As an owner of Dennis’ 7 Dees, Dave Snodgrass takes great pride in his company, and his passion for landscaping and plants is unmatched. A few years ago, he went through the process of creating his own dream home and outdoor space.
It began with his first dream house, which was built about 20 years earlier. After attempting to remodel, him and his wife Pam decided it would be best to start over. They thought about relocating to a waterfront property elsewhere with great views, but quickly realized they could just create that on their current property, and they are so thrilled that they did. As a landscape contractor, Dave had all the resources at hand, and with the help of the talented team at Dennis’ 7 Dees, he was able to create Dream Home #2 with the ultimate landscape design. Here is an inspiring interview with Dave as he discusses the extensive landscaping process, his favorite elements, and much more.
What was your first idea for your landscape and what was the most important part to you?
First and foremost was the water. The freeway is probably a good half a mile away, but you can still hear the buzz of the tires. Especially when it’s raining, it amplifies it—it’s amazing how noise travels. So, the sound of water drowns that out and provides a relaxing, calming sound. It completely replaces the highway noise.
I’ve always looked closely at water in nature, and every time I see a stream or waterfall, I think, “look at the movement, look at how nature created that.” There are some exciting flows and some slow flows, but each one is different. That’s what I wanted to do—create nature, man-made, but get as close to nature as I possibly could, and I think that’s always a challenge with water features. You’ll never reproduce nature, but you can get really close.
I love central Oregon and I kayak in Sparks Lake. That’s what inspired the water, the swimming pool. The rocks come right down to and into the water, and it’s clear enough to see the rocks through the water—it just frames certain aspects of Sparks Lake. It’s just amazing. It was about big boulders touching the water and going into the water.
I would probably call Eamonn Hughes the best in the industry. He’s a generous guy; he likes to teach the industry what he knows. So, it was a collaborative effort. It was my vision, my design, the concepts that I wanted. I wanted a spillover or weir so the pool looks more like a lake that you can swim in—not a “swimming pool.”
In Hawaii, I’ve seen this attempted or something like it, and I always wanted to figure out how to recreate it. I draw from different things I’ve seen, and I wanted to incorporate all of those things into a dream project that was really natural looking. So, we created the weir with big boulders. We didn’t go small, we went huge—these are some 8 to 10-ton boulders, so we had to heavy crane them in. That was kind of a learning experience because that crane was so heavy it was breaking irrigation pipes.
Was water the first thing to go in and then you worked around that?
It was all designed around the water—there’s water all over the place. There’s water that goes from the pool to a beach entry and under a bridge. There’s the illusion of connection between the pool and a stream. The two can’t actually connect because I have fish in the stream, so there’s a hidden separation under the bridge. The pool water recirculates and the stream water has its own pumps; it’s a separate system that looks like one.
I always liked glass floors where water runs through the house. Frank Lloyd Wright did that, where water actually came from the outside to the inside and then flowed through. My water doesn’t come into the house, but it goes under a glass floor so you can see the stream, and then it flows into a pond with koi fish. It’s lined with rocks and the movement of the water over the rocks is just so carefully crafted. It’s an amazing movement of water. Even to the untrained eye, it’s special.
So, there’s water that flows under the house into a pool as you enter. There are two ponds in a courtyard that you walk over—the water goes under the walkway and spills down, a little more intimate, and I put koi in both of those ponds. I’ve found that fish are great pets; they’re something exciting that you can look at.
So, the water was the main piece—it’s the connecting feature of everything in the landscape.
I’m also a plant enthusiast. So, the selection of plants could not be ordinary. I’m always looking through our own Garden Centers for something new or different; something that I don’t know or something with unusual characteristics. So, the landscape is like an arboretum of plants—people in the industry ask all the time to walk through the yard so they can see how certain plants grow.
When you’re buying plants, you see them when they’re young, but you really don’t know what space they are going to take up and how they’re going to look when they grow. So, the arboretum for plant enthusiasts is also a major element to this landscaping.
Everybody is always looking for rare plants. It’s a learning thing. There are over 500 different plant and tree varieties in the landscape, including a lot of evergreen since there’s a pool. You don’t want leaves in the pool, so there were some things that needed to be considered and worked around. So, I mainly have conifers… I’ve got deciduous too, but they’re placed so they’re not going to put too many leaves in the water.
Do you have a favorite plant?
I have so many favorites, because you can’t be a plant enthusiast and just have one… you just can’t do that.
Chief Joseph Pine is amazing; it turns from green to gold. It’s an unusual plant. And then there’s the Skyline Spruce which is also green and graced with golds at certain times of the year, and it doesn’t take up a lot of space. That’s what I had to pay attention to, too. I wanted all these plants, but I didn’t want maintenance. I didn’t want them to crowd out each other, so I had to pay attention to growth habit.
In this project, I was the client and it was fun to switch roles. I went through all of the processes that we take a client through. If I were a landscape designer for someone else, I would want to spend time in the space before landscaping. You have to figure out how you’re going to use the property and create spaces to accommodate that so it’s functional.
Since it was a 3-year process, I had time to really think about how I would use the yard, where the focal point features would be, and what I needed to screen out and how. I wanted privacy in the backyard so nobody could see in, but I had limited space, so I had to pick the right plants for screening. There were a lot of things that needed to be thought through and designed around.
That’s exactly what our sales people do with a customer to serve them as best we can—ask questions, find out how they’re going to use their space, and give them a questionnaire so they can think through some of these things ahead of time. Then we can guide them through that process and, in the end, we end up with something that people enjoy forever because it’s so thoughtfully done. This project was very thoughtfully done.
So, I’ve got the privacy screening around the pool. I’ve got no leaves to speak of. I’ve got a garden space in full sun. I’ve got a fire pit in a secret garden. It’s not like one big open space of lawn. It’s got different “secret garden” kinds of spaces.
What part of the landscape do you find yourself in most these days? Or do you bounce around to the different spaces that you’ve created?
In the gardening season, I’m in the garden. All the time. I get a lot of pleasure out of growing my own food and harvesting and sharing it with other people. It’s just fun to go out there and pick fresh veggies. There’s nothing better than fresh tomatoes from your garden, fresh corn picked that day, and cooked. We support our annual Dennis’ 7 Dees Tomato Tasting event with 100 different varieties of tomatoes, so it’s also a learning garden.
I also enjoy just sitting around the pool because there’s so much motion and movement. It’s a great place to have a happy hour or invite guests over. As I did the project, the primary spot in the landscaping was the pool. Then the entry in the front of the house was critical, so it followed in order of importance… it’s what everybody sees. The garden area—critical, because I’m always out there and there’s a lot of edibles.
It’s a big project. It’s an acre and a half and it took a lot of energy to do all of it right. And I always just kind of thought, well, there’s a piece I’m going to compromise. I’ll do everything else right and then this is the part that doesn’t get used or seen—it’s kind of the backside. I always thought in the back of my mind that I would just let it go, but then I had everything else looking good, I got a new energy, and I decided, okay, no, I’m not going to have a compromised piece of this landscape.
I’m a golfer. And so, I decided to add a putting green. It had to be a big one and it had to look like real lawn because it butted right up against the real lawn. And what I found was that it ended up being my favorite place of all. When you take artificial grass down to the edge of the riverbed, you can cut around and go through rocks as if it’s a finished lawn all the way. You could not do that if it were real grass, because it would be a maintenance nightmare.
So, it worked out even better than you could have expected?
Better than I ever expected. It’s no maintenance and you’ve got the incredible natural look of grass through the rocks and it connects to what’s kind of the fringe where it’s a little bit taller. Then you’ve got the low-cut golf putting green with all the undulations, so you can have a 40-foot putt. You have to have a long putt, flat areas, and slope areas, and then I landscaped around it. It was kind of like a different theme. It was a little bit like Arizona—I had some weeping spruce, some variegated yuccas, and just a different mix of plants.
It ended up being, in itself, a secret garden. And I just love the plants I chose. I love the lawn coming to the water and the putting green. I don’t use it as much as I should, but I love it. It’s no maintenance. It ended up being the perfect setting, the perfect solution. It ended up being the most exciting part of the whole project for me.
Do you also enjoy spending time in your landscape at night with the outdoor lighting?
It’s a completely different landscape at night. I’ve got lights in the pool and lights surrounding it. In the summertime on warm nights, it’s like I get two landscapes out of one. It’s so different—you get shadows, you get highlights. You don’t see the plants, you see the effects of the lighting. I’ve got lighting in the water too so you can see under the water and watch the fish at night. I’ve got windows on the inside all around the pool in the courtyard. My cat just sits in the window. She likes watching the fish because the water comes right up to the window, so the fish swim right up.
Even when you’re inside your house, it’s like you’re outside?
Well, that’s another main concept that was very important… the connection between indoor and outdoor living space. It’s inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, which means that you create space where you bring the inside out and the outside in… lots of windows.
I’ve got the same boulders in the landscaping as I do in my bathroom and in my entry, the same rock on certain walls on the inside that are on the outside, and I’ve got a big covered area with skylights that’s naturally lit during the day—when you look out the window, it’s just like an extension of the room. All the doors in the main area are telescopic, so you can open the whole house and it can be a great big room. There’s a huge stone fireplace and I have automatic blinds that come down for protection from wind or cold. I’ve got heaters on top and heated floors in the outdoor space.
On our first family Christmas there, it wasn’t even finished. It was just concrete in this 1500 square-foot space. On the outdoor porch, I didn’t have the heated floor yet. I only had the fireplace and overhead heat lamps. Luckily, it wasn’t that cold, the wind was minimal, the sun shined a little bit, and we were able to have Christmas in December in Oregon outside comfortably for everybody to enjoy. It was after that that I go, “whoa, that was really good, but I can improve on that,” and that’s why the blinds and in-floor heat were added, so that you could be absolutely comfortable in any conditions.
The house was also designed on an access point from the road. From the portico, you can see all the way through the house, all the way to the fireplace to that outdoor patio.
Is there anything else that you feel I’m missing about your landscape?
There’s so much philosophy about landscaping tied into this project, so I think that is unique and makes it special. It’s a reflection of our company in a single project. It is meaningful. How does our business operate? What are our principles? Where are our ethics? Are we committed to being the best of the best or just being a business? There are a lot of businesses out there that just work for the money, and I think this project is an example of who we truly are. There is no difference between this project and the beliefs of how landscaping should be done—making sure everybody has their best foot forward and encouraging them all to learn and to pay attention.
You look at the water features that we do—they’re really quite incredible. I guess that it also shows the skill and talent here because we mixed our crews in there and they did it. Corey Verch gets a ton of credit—he managed the whole process.
I may have had the vision and I may have selected the plants, but they paid attention. It was a very collaborative effort.
At the NALP awards, my landscape was entered for the national awards, and it showed so well. The judges came up afterward and said they’ve never had a more unanimous vote for a project, and the takeaway from that is our peers recognize what we’re capable of achieving. It is fulfilling. It’s great. We can show pictures and say we do great work, but to have the industry recognize and substantiate the level at which our company operates, especially in relation to all companies across the country… it’s like, you know, we are one of the best of the best.