HGTV Dream Home 2014: Native Landscape Plan

In a location where forest fires and heavy snows can do major damage to landscape elements, care has been taken to protect the home and its surroundings while beautifying the property.

DH14_Landscape_Front-Yard

For all of it’s to-die-for features, the landscape at HGTV Dream Home 2014 really fits the setting, almost as if it had formed here naturally.

“The whole intent was to have as little impact on the site as possible,” says project landscape contractor Lebo Newman. So he stayed with what he calls the “palette” of plants and materials that have been on this land for a hundred years. And he took great pains to prevent either the house or hardscaping from damaging the environment in any way.

Native Species

At 6,000 feet above sea level, with only a five- to six-month growing season and more than 17 feet of snow per year, the alpine climate is harsh. “There just aren’t many plants that will thrive here,” says Newman. “Plus, we wanted to stay — as much as possible — with indigenous plants.” In addition to the existing 80- to 100-foot ponderosa and Jeffrey pines, he added white fir and two groundcovers that take the place of non-native, hard-to-grow turf-grass: kinnickinnick and squaw carpet.

Adaptive Species

Newman also planted adaptive species, which are plants that have been shown to thrive in the climate, without harming other landscaping or wildlife — or being so aggressive that they overtake the naturally occurring plants in the area. Native to similar mountain ranges in other parts of the world, these were introduced to the Sierras decades ago, and are considered, for all intents and purposes, as beneficial and appropriate as natives. They include bristlecone and mugo pine trees as well as the shrubs Oregon grape, chokecherry and blue oat grass.

Erosion Control

To ensure that roof runoff and snowmelt won’t create erosion problems onsite, in local streambeds or the Truckee River basin, Efstratis created infiltration trenches near where each of the house’s gutters discharge. The 18- to 24-inch-deep ditches in the ground were filled with crushed rock wrapped in filter fabric to ensure that it won’t become clogged with silt. That’s topped with local pine mulch — some shredded right on site as trees were removed for the foundation work and some brought in from Truckee’s yard-waste recycling plant, where plant debris and tree cuttings are mulched for re-use in residents’ landscaping projects. The buried trenches give water a chance to collect underground and gradually soak into the soil rather than pooling and washing over the surface of landscape.

Fire Safety

To reduce the fire hazard, especially in a 30-foot buffer zone immediately around the house, Newman chose species with thick, flame-resistant bark instead of quick-to-ignite species (like junipers and dry grasses). He installed a drip irrigation system to keep the plants well hydrated, which makes them fire resistant. And he carefully considered the mature size of the plants, to avoid creating what’s known as a fire ladder. “What you don’t want is low brush that ignites when someone throws a lit cigarette, let’s say, then slightly larger bushes that catch from those, and then small trees, and so forth, all the way up to the canopy of the mature pines.” His landscape plan includes only low and tall elements, with nothing in between, to discourage fire escalation to the canopy—which is the worst-case forest fire scenario.

Permeable Pavers

The driveway and walks around HGTV Dream Home 2014 are constructed from permeable pavers, which look and feel like standard interlocking paving blocks, but with one big practical difference — they’re extremely porous so water can move right through them. Similarly, rather than a concrete-based mortar between the pavers, these will be in-filled with pea gravel, tiny round stones that also let water drain through. So rainfall and fast-melting snowbanks will soak down into the ground as if the “hardscaping” wasn’t even there, ensuring that it won’t run off in rivulets that could erode and alter the surrounding landscape.

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