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Natural Awakenings Westchester / Putnam / Dutchess New York

Reflections of Nature: Creating Tranquility in Local Landscapes

We’ve all driven by houses and been impressed with the impeccable landscaping. We’ve admired our neighbor’s perfectly trimmed hedges, weed-free flower beds and green lush grass but most of us wouldn’t use words like “magical” and “sanctuary” to describe these yards. Imagine stepping into your neighbor’s backyard and entering an outdoor space that appears to be custom made by mother nature to induce a sense of calm and wonder. This is what Michael Gulbrandsen, owner of Reflections of Nature, designs for his clients.

“We create all kinds of gardens,” says Gulbrandsen. “Whatever the activity the homeowner is looking to embrace, we will create a landscape for it. If you can dream it, we can build it.” His custom garden creations include wedding chuppah gardens, medicine wheel gardens, rock gardens, waterfalls, woodland and shade gardens, feng shui and zen gardens, country cottage gardens, courtyards with rock walls, and patios. The team at Reflections of Nature has extensive training in wetland construction and erosion control and are prepared to take on just about any garden-related project.

One-of-a-Kind Outdoor Spaces

One of Gulbrandsen’s specialties is tranquility gardens. Enclosed by a fence made of weaved branches or plants that hide the space, these unique gardens have only one entrance. Moss

Natural weaved branch entrance arbor
Natural weaved branch entrance arbor
covered stumps and logs are used to create a sense of enchantment and many tranquility gardens include a pathway leading to a water feature, perfect for reflection. “We have created these gardens small enough to fit under an apple tree and large enough to contain vegetable gardens where homeowners can enjoy their food on a naturally milled table under a wisteria-covered arbor,” explains Gulbrandsen.

The team at Reflections of Nature has created many spectacular, one-of-a-kind garden spaces but two stand out as Gulbrandsen’s favorites. The first was a mystic garden project the team completed in LaGrange. He describes it, “The concept of this place was to create a secret garden of mystery with raised planters, a reflecting pool and a meditation area, something a person might accidentally stumble upon deep in the woods.” The team used their 100-year impression concept, making sure the placement of every stone, plant, water feature and structure of the garden looked like it has been there for 100 years. “We took an open area and created an enchanted forest with streams, waterfalls, stepping stone paths through ponds, ancient stone planters, furniture carved from an old oak tree and weaved wooden fencing,” says Gulbrandsen. “There is a gathering area where a fire pit sits with chairs and log end tables for socializing with friends.”

Another memorable project that Reflections of Nature completed involved a special tree. “In a space no bigger than 15 by 15 feet, I found an old apple tree in a client’s yard,” Gulbrandsen recalls. “Under its canopy was the perfect place to create a tranquility garden. We installed a small pea gravel path from the outside of the canopy to the trunk of the tree and lined it with moss-covered logs. We then built a pond-less waterfall that flows from the outer edge of the canopy towards the gravel patio.” The crew added lighting in the water and up in the tree to create the illusion of moonlight falling on the water and used shade perennials and shrubs to provide a lush green space with different colors and textures. “The homeowner sits in the center of the space with the sights and sounds of the waterfall and forgets that they are only one block away from the center of the hustle and bustle of the City of Poughkeepsie,” adds Gulbrandsen.

Getting more from the Garden

Tranquility Garden under apple tree
Tranquility Garden under apple tree
With more than 20 years of experience designing and building landscapes, Gulbrandsen noticed that his clients wanted more than the typical landscaping from their outdoor spaces. “They wanted a space where they could meditate next to a quiet brook, a space that would embrace them, keep them safe and be a sanctuary from the crazy world around them,” he says.

As Gulbrandsen began to work on more and more new homes, he decided to take advantage of the supplies already in the yards. He explains, “I would visit a site and there would be a pile of down trees—wood that most likely was going to be buried in the ground—so I would build landscapes with this wood. I decided to return back to a time when we only cut down what we could use and didn’t waste supplies.” Gulbrandsen uses this wood to create benches, arbors, tables, trellis and fencing and incorporates his creations into the homeowner’s project.

Personalizing the Project

“We believe that your landscape should be representative of you and the architecture of your home,” says

Gulbrandsen donated arbors and indoor tranquility garden to MAYfest last year
Gulbrandsen donated arbors and indoor tranquility garden to MAYfest last year
Gulbrandsen, who prides himself on his ability to get the client involved in the project. “I always tell people my vision of the property but at the end of the day, it is their property and they come home to it every day so it should be something they like.”

To get to know his clients, Gulbrandsen pays attention when he visits their homes. “I like to see how my clients decorate their homes,” he explains. “Formal furniture usually means they are into symmetrical balance and spaced-out plantings. If I see a Monet painting on the wall, they are more likely looking for a design that is free flowing.” Gulbrandsen then walks the property with clients, discussing their ideas and incorporating them into the design. “Our job is to take the ideas, concepts and feelings that are in the clients’ heads and put them down on paper in a design that makes them feel like they helped to create it.”

Once a project is finished, the team puts together a maintenance plan to care for the plants that includes opening and closing the gardens and periodic maintenance needs. This helps to make sure that homeowners can enjoy their outdoor space for years to come.

Based in Poughkeepsie, Reflections of Nature services Dutchess, Westchester, Putnam and Southern Columbia Counties in New York, as well as Western Fairfield county in Connecticut. For more information, call 845.4897250 or visit