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Open Space Becomes Hardscape Retreat

By Gregory Harris, LC/DBM

The completed project shows the many layers and grade changes that were needed to create this Merryville, Indiana corporate retreat. The extensive plantings include Fens Ruby Spurge, Calamintha, Blue Cardinal Flower and Asta Wood Purple.

When the owners of Chicago Decking, Inc. wanted to provide their employees with a relaxing open space, they were fortunate to have a blank canvas to work with.

Nancy Marshall of Small's Landscaping and her team turned the open space into a private retreat complete with a waterfall, fire pit and extensive trees and colorful plantings.

Humble Beginnings

Located in Merryville, Ind., the site is near a busy road and prior to the overhaul, featured a spring-fed pond and empty land. Marshall said the first step was to re-shape the pond to bring more movement to the body of water.

''We utilized a Hitachi 330 excavator with a progressive hydraulic thumb and a two and one-half yard bucket to...reshape the pond,'' Marshall said.

Marshall said the business owners wanted the new site to have a water feature. Marshall proposed a design with a large water feature with a variety of plantings and a choice of rocks including moss limestone and granite. The moss limestone was selected.

Soil from the reshaping of the pond was used to construct the water feature and for contouring and berming for additional privacy for the space. More than 1,000 yards of additional pulverized topsoil peat was added to develop substantial planting beds. The pulverized top soil peat was also used as preparation for installation of the liner for the waterfall. More than 500 yards of pulverized top soil peat was used which, according to Marshall, ensures good soil for the viability of the plants.

A 3/4 -acre pond was the only feature on this property owned by Chicago Decking, Inc. The owners wanted to transform this space into a private retreat for their employees.

Signature Feature

The water feature is actually two 15-foot wide waterfalls that were created using the moss covered limestone boulders. Two five-horsepower pumps provide 60,000 gallons of water per hour. The water feature is approximately 12 feet high, and this height and the additional plantings effectively shield this new outdoor space from the road.

''You can't see the area from the street,'' Marshall said. ''Horn beam hedges hide the water feature (from the road) and gives the feeling of being in a different place.''

A hidden walkway across the rushing waterfall provides easy access to both sides. Also, a lily pad walkway into the pond ends at a large four ton boulder for sitting to contemplate.

The large pieces of outcropping at the water's edge are used for seating. The Mazus ground cover provides a softening for the large amount of flagstone on the project. In the background is a hornbeam hedge that has filled in completely and provides privacy and noise reduction from the road as well as creating a more intimate outdoor room atmosphere.

Crewmembers excavated the fire pit area to install drainage stone. To reshape the pond, workers utilized a Hitachi 330 excavator with a progressive hydraulic thumb and a 2.75-yard bucket. A Caterpillar D 400D Articulated off-road truck and a John Deere 750C-11 Longtrack Dozer were also employed.

Additional Hardscapes

The design includes a long set of outcropping steps down to the pond. The outcropping is also used as a seat wall around a flagstone patio.

Tumbled stone was used to build a large eight-foot fire pit, with an installed gas starter for the fire and a grill.

Marshall noted that the large boulders were shipped on site from Michigan, the flagstone was shipped from a Utah-based manufacturer and the cobblestone on site is from Wisconsin.


An extensive plant pallet was used on this project to provide the serene surroundings desired by the business owners. Plantings consist of hundreds of perennials and grasses for splashes of year-round color, cover and food for birds. A hornbeam hedge gently curves at the back of the bed providing the requested privacy from the road. Onsite evergreens were relocated to new berms by the street and the perimeter of the site.

The contractor planted a variety of trees, including Japanese Maple, Dwarf Conifers, Sweet Gum and Oaks which provide their own interest at different times of the year. Ground covers were added to spread throughout the flagstone patio and plantings, providing a layered look.

Marshall noted that Chicago Decking's custom is to plant an evergreen tree every time one of their projects is completed. As a result, Marshall has specified the location for future evergreen plantings in relation to the new space design.

More than 14 tons of flagstone was used on this project for the walkways and patio area. Workers then planted Mazus in the joints on all of the flagstone-covered areas.

Workers used a Bobcat T300 to move large rocks to build the hardscape area surrounding the lake. Overall, more than 23 tons of sandstone boulders, 25 tons of limestone boulders and 33 tons of Boulder moss rock were used in the project. The project boasts flagstone from Utah, boulders from Michigan, and Wisconsin Cobblestone.


Small's Landscaping used Kubota 520 articulated loaders with backhoe units attached, because, according to Marshall: ''These are a very useful and versatile piece of equipment. Their advantage over a mini excavator is that there is a bucket and long forks as well as grabber attachment.''

GE Marshall Excavating was a subcontractor on the project and their excavating equipment was used for the reshaping and heavy duty grading of the entire property.

Small's Landscaping's Mack tri-axle saw use on this project and semi dump trucks were hired from GE Marshall Excavating to haul pulverized topsoil to the site. In addition, a hydro seeder was used to seed approximately five acres of lawn.

Materials Used

  • 23 tons: Sandstone boulders
  • 25 tons: Limestone boulders
  • 20 tons: 8-inch and 12-inch outcropping
  • 18 tons: Moss rock
  • 33 tons: Boulder moss rock
  • 9 tons: Thick flat stone
  • 14 tons: Flagstone cherry
  • 2 tons: Krakowski flagstone

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December 10, 2018, 3:54 am PST

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