Thursday, August 26, 2010

Project Featured in Maine Home+Design

The site of Winslow Homer's iconic paintings is the setting for a modern Maine summer house. Photo by Thomas Rainer
One of my favorite projects I worked on is featured in this month's Maine Home + Design magazine.  The August 2010 issue features the residential garden located on the rocky coast of southern Maine.  The house is perched atop the craggy cliffs of Prout's Neck, a sleepy penisula that juts into Casco Bay.  It was one of the most stunning sites I've ever worked on.  A ferny hemlock and birch forest opens into a perfectly flat lawn that overlooks dramatic black cliffs that plunge into the Atlantic Ocean.  Indeed, the coastline is so dramatic that Winslow Homer painted some of his most iconic watercolors on this exact site.
Deschampsia caespitosa frames the oceanside lawn.  Photo by Francois Gagne.
The project began five years ago while I was with Oehme, van Sweden & Associates.  Principal Eric Groft set the tone for the project by insisting the garden not be overly fussy.   The house is a Maine summer house, after all, and the garden is meant to capture the spirit of a midsummer retreat.  The local zoning code excluded any impervious surfaces on the ocean side of the property, so that became the place for a small lawn.  Since the lawn borders the dramatic wind-shearn cliffs, we wanted to keep it natural and relaxed, so native grasses such as Panicum and Deschampsia mix with Monarda and Rudbeckias.  The lawn became the obvious place for the client's children to play raquetball or other summer sports. 

A timber frame pergola anchors the wild garden in the front of the house. Pot by Maine based Lunaform.  Photo by Francois Gagne.

Since the ocean side was so simple, the front of the house is where we added a bit of intricacy.  Eric suggested we look at the Beatrix Farrand's palette at Reef Point.  This became the inspiration for the wild garden in the front.  A low stone wall frames the entry garden.  Outside of the wall, we planted blueberry sod purchased from a nearby Maine farmer who was converting part of his fields into pasture.  The sod blends into a riot of deciduous ferns and bunchberry that spreads from a nearby stand of woods.  Inside of the entry garden, a blue and chartreuse themed wild garden teems with delphiniums, iris, goatsbeard, and globe flowers.  A large, timber frame pergola anchors the south side of the garden.  Learning how to design and construct this pergola was a real education for me in the ancient craft of timber-frame construction.  The entire structure is held together without a single nail.   

The entry garden is framed by a low stone wall that holds a Maine style cottage garden. Photo by Thomas Rainer.

The path to the ocean side passes panicle hydrangeas and native Clethra 'Hummingbird'.  Photo by Thomas Rainer.
The other joy of this project was working with local Maine craftsman to adorn the garden.  Maine based Lunaform supplied the large hand-crafted planters that animate the entry garden.  Their collection of rugged but perfectly proportioned pots were ideal for this site.  Maine firm Weatherend supplied one of the curved settee benches, while New Mexico artist Benjamin Forgey created the other bench out of driftwood he collected. 
A gently curving lawn is bordered by native cedars, switchgrass, and black eyed susans.  Photo by Thomas Rainer
It was indeed a rare privilege to work on a site with so much character and to work with such skilled craftsmen.  Designing the details of this project and managing its installation was a great learning experience for me.  Eric Groft's intuitive and gestural approach to designing landscapes--what you feel a site should be--is something that has stayed with me until today.  It's hard for a young designer to learn to trust your gut, to hold on to those first impressions you had when you walked onto the site.  It's especially hard once you throw in all the demands of a project: the client's wishlist, the regulatory constraints, the horticultural requirements . . . all those things start to cloud that original vision.  But the best designers know how to listen to their instincts and simplify.  When I look at photos of the garden, I remember the first quick lines Eric drew on the survey.  Those first gestures were preserved through the design and installation, and it is those lines--those gut-level responses to a powerful site--that hold the garden together today. 


  1. Knowing what size and colour to use to best describe your offerings can be tricky. One thing to always keep in mind is the use of space. People will generally glance over an advertisement to find trigger words if your leaflet is too cluttered.
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  2. yes the instinct to simplify takes courage..some of the best musicians have leave gaps between the notes...

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. I think the design here is brilliant. It invites me in, and has its own character while melding perfecting into the larger landscape. this is what I think of as a beautiful garden... and one that a home gardener could emulate.

    (edited to correct typos)

  5. I love the design and the photographs (my special area of interest being landscape and garden photography, as well as being a designer). This is a garden that will only grow more beautiful over time - and yet it looks as though it has been there forever. Kudos.

  6. Installation was done by Atlantic Landscape & Design, Inc., Scarborough Maine

  7. I think that the original O and VS idea of landscapes was that simplicity of a sweep of one species was soothing to eye, and allowed the view of the house, the sky, etc to be a focal point.

    I like the small intimate area by the pergola and the grass border is certainly lovely. I do wonder about the restricted biodiversity in the other areas. What I find beautiful is a complex community of species and their associated pollinators and other wildlife.

  8. Beauty design. How much you spend money for this home?
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  9. Beautifull, I love the usage of the stone fencing. I gives a real traditional feeling.


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