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Standing at the base of a rocky hillside and looking up toward the home and deck above, many words come to mind, including “majestic,” “stunning” and “staggering.” This was precisely the effect Rick Varner, owner of Courtesy Auto Group, had in mind when he began planning the transformation of his backyard.
When Varner first bought his Richfield home, he could stand on his deck and look straight down more than 15 feet. “There was no backyard. Just the ravine,” he says. And though beautiful, the ravine was dangerously steep.
A father of three, Varner wanted a play yard and a swimming pool for his children. “I was told it wasn’t possible to do it,” he says. But Varner and his landscaper, R.B. Stout, were up for a challenge. Varner got the pool—complete with two waterfalls—and the play yard. But what lies between them is truly magnificent.
The ravine has been replaced by a gently descending, multilevel terrace constructed of rough-hewn boulders, artful flower plots and greenery. A flagstone and gravel path leads away from the deck and winds down between rocks and trees. Near the bottom of the hillside, a charming park bench is nestled between two bushes. “You can sit here and watch the kids playing,” Varner says.
The work and planning involved in this transformation are simply mind-blowing. One mistake could cause the hill to collapse or the soil to wash away, so Varner and his landscaper consulted an engineering professor at Kent State University to make certain their ambitious plan—to build an entire hillside—would succeed.
To begin, landscaping crews strategically cleared enough trees to make certain the yard would get plenty of sun. Next, rocks and boulders—some the size of small cars and weighing close to a ton—were brought in from a quarry in Zanesville. Then, they erected a 10-foot wall of rocks, laid drain pipes and backfilled the structure with layers of gravel and soil to fashion a yard below the deck.
This process was repeated several times over, and in seven months, a steep and treacherous wooded ravine was transformed into a sloping hillside. Once construction finished, landscapers plotted out several small garden spaces to decorate the hillside. Flowers, bushes and hostas add splashes of green, pink and yellow.
Varner also planted four dogwoods, pink and white, halfway down the hillside. “I can sit in my kitchen or living room and look out the windows and all I can see is the colors from the tops of those trees,” Varner says.
The hillside landscaping, impressive all by itself, is only part of Varner’s backyard sanctuary. “People see this place and they tell me they can’t believe it’s back here,” he says. And he’s right. From the street, Varner’s home appears to have no backyard at all. This illusion is deliciously shattered when visitors go through the mudroom and out onto the deck. Gasps and gaping jaws are commonplace.
The deck’s wraparound tiers allow multiple views of the trees and hillside out back. Constructed of a durable tropical hardwood, the deck needs no maintenance. Amenities include two covered tables, a large grill for barbecuing and, of course, the luxurious pool. At the far end of the deck, Varner has a hot tub and television. “You can sit in the hot tub and watch the game on TV even if it’s 20 degrees outside,” he says.
Varner’s inspiration for this outdoor living space came partly from the natural land structures surrounding the home. A rock outcropping and stream mark the entrance to the development, and Varner wanted to carry that theme into his home and yard. But some of the inspiration also came “by the seat of our pants,” he says.
Another special feature of this landscaping is how it still flows with the natural features of the land rather than against them. For example, drainage for the hillside comes not from a newly dug ditch but from a natural channel already present on Varner’s property. The yard is open to the woods, and deer frequently stop by to nibble on the hostas. Varner welcomes the deer and replants what they eat. “It’s their land too,” he says.
By working with the natural features of the land, Varner and his landscaper have designed a structure built to last. Constructed in 1999, Varner’s hillside and deck look as amazing now as the day they were built. Peaceful and fragrant with the resin scent of nearby pines, Varner’s landscaped yard is a feat of engineering and a true work of art.