A back yard can be a place of rejuvenation and a thing of beauty, while still serving a function. Upon walking through the welcoming arbor that is at the entrance to Rose and Larry Romboski’s back yard in Cranberry Township, north of Pittsburgh, even the casual visitor can sense that the entire landscape design was well-thought out with care and a love of the natural world. The Romboskis designed the yard as they were building their custom home on the half acre lot; everything in the space has a purpose, and nothing was an afterthought.
A nurse by training, Rose cares for her garden in much the same way as she cares for patients. “A garden isn’t meant to be perfect or judged; it’s meant to be nurtured and loved,” she says.
But gardening is more than a hobby to Rose; it’s a lifestyle. Because of her love of design and plant life, she became a master gardener, having earned a certification through a branch of Penn State University.
And tending to the yard is a labor of love. “We spend a lot of time outside; working on the yard is never work, it’s an enjoyment,” she says, adding that uninterrupted gardening time is a little slice of heaven.
Romboski likes the casual-elegant, no-fuss look. And even though they have achieved that look, they do have to go out and maintain the garden regularly. Nonetheless, she describes it as a low-maintenance garden.
The couple aimed to have the entire outdoor space wrap around the house like a hug, to produce the feeling of being surrounded by the garden. Elements of the garden do indeed encircle the entire home, such as benches placed around the sides, which serve as extra seating when they host parties and gatherings, and walkways joining the front and back yards.
Two large columns on the front porch, with additional seating, complete the flow.
The couple likes to open their home to family and friends, with many meals served outdoors as weather permits. The back yard has two seating areas for guests: an eating area, complete with a wrought iron dining room table for eight, as well as a casual place to relax in soft, cozy chairs that complement the furniture in the other space. Both areas sit underneath pergolas; the pergola over the seating area is open, producing dappled shade.
Outdoor living is important to the Romboskis as is connecting the indoors and outdoors. “We feel like our outdoor space is an outdoor room,” Rose says. Plus, the many windows in the back of the house overlook the garden. “I feel like it’s always here with us, even if we’re not outside,” she adds.
A particularly alluring feature of the space is the 100-foot long retaining wall, constructed of Pennsylvania fieldstone boulders, that extends the width of the back yard; centered in the retaining wall is a 25-foot long cascading waterfall, which Rose refers to as a “Zen” spot in the yard.
“We love the sound of running water.” Water plays prominently elsewhere in the yard as visitors are greeted with a fountain just adjacent to the arbor, making it a welcoming entry point.
The fourth element, fire, is represented by the outdoor wood-burning fireplace, which helps to make the space one that can be enjoyed three seasons of the year.
Not only can the outdoor space be used most of the year, there is always something in bloom all four seasons. The couple purposely chose plants and trees that are native to the area as it was important to them that the plants would do well in the western Pennsylvania climate, as well as ensuring the benefit to the wildlife.
In addition to the perennials garden, which sits above the retaining wall, Rose trained an espaliered apple tree near the front, a low-maintenance means of growing fruit on a wall. Espalier is the French term for something that grows vertically. Two peach trees sit majestically in the back yard, along with sweet bay magnolias, several varieties of maple trees, and a few varieties of cherry trees. The Japanese Stewartia, while not native, has beautiful flowers that bloom in the summer, and in the fall, its bark starts to peel, exposing a colorful surface.
A shed sits on the upper tier of the back yard on a grassy area, reachable by a set of stone steps. To create a fairy tale effect, she placed a small table and chairs just outside the shed. “I thought it would be a nice spot for afternoon tea.”
The couple added both up-lighting and lowlighting to illuminate the entire landscape design. Rose says one of the best things about gardening is the sharing of plants amongst friends. As a member of the Southern Butler County Garden Club, I’m surrounded by people who love their gardens as much as I do. It’s fun to trade perennials with each other; this helps tie memories of people and places to the plants in the garden and makes it really personal,” she says. “It makes me happy, and if it makes other people happy, it’s a bonus.”
Resources: Builder, retaining wall and pergola: Wayne J. Henchar Custom Construction; Landscape designer: Rose Romboski; Furniture: Hanamint, The Fireplace & Patioplace; Retaining wall stone supplier: Raducz Stone Corporation; Pondless waterfall: Nature’s Reflection; Fountain, statuary and annuals: Sewickley Creek Greenhouse; Trees and shrubs: Pride Nursery; Lake Forest Gardens; Quality Gardens