Landscape architect Charles Hess prides himself on creating spaces that blend architecture with the natural environment. At the heart of his philosophy lies the concept that projects are enhanced by regionally appropriate materials, incorporation of relevant historical elements, and a deep understanding and regard for natural surroundings.

He founded Hess Landscape Architects in 1998, and works throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, New York, West Virginia, Florida, and the Bahamas.

In addition to being named a Pool & Spa News Master of Design in 2007, Hess and his firm have been recognized by several organizations, including the Association of Professional Landscape Designers, New Jersey chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects, Preservation Pennsylvania, and the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia.

Here, he discusses two recent projects that utilize stone in very different ways — one free flowing, the other more rigid; one inspired by international influences, the other answering strictly to the immediate architecture. The first project is a stream that rambles gently down the client’s generous acreage. The other is a pool/spa combination connected via a runnel.

Project #1: History on the Green

This home was built in the 1920s and has historic significance, so the idea here was preservation.

The clients had acquired an adjacent property and wanted to use the additional space to put in a private, five-hole practice golf course. The entire family is interested in golf, and their son plays at the collegiate level, so they use this course quite a bit.

There were about 3 acres to work with, and we designed it to roll beautifully into their property, creating a stately, park-like setting.

Although the whole space was completely man-made, we did our best to make it seem natural and welcoming.

Project #1: History on the Green

The dominant element of this landscape is the stream, modeled after a waterfeature the client admired on a famous golf course. It was not actually in the original plans, but as we started shaping and creating the greens, we realized we could make this wonderful topography.

The stream goes halfway across the property to a pond. To create it, we worked hand-in-hand with a company called Pond Works, utilizing their expertise.

Project #1: History on the Green

This is a controlled flow of water, so we were able to bring the grass right to the edge without having to worry about erosion. We placed rocks on the sides in such a way that some of the grass kind of buries the stones. If it were a real stream that had to go through extreme storms, that wouldn’t have been practical. We chose not to build the edges with stone walls in order to keep the overall look less manmade.

The stone lining the stream has more brown hues than the grayer shade used for the house. We could have selected the same color, but that would have looked too deliberate. By using a different style of stone, we made it stand out as a separate element. Also, there is a visual suggestion that it’s a native stone left there from long ago.

Project #1: History on the Green

We made use of an old, filled-in well head that had been on the neighbor’s land. We directed the drainage from the entire property via piping to this well head. When it rains, the system works like an Artesian well: Water comes into the pipes, is forced up the well, and then flows down the stream and into the pond. This was one way to recharge the water back into the ecological system.

The well head also helped determine the course of the stream. We wanted to make it appear that the water was coming from the well head and leading down to the pond. So the space between those two elements, along with the natural roll of the topography and a number of existing trees we wanted to save, helped shape the water. We created a series of S curves that serpentine from the house toward the pond. At each of those turns, we placed stepping stones so people can go back and forth and across the stream. The widest points are 3 to 4 feet maximum, and in most cases it’s under 2 feet.

Project #1: History on the Green

Originally, the stream was going to begin at the well head, but that looked odd. The client then said, “Wouldn’t it be nice to carry it all the way up to the house?” So the water’s course morphed and got longer.

We treated the starting point of the stream more like a natural spring, having the water bubble and percolate out of the ground. The idea was to create a look reminiscent of the natural springs found in Central Florida, so with that in mind, we stayed away from waterfalls or little spitting gargoyles.

Project #1: History on the Green

We created the pond by digging out the property’s low area. There are 7 acres total, and we irrigate the entire landscape from that pond. We recycle storm water and also utilize any runoff from irrigating all the lawns — all the water is re-collected, put back in the system and then recycled.

Though we’re not doing any major filtering, the pond has an aerator to circulate the water. That, plus the movement in the stream, help add oxygen, which ultimately minimizes algae growth.

A hidden pump station recirculates the pond water, which is injected into the stream at two points — the well head and near the house. We also installed a new well on the property. In the summertime it’s set to add fresh water for a certain number of minutes per day to recharge it if we have a dry spell. A pipe directs the pond’s overflow beyond the property, under the adjacent street and into the storm system.

Project #2: Modern Blue

For the backyard of this brand-new home, I followed the lead of the architect and created a very symmetrical space. People walk through a double gate into the arbor area, and the view is completely in balance with the 50-foot pool centered exactly on a rill that runs 15 feet from the spa to the pool.

We didn’t want the yard to feel like one massive space, so we created individual areas for people to experience. By placing plantings on either side of the spa and arbor, we were able to enhance this feeling: You have the arbor as one space, the spa as another, and then you transition to the patio area adjacent to the pool house.

Project #2: Modern Blue

The spa serves as a visual connection point between the house and the pool, and brings both elements together. We designed the spa to be separate from the pool, and placed it close to the house so the homeowners could run it year-round. The pool and spa were built by OuterSpaces Landscape Architecture and Construction Group in Glenn Mills, Pa. We worked together in designing and finalizing the details, including lighting and placement of spa jets, and the design of a swim-out bench.

Project #2: Modern Blue

We didn’t want to make the backyard too contemporary, so we selected traditional varieties of stone that were more native to the region and, with their blue colors, picked up the soft tones of the house.

The palette is somewhat monochromatic, creating a serene space with a strong reflective quality. For the coping and tops of walls, we used a true bluestone, which is consistent in color. For the patios, we chose a flagstone that contains more browns and greens.

The interior finish of the pool is Hydrazzo Maui Midnight, selected to achieve a medium-to-darker gray and pick up the color of the bluestone. The spout on the spa that spills into the runnel is made from a solid piece of bluestone.

Charles Hess is the principal owner of Hess Landscape Architects in Lansdale, Pa.