
backyard falls in height almost eight feet, so one gets a sense of
movement. To emphasize the effect he has used grass as a ribbon, kind
of like a waterway to flow down.
As one moves through the pathways, Dave has bermed up the land and used
plants so that they create a walled space. One actually has to look
around a corner to go into a new space. To create the berm, Dave used
the soil from the water features he had dug.
One area, a lower room, reminds Joe of a bowl. Dave tried to create a
distinctive space that had its own feel. He bermed it up, all the dirt
came from the pond on the top. Previously this had been a sloped space.
He dug the dirt out, made it flat on the top, then created stairways as
a transition between the 2 areas. There is architectural movement
leading to the ramp or stairs. Dave was once told by a designer that
whenever one goes into a room, one should have an entrance and an exit.
Without these it makes one feel there is no place to go, it is
claustrophobic. This space has both.
This being a lower room, the water flows from high to low but would
continue outside the property. To combat this Dave has bermed the
perimeter areas as well. That is what berming is for. He wanted a
visual feeling of a bowl but he is also conservative. He likes to keep
as much water as possible on his property. By bowling it out the water
stays on his property and soaks in which makes it great for trees and
As one transitions up the staircase, from the exit, one goes to another
room. There is a formal allay, kind of sight line with a fountain at
the end. This room is off his wife's studio meaning she has this view
all the time. And, it's an intimate view. Again, one asks the question,
"how big is this landscape?" That is because one sees only one room in
this view. Dave has seating areas that are in foliage and shade,
seating areas in full sun and seating areas around a fishpond,
surrounded by Honeysuckle. As well there is a wading pool for his
daughter, it's 18 feet in diameter, and only 1 and 1/2 feet deep. It's
fun for her.
Joe hears the water features, now he and Dave visit one. This room is
underneath the Honeysuckle bush that he's trimmed. This fishpond is
gunite with a biological filter. Dave cleans the filter every 1 and 1/2
to 2 months. It takes 10 minutes and isn't a lot of work. The fish eat
the algae off the sides, thus it's low maintenance. Before, he had a
stream that went from the upper pool all the way down and terminated at
the bottom of the property. It leaked, it was a nightmare, so when they
got their daughter he remodeled, did it in gunite, the way it should
have been done. Now it doesn't leak. Dave has a variety of water
features. He tries not to obsess over everything matching. He feels if
you find a room, then find the same thing again, it bores you. The
fishpond is organic and traditional, the circular pond up higher can be
seen from below, therefore kind of connects and the materials, stone,
etc. are the same in both. Another is more formalized and has an
18-foot diameter circle. Then there is one with a copper kettle, a
formalized idea. He has recently added a steel fountain that is totally
contemporary and modern.
Speaking of contemporary and modern Dave has added furniture that has a
contemporary look. That's an important point to address in landscape
design. It's not all about plants; one should incorporate water and
hardscapes as well as, sometimes, furniture. He has used them almost
like a perennial or seasonal color. Bright color sparks the eye. It is
seen from the distance, so you're drawn in and say, "What's that?" If
it were a wood bench it would blend in, so something more exciting is
noticed from a distance.
Joe thanks Dave. This has been a great experience. We appreciate Dave
showing us his backyard. It is beautiful. This is a beautiful spot to
end the day.
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