Project Profile: Ashby Ponds Retirement Community

Location: Ashburn, VA

Project Scope: Maintenance of 21 acres of turf, 4 miles of walkways, three ponds, 2.5 acres of perennial and shrub beds, 750+ trees, pots, building entrances, roadways, parking and common grounds, as well as performing integrated pest management and irrigation management.

Maintained By: Gainesville, VA Landscape Management Branch

Industry Awards Won: National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) 2018 Silver Award & Landscape Contractors Association (LCA) 2018 Distinction Award

Site Description: Situated in the heart of Northern Virginia, Ashby Ponds is Loudoun County’s premier continuing care retirement community. The scenic 132-acre campus was designed to be the perfect place to enjoy an active, independent retirement. A meandering walking path around the campus encourages residents and visitors to enjoy the naturalized landscape and three ponds which give the property its name. The landscape frames the site’s many amenities, which include eight restaurants, a pool, theater, medical center, bocce court, putting green, and more. A variety of landscape features provide year-round visual interest for residents, blending a harmony of aesthetics, functionality and peaceful respite.

Challenges & Solutions:  The sheer size of the 132-acre site and the ongoing construction pose a challenge. The existing property was built in two phases, with a third phase currently underway. Construction guidelines designed to prevent soil compaction—loosening existing soil, installing new compost, etc.—were not followed as strictly during phase two as in phase one, so the soil quality in the second neighborhood was poor when it was turned over to the landscape maintenance contractor. To address compaction issues, the contractor performs turf renovations every fall to include core aerating, top-dressing with compost, and reseeding with fescue. As construction is completed, buildings are turned over to the landscape maintenance contractor, so the scope of the project is continuously increasing. The site must be kept to high standards, both to attract new residents to this growing community and to keep current residents satisfied and excited about their environment.

The site’s three ponds create a peaceful aesthetic focal point to the property. In addition to maintaining the perennial and herbaceous plant material surrounding the ponds, crews regularly treat algae growth with granular copper sulfate. However, only half of the pond can be treated at a time because as the algae decompose, it can lead to oxygen depletion. Another of the site’s challenges is the large number of perennials on site (thousands of plants spanning nearly 2.5 acres), which require nearly 60% of the crew’s time each week as they weed, prune and deadhead to keep the site looking vibrant.

Photos & Descriptions:

This high-visibility circle in front of the Cardinal Clubhouse is the first area guests see upon entering the neighborhood. It’s immediately evident that Ashby Ponds places a premium on its landscape and the enjoyment it brings its many residents. The Crepe Myrtles are trimmed frequently in the spring after heavy rains to prevent limbs from sagging. During the holiday season, they are uplit with green and red floodlights and wrapped with string lights, flanking a large Christmas tree in the center of the court.

The first of three ponds is visible just to the left of the clubhouse. Shrubs that are closer to walkways are trimmed to be neat and crisp, but in areas closer to the water, they are more naturalized in appearance—creating more of a seamless transition to the pond. Crews monitor and treat for algae growth and maintain herbaceous material in the pond. There are over 300 ornamental grasses surrounding this pond alone, which necessitate excessive cutbacks in winter, often taking two crews an entire day to complete.

Personnel spend a large portion of their time caring for the site’s 21 acres of turf. In addition to the weekly mowing regimen, there is a turf program which includes four fertilizer and weed control treatments a year, plus aeration, topdressing, and overseeding in the fall.

Because residents frequently use the many walkways that traverse the property, landscape personnel pay close attention to the detail work including blowing and edging nearly four miles of curb line and walkways weekly. Crews must also be on top of pruning, shearing, cutbacks, and deadheading to keep hedgerows trim and walkways cleared.

Crews constantly monitor for any potentially damaging insect or disease presence and evaluate the root cause. Personnel aim to be cautious with any fertilizer or insecticide use, applying treatment only as a curative measure (not preventative) to be good stewards of the environment and have as little impact as possible.

All buildings are connected by breezeways so that residents can access the many available amenities year-round. During their twice-weekly maintenance visits, crews typically arrive on site around 7 a.m. to start performing detail work, but do not use machines until after 8 a.m. so as not to disturb residents. While most of the work is performed throughout the morning, the site’s immense size means that crews are usually on site until 5 or 6 p.m.

Bocce ball is a popular sport amongst the residents, with tournaments occurring almost daily in the spring and summer. The landscape contractor installed the court and levels the clay weekly, removing and replacing it annually. To the left is an area designed by the landscape architect which capitalizes on the “marshier” hydrozone close to the pond and provides a welcome naturalized effect for visitors to this area.

Another landscape feature that can be found in multiple areas throughout the property are these dry riverbeds capped with a small bubbler feature. These were installed by the original contractor, but new rocks and plant material were recently installed as an enhancement. Occasional small events are hosted in these courtyards.

By default, ground-floor residence patios are outfitted with basic plantings that landscape personnel mulch and maintain. Residents have the option to customize and maintain their own patio gardens, as seen here. Landscape maintenance personnel frequently field questions from residents about their individual patio plantings and often perform above and beyond services to assist elderly residents in planting and digging in beds around their units.

A resident garden is also available for those who wish to take advantage of it. When necessary, landscape maintenance personnel perform cutbacks and clear or replace mulch and stones.

Gathering areas and building entrances are more high-profile and endure closer scrutiny by residents, who are often vocal with their ideas. Here, a mix of perennials and shrubs outline this patio, while more colorful topicals and annuals provide visual flavor and seasonal interest throughout the growing season.

Near the windows of the Maple Grove extended care building, brightly colored plant varieties, which include impatiens, begonias and caladium, work in concert with purple fountain grass to promote the well-being of the residents looking through the windows.

New plant material was recently installed around the latest of the three ponds, situated in one of the newer developments. Newly installed maple and magnolia trees along the street are fitted with slow-release water bags to ensure thorough hydration and promote growth.

Balancing the needs of the community with the desires of thousands of individual residents is an ongoing challenge on this site. Maintaining this delicate equilibrium enables Ashby Ponds’ residents to enjoy a property that is a visually appealing and relaxing place to enjoy their retirement.