From the December 2021/January 2022 Issue  

Conversations with Kate: Ground Work

Writer Ren Miller  |  Photographer Tori Sikkema

Lawns, trees, shrubs, flowers, walkways & driveways add a finishing touch

Landscaping and hardscaping play an important role in complementing a home’s exterior, tying it to the surrounding property, protecting it from harsh weather, and adding color and texture for inviting curb appeal. Kate Rumson, the founder and creative director of The Real Houses of Instagram (@the_real_houses_of_ig), shares how she planned the landscaping at the home she is building in central New Jersey, a project that Design NJ has been following in this column.

REN: There’s a whole menu of options when choosing driveway material, including gravel, concrete, asphalt, brick and pavers. Which did you choose?
KATE: I chose pavers because the exterior of our home was inspired by European architecture, and I wanted our driveway to complement that aesthetic. I was looking for pavers that resemble the look of old cobblestone streets in European cities, and when I found the Old York paver by Belgard®, I knew it was exactly what our house needed.

REN: There’s also a range of options for landscaping: formal vs. informal; lush vs. spare but impactful; simple, low-maintenance vs. gardener’s delight. Your choice?
KATE: I was going for clean, simple and low maintenance, but I still wanted our landscaping to look intentional. I’m not very much into gardening, but I didn’t necessarily want to make that obvious to our neighbors, so our landscaping was designed to look put together without requiring a lot of upkeep.

REN: What did you find are the benefits of working with landscape professionals?
KATE: While I know the make and model of almost every faucet on the market, when it comes to landscaping and plants, I knew very little and felt I needed guidance. I worked with Welington Gomez of SJ Pools and Landscaping LLC in Paramus and found it very helpful to rely on someone else’s experience in something that felt very foreign to me. Sure, I can point out plants, shrubs and trees that I think would look nice around my home, but Welington helped me understand how large and how fast every plant would grow, how much maintenance it would require and what kind of challenges I could potentially experience in the future.

REN: What plants and trees did you choose and why?
KATE: I love all of the architectural details of our exterior and didn’t want to block them with tall trees and bushes so we went for smaller, slow-growing plants in front of the house. We planted boxwoods along the perimeter of the foundation, added some Wine & Roses® weigela in the middle of the main flower bed for a pop of color and planted a beautiful cascading ‘Ryusen’ Japanese maple tree at the beginning of the walkway. On the right side of the house, we planted a 7-foot paperbark maple and a 12-foot red chokecherry to add a little bit of height and color to our landscaping.

I really wanted to plant white hydrangeas but our area has a lot of deer, so Welington advised me against that idea.

My absolute favorite thing about our newly finished landscaping (and the entire house really) is the pair of topiary sculptures of our cats Sophie and Luna. Stone House Nursery in Wyckoff found us the most adorable little cat topiaries that created a very special botanical moment near the portico and instantly made our new house feel like home.

Kate Rumson (top right) wanted the landscape at her new home to be attractive but low maintenance. Her favorite element (center) is a pair of topiaries of her cats Sophie and Luna trimmed in festive red ribbons.

REN: Seed or sod? Which did you choose for your lawn, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of both?
KATE: We decided to seed simply because we had time to let the grass grow naturally as we were still finishing the house on the inside and weren’t planning to move in for a few months after our landscaping was done. The biggest benefit of sod is that you can have a beautiful green lawn in one day, but it’s significantly more expensive compared with seeding and waiting for grass to grow naturally. Because timing wasn’t important to us, I thought it was a good idea to save a little bit of money. Plus I just love seeing fresh baby grass turn into a beautiful green lawn in a matter of weeks … there’s something very special and symbolic about it. I didn’t want to miss out on that experience with our new home.