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Putting history in backyard

Jane and Jeffrey Evans find inspiration for their Lower Makefield home in Williamsburg, Va.

A pond with a waterfall, designed by Pondworks of Pottstown are in the Evans' yard in Lower Makefield. (Ron Tarver / Staff Photographer)
A pond with a waterfall, designed by Pondworks of Pottstown are in the Evans' yard in Lower Makefield. (Ron Tarver / Staff Photographer)Read more

Some couples like to globe-trot. For Jane and Jeffrey Evans, home is where they like to be. Working on their house has become a hobby.

There is one destination they travel to once or twice a year, however; one they never tire of and one that has served as inspiration for their 25-year-old house both inside and out: Williamsburg, Va. When they visit, the couple rise early to walk the cobblestone streets and admire the architecture, the history and the plantings.

They get up early at home in Lower Makefield, too. On warmer days, it's for coffee in the backyard at 4:30 a.m., before Jeffrey Evans catches a commuter train to Manhattan. Artful lighting there accents three sheds, a gazebo, and a formal knot garden, all designs borrowed from their travels to the colonial-era town.

The outbuildings were added last summer by Matt Montgomery, of Montgomery-Woodworth Builders in Yardley. He has been working with the Evanses for 20 years, crafting cabinetry, libraries, and woodwork that looks like the details in Williamsburg homes.

"He helped make my dreams come true," Jane Evans says.

In 1985, the Evanses bought their development house, built near the open spaces and farmland of Lower Makefield, as a place to raise their daughter.

It was the best of both worlds: Jeffrey Evans had grown up on a 32-acre farm with a historic house in Upper Makefield, helping the farm hands with the chores; Jane grew up in Brooklyn but spent entire summers at her grandparents' home in Smithtown, Long Island, enjoying flowers and picking berries.

When the couple moved in, the back of their lot was stark and flat. Jane's father brought two coffee cans filled with seedlings from Long Island. Those silver maples now tower over the yard.

Fifteen years ago, the Evanses planted oaks and maples toward the rear of the yard and, to enclose it, brought a bulldozer in to carry stones for construction of a back wall that runs the width of the one-acre property. The plan was to create levels and outdoor rooms.

On one side, they planted a mini-orchard of crabapple trees, inspired by the allée of cherry trees known as "the great white way" in the classic Avonlea children's books

In 2000, Pondworks in Pottstown put in a free-form pond and waterfall that blends in with the landscape. Ponds on the Rocks in Buckingham recently added to the design - the Evanses now host bullfrogs, goldfish, and the occasional heron swooping in looking for breakfast.

Eighteen months ago, Jane Evans sat down with Montgomery once again, to talk about creating outbuildings. She showed him a book of Williamsburg homes and gardens. "We also took pictures of the details we saw in all of the historic buildings there," she says.

Montgomery says he "recombined the old look with new technology" - using fiber-cement siding that looks like clapboard but is maintenance- free, a composite material for the gazebo's handrails and the main shed's shutters that will not rot, and a fiberglass door.

"We used cedar shakes for the building's roofs, brick like you find in Williamsburg for the floor of the gazebo and for the belt course, and stone veneer for the coal shed [which looks like an old springhouse]," says Montgomery.

He fashioned the intricate design of the gazebo's railings and the tulip design of the fence that surrounds the formal knot garden. The Evanses found period-appropriate hardware at Finkel's in Lambertville: rosehead nails, hinges, shutter dogs, even a ball and chain to keep the fence gate from blowing open.

The gazebo features a pineapple chandelier with candles, for a place where the family can sit and dine.

Jane Evans wanted the knot garden in front of the main 18-foot shed. She admired the landscape lighting of Barry Martin, of Keystone Landscape Contractors in Doylestown, in a magazine.

Martin's landscape designer, Sharon Shaw, researched and then sketched out a square formal garden that features raised beds of roses, boxwoods, and lavender enclosed by a wooden fence.

"We worked through several concepts until agreeing upon a design that was both historically appropriate and functional for the site," says Shaw. "We used bluestone treads to create the raised beds and brick to outline the pathways. Both are classic materials, but the crushed oyster shell traditionally used for the pathway was not practical in this situation."

Instead, Shaw and Martin used white marble gravel to replicate the effect. A giant black urn sits in the middle of the square, filled with flowers.

"Many of our projects are designed for older homes, and we strive to complement the historic architecture, but this is the first time we've adhered to a Williamsburg re-creation," Martin says.

The result is a lovely, dramatic light cast over trees, outbuildings, and pond in the evening.

"We love being here," says Jane Evans. "Williamsburg and Bucks County have such a sense of history, and we have tried to transfer some of that here in the gardens and the architecture."

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