Elegant Simplicity

WRITTEN BY Blair Farris
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Scott Smith Photography
ARCHITECT Richard Williams


Creating privacy and elegance on a blank lot in a commuter suburb of DC is not an easy thing to do, but Landscape Architect Gregg Bleam designed a modern garden that fits easily into the historic fabric of the Garrett Park neighborhood. Bleam developed the plan in conjunction with the architect’s house design. The architect, Richard Williams, was open to this approach, and the result is a seamless connection between house and garden.

The goal was to create a home that fit within the Montgomery County, MD, neighborhood context, offering a more open lawn with trees in the front yard, but also providing privacy from adjoining neighbors and featuring a contemporary minimalist garden.


Simple yet stylish, minimalist gardens take their cue from de-cluttered houses, offering a thoughtfully designed space that works for today’s busy lifestyles. Minimalist gardens feature a bold but simple design that is usually lowmaintenance. Minimalism in the garden starts with boundaries. Limiting the number of hardscaping materials and maintaining a limited plant palette is essential to achieve a modern, clean look.

In Garrett Park, Bleam and Williams truly had a blank slate with which to work, as the previous residence had burned to the ground. Bleam used plant material in a manner that creates planes, garden rooms and overlapping outdoor spaces. The entry threshold is defined by a double row of redbuds flanking bluestone steppers. To reinforce the publicto-private transition, layers of ground cover were used at the front of the lot. The walkway leads to the front terrace and entry where the steps, made of stacked pavers, echo the stepping stones.


A six-inch deep reflecting pool is integral to the design. In fact, the architect redesigned the entry sequence to highlight the pool. “When you enter the house,” explains Bleam, “you see the reflecting pool with the equisetum planting on axis and the shadblow serviceberry grove beyond. An ipe bench echoes the ipe bridge which crosses the pool in the foreground.” This axis creates a dramatic view through the house day and night, connecting the home to the garden and providing a beautiful focal point.

The L-shaped hornbeam hedge on the south side of the property provides privacy and a vertical element or wall to the garden. Serviceberries planted in quincunx formation at the rear of the property “define the primary garden space and create a backdrop for the specimen Jade Magnolia,” which blooms a stunning white before it has leaves. An ipe bench marks the edge of the grove and provides a place for relaxing.


Looking out the kitchen window and across the driveway, perennial and herb gardens are defined by small, clipped hornbeam hedges. The paths and serviceberry grove feature stone dust, which creates contrast for the shadows and emphasizes the branching and architecture of the trees.

The integrated design provides an ideal gathering place for the residents and their adult children. The seamless connection between the house and the garden offers a sense of balance and reciprocity. The designers clearly succeeded in creating strong lines and a clear purpose, beautifully executed and detailed in this DC-area minimalist garden.


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