Category Archives: Design

Planning Your Outdoor Space

Intentionally developing your outdoor space is an excellent way to improve the quality of your home and your life. But similar to renovating an interior area of your home, remaking your lawn and garden is not (always) without its challenges. Incomplete planning can end up exceeding your budget, or worse, leave you feeling unsatisfied with the end result. Our designers can work with you to help create an outdoor space that fits your budget and style, and here are a few things to get you started.

What kind of outdoor space do you want?

This may seem like a simple question, but with so many choices available in outdoor design, it’s worth really taking some time to envision what you hope your space becomes. Do you want an outdoor living room where you can relax with your friends and family? Or do you visualize an outdoor dining room and kitchen? Perhaps you’re less concerned with having space to entertain and drawn more to the idea of having a robust garden, featuring a wide assortment of plant life? Any of these options (or a combination thereof) can be achieved, but having a sense of how you want the space to function will drive how your space gets laid out.

What challenges are unique to your space?

Your outdoor area probably has positive qualities as well as problems to solve. Just like planning your kitchen or vacation, it is important to think through all of the considerations. Is your space limited in size, hence requires clever planning? Too much sun, shade, or wind? Do you have standing water after it rains? Are you in close proximity to your neighbors and therefore need to keep them in mind when you plan your design? It’s important to know what may be potential problems as you begin so, if needed, creative measures can be taken to solve them. For example, you’re not likely to want to place furniture in an area where it bakes in the sun all day. Or if your space is particularly windy, you’ll want plants that are resistant to the damage it can cause. Being mindful of your unique circumstances will ensure a smoother process.  

How much time and energy do you have for maintenance?

Just as the inside of your home needs routine care and maintenance, so too will your outdoor space. Are you someone who enjoys spending time caring for plants every weekend, or do you need more of a “hands-off” garden? Does the idea of having to winterize an outdoor kitchen stress you out? Are you comfortable with the thought of employing a fine gardening team keep your property looking great so all you have to do is enjoy? Having realistic expectations of your time and interest level can help guarantee that your yard and garden do not end up becoming an irritating presence in your life.


How much money do you want to spend?

Nobody likes to think about the expense that comes with home-improvement projects. In reality, though, projects cost money and most of us don’t know what to expect. Our designers can help demystify the costs of many well-loved outdoor features like a patio, walkway, lawn, etc. You may be surprised to learn how much it cost to install the outdoor kitchen you had hoped for, or, on the contrary, you may be surprised to find furniture that is quite affordable. We find that thinking about developing and installing functional and beautiful outdoor space is much like the investment you would make inside the house.  The costs can be similar. Make sure you know what your priorities are, as well as what you can do without (for the time being, at least), and adjust your budget accordingly.

Fortunately, when it comes to designing your outdoor space, there are plenty of ways to be flexible and creative. Feel free to call us when you’re ready to begin; we can’t wait to work with you!


A Design for All Times

Contributed by Curtis Hawley

“I have all my life been considering distant effects and always sacrificing immediate success and applause to that of the future.”  Frederick Law Olmsted

A Clearing in the DistanceEarlier this year, I had the good fortune of running into a great read, A Clearing in the Distance: Frederick Law Olmsted and America in the Nineteenth Century by Witold Rybczynski. Being new to the horticultural field, I’ve been exposed to a lot of new and exciting things, and while working in and around Greater Boston, one can’t go too long without seeing the name Olmsted. A colleague enlightened me to the fact that Frederick Law Olmsted designed not only Boston’s Emerald Necklace, but also New York City’s Central Park. I immediately thought, “That’s quite an accomplishment!”, but what was more impressive is that those accomplishments turned out to be just a small part of quite a varied and accomplished career.

I think we all have a tendency to examine our own lives when we read about another’s life. Like me, I appreciated that Olmsted took his time early on in his career to feel out exactly what his passions and interests were. By taking his time, I mean he traveled the world, started a farm, explored the master gardens of Europe, authored nationwide publications and literature, was a strong voice against slavery and was the precursor to the American Red Cross during the Civil War, amongst other achievements.Emerald Necklace

For me, one of the biggest takeaways from his life and career was his propensity for long term planning. This skill exemplified his intelligence but much more so his immense generosity. To plan something so lasting as the Buffalo, New York Park System or The Biltmore Estate is a deliberate gift to future generations, one that he knowingly wouldn’t be able to fully appreciate in his own time. Imagine a painter or musician crafting a fresco or ballad but never being able to see it or listen to it? What vision indeed!

Visiting and working in our client’s gardens is a truly great opportunity and one that I genuinely enjoy. Installing new additions to a garden, pruning and shaping an ornamental tree, or even just editing a garden bed can have quite the long term impact on a garden. Seeing now that I have the ability to leave a more lasting impression than I might have initially realized only further enhances that experience.

What Inspires a Gardener?

Contributed by Christie Dustman

One of the hardest “titles” to call myself is an Artist.  I struggle to feel like what I do is creative enough, interesting enough, hard enough or just plain “artistic.” I hold artistry as the pinnacle of talents, along with diplomacy and social grace. Sometimes I say things like, “Oh, anyone could do this,” when speaking about my design work and encounter looks of disbelief.

I found myself on the other side of this experience two weeks ago when I led a group of 120 avid gardeners, members of the American Conifer Society, across Southwestern New Hampshire and Southeastern Vermont to tour four personal gardens. Each garden was unique; it was clear that each of the owners poured their personal inspiration and artistry into their beautiful properties, and each of them was so modest about what they had created.

It is this inability of the Artist to see their creations objectively that is so curious to me.  Perhaps when a garden grows out of love of plants, love of land, and love of combining the land, plants, stones, water and wood, that it feels more like a fulfillment of a deep need rather than an artistic endeavor. For each of these spectacular gardens, the gardeners who created them made them because they had to—they needed to—and they were so grateful to be appreciated by the wondrous eyes of us, the visitors. Perhaps we allowed them to see themselves as artists for a moment.

Enjoy these photos of the gardens…

Grout Hill Farm is a 300-acre property of farm land and gardens which owners Kris Fenderson & Alston Barrett have cultivated for forty-five years.

The barn at Grout Hill Farm

                         The Barn at Grout Hill Farm

Owned by Michael and Kathy Nerrie, the mission of Distant Hills Garden is to connect people to the natural world by opening their 58 acres of gardens, forest, fields and wetlands, including a floating ‘fens’ Cranberry Bog, to the public each month.

Water feature at Distant Hills Farm

                   Water feature at Distant Hills Farm

Inspired Garden, the private garden of Marc Hudson, garden designer and owner of a specialty nursery by the same name, was started by his father. The newer areas of the garden boast richly planted garden beds, a waterfall and a parterre garden.

Inspired Garden

                    Marc Hudson’s “Inspired Garden”

Woodland Farms, Susan and Rick Richter’s gardens-in-progress have been evolving for ten years around an oak-and-stone dwelling built to suggest a medieval Anglo-Norman house on 300 acres in Vermont. Exquisitely detailed gardens, buildings and stone complete the design of this small manor farm.

Woodland Farms

             Stone work by Dan Snow at Woodland Farms

Adding Autumn Splash to Your Home

Contributed by Tim Wholey

2015-8-26 Tim gardenglove fall-containers-45-300x187Every year around this time we send kids back to school, dodge increased traffic and get the feel of shorter days, cooler nights, and hints of the crisp scents of autumn. Our gardens and seasonal containers also start showing their age but that’s no reason to despair. Fall offers a whole other season to enjoy some of our favorite fall flowers and plants in our beds or spicing up containers. We can steer toward the traditional seasonal choices of golds, reds, yellows and oranges that are sure to warm us up, or cooler colors in blues, whites & purples too if that is our thing.

Some favorite annuals include, as you’d expect, asters, mums, pansies & marigolds. But don’t stop with flowering plants. Adding ornamental grasses, peppers, kale, cabbage & millet adds texture and seasonal interest. Vegetables are not just for cooking anymore! We can also use perennials in containers that do double duty – just pop them into the ground before the first major frost and enjoy them next spring and summer. Heuchera, Euphorbia x martini, Sedums, Lavender and Sage are some great choices. We like the multitude of unusual gourds, colorful pumpkins and Indian corn that becomes available as well!

2015-8-26 Turbaned-Squashes-rd1So just like you buy the kids their school clothes, consider sprucing up your seasonal containers. We have 3 months of Fall ahead of us. Give us a call or email:

Flea Market Finds … One person’s junk is another person’s garden treasure!

2015-7-16 Blue Torpedo croppedContributed by Brian McGinn

One Sunday every spring and one every fall brings a large outdoor Antique Flea Market to my local fairground. It boasts a very diverse group of vendors with a very diverse collection of antiques but more realistically they are selling junk. I am defining junk as:

Something you do not need. Something covered in rust. Something missing pieces or just pieces of something. Something broken/no longer in working condition. Something of no practical use.

See the picture of a seven foot tall blue WWII torpedo? By definition it is the epitome of junk…but to me it is beautiful and curious and sculptural. It is elegant and odd.

2015-7-16 Flea Market Finds moxie smallerWhen it comes to decorating the garden, the question of “usefulness” is the loophole. Does something have to be useful to have aesthetic value? Can the history, wear and patina of an object add interest without function? For me the answer is a celebratory yes! In the way that stone and plants add texture and depth to the garden, collected objects can do the same. The layers in the garden are what give the garden uniqueness and story. What is that? Why is it placed there? What does it mean? To me these are great questions to hear. It says that you have struck a chord, piqued interest and generated thinking. It also gives new life to a castoff. It brings a bit of humor or drama to the space. In some cases it can also bring the spirit of the object’s previous owner into your garden.

Building a garden is about discovery. Making connections to the past and re-use are great creative ways to express you!

P.S. The torpedo was being sold for $400…sadly I had to leave it behind…but it would have looked great with the Blue Spruce in my garden…

On the Rocks

2015-6-3 rock + evergreenContributed by Allan Robinson

For many of us, when we think of the contents of a garden we often think of plants – our favorite perennials, trees or shrubs.  Perhaps an arbor, wall, bench or chair, maybe even a hammock.  Some of us may think of sculptural elements like water, art, gazing balls or a bird bath.  But let’s look at another element that humans have been working with and around since time began:  rock.

From an early perspective, rocks were the byproduct of gardening, moved to the side of the field for easier cultivation.  Think of those iconic fieldstone walls running through the New England woods.  We’ve all come across plenty of rocks, perhaps more than we care to think about.  Just how many times has our planting progress been thwarted by that all too familiar jarring feeling and corresponding metal-on-stone audible clank?  Many of us would be happy to never see another stone in our gardens again!  But I suggest taking another look at stone.

Rocks can be used as sculptural elements in the garden to satisfy a need for form, function or both.  Smaller stones can provide a path to, or edge along, our favorite perennial bed.  Larger rocks can be an enduring four season focal point or act as a seat to catch a moment’s rest.  A jagged rock protruding from the earth creates a sense of drama whereas a rounded stone nestled among ground covers can be soothing and look natural.  Rocks can be the backdrop to show off one of our favorite plants.  Rocks with crags or a depression can collect water and attract wildlife.  And if your “thumb” errs on the brown side rather than green, you’ll never have to worry about watering, killing or overwintering rocks.

Let us help you look at rocks in a positive light!

Can I come play at your house really soon?

11-11-14 container - neuvouMy annuals are fading and my hosta is mushy.  The cold predicted for the end of this week will certainly kill anything freezeable.  Bye bye to summer and fall.

But instead of being sad, I am excited.  In a couple weeks I get to do one of my favorite things:  make Winter and Holiday containers.  Why do I love decorating containers?  Perhaps because it is so immediate and tangible.  Instead of laboring over measurements, making sure I have plants that bloom in spring, summer and fall and look good in winter or is the patio big enough, I get to bring a truck of greens, twigs, pinecones, ribbons, berries and good ‘ol stuff and whip up some magic right then and there.  Filling a container with plant remnants without any worries about sun, shade, water, soil, bunnies or ongoing care is a relief.   Just make it beautiful, for now.  Beautiful with textures and greens for a non-Christmas look – or doing Christmas with ribbons or as I did last year, adding cast off skis for a winter smile.

11-11-14 container - vertical white closeupAct now and get on our calendar for beautiful outdoor winter and holiday decorations.  We do everything to order and with a conversation with you.  Let us put some cheer in your winter season. Check out these photos.


  • We will add all the decoration materials to your existing pots by the front door or bring pots to festoon.
  • We will start on December 1st, the Monday after Thanksgiving.
  • A pair of average outdoor pots (18”) on your front porch = $245 for one pot or $425 for 2 pots.  Let’s discuss window boxes or rope garland.
  • We can hang lights up to 15’ high.
  • I am making a few decorated Wreaths – price point about 200.  Let me know if you want one.  They are very unique.

NEXT STEP:  Email me and I will send you an order form – or talk to you on the phone.

DEADLINE:  Monday November 24th – please let me know by then.

11-11-14 container square container - moss wave 11-11-14 container - vertical white 11-11-14 container - trad Christmas - clay pot11-11-14 container - trad Christmas

A Room with a View

9-4-14 room blog pixIt’s not just a phrase limited to travel destinations or books anymore. And why should it be? We all have indoor windows that seize our attention – like over the kitchen sink or across the dining table. With thoughtful design and intentional plant selection, your view from these indoor windows to the outside can be pleasing and relaxing year round. Maybe without a beach though…

When planning a landscape, it is easy to get overly focused on that front foundation planting or other areas where the public/guests can also see it. What will be planted on either side of the front door, for instance.   But most of us see this view only once or twice per day compared to the inside views that might engage us for an hour or more every day. We call these more compelling views the “primary” view: what you will be looking at most frequently. It might surprise you to figure out where it is at your home. It may also surprise you to see that there isn’t much to look at as of yet since it doesn’t demand public attention.

A primary view could also be a seasonal view from a patio or a deck. In this case, it is still a primary view, holding your attention for a longer length of time, but not a year round focal point. Many people are creating outdoor rooms with furniture and other accoutrements that are snow-filled in winter.   In this situation, your plant selection gracing these views should match the season(s) when you are outside. Maybe a lovely January composition is not going to be appreciated from your lounge chair on the deck.

Once you identify your primary views, put some time and effort into making them special. We are always here to help you create your “Room with a View”.


8-26-14 saw and pegs - CD weldingAs a grown-up who didn’t go to camp in the summers, this summer I found myself surprised to be looking at a list of “what to bring” to sculpture camp. My partner and I went to SNOWFARM, a New England craft program in Western MA. It is where grown-ups can go for a week of intensive craft learning and practicing. We went to learn Welding.

Many of you know about our penchant for rusty stuff and you have seen it perched and studded throughout our garden. Imagine stuffing a Subaru full of rusty junk and then putting your clothes in a separate car just to get out to the place. Two cars for two people. Our hoarding loot was met with oohs and ahhs from our other classmates, I will have you know.

Patti and I learned Stick and Mig welding techniques as well as bending, shaping, grinding and cutting metal. So what does a garden designer make, you wonder. Well, two 7’ tall sculptures using saw blades and gears, and a twirly concoction. I also made a skiing inch worm but that is not for prime time….

What I realized is that I love sculpture in the sense of gardens and objects being 3 dimensional. I want to see shapes and combine shapes in ways that are pleasing to the eye and to viewing from different perspectives. In its more basic form, garden designing is sculpting with different shaped objects.

Enjoy the photos.

8-26-14 welding seeing one8-26-14 saw and pegs - completed 3


Plant-Tag both sidesDo you wish your yard looked like some of your neighbors?  Do you feel like they got the GARDEN HANDBOOK and you were absent that day?  Well, take it from a long time gardener:  getting the right plant for the right place isn’t so easy.  There are so many factors to consider and impulsivity often rules.

So where can you get meaningful plant information?  Google, etc. but more recently I have been looking at the PLANT TAGS on the plants at the nursery.  They actually contain important pieces of information about the plant; and just like a dating website, you want to match the plant’s attributes with your site’s attributes.  Check out these 3 most important data collection points:

HARDINESS ZONE   To start:  Do you know what plant hardiness zone you are in?  Hardiness refers to a plant’s ability to withstand a predicted cold temperature and survive.  The entire USA is divided into Zones based on the lowest temperature typical to that area.  Here in Boston we generally fall into zone 6 which means temperatures can go to -5 or -10 degrees F.  Plants hardy to Zone 6 can reliably survive these temperatures.  To find your zone check out this page on the USDA website:

When you look at the PLANT TAG find the zone recommendation, which is usually a range, like 5 to 7.  If your zone is included in this range, great.  If not, your plant may succumb in winter since it can’t typically withstand such cold temperatures.  As you might imagine, there are gardeners that push the Zone limits and are happily rewarded with a live plant or sad with a dead plant.

SUN/SHADE EXPOSURE  Sun/Shade exposure or Light requirements is also a very important factor to assess in your garden. Study your yard at different times of the day and identify the areas getting the most sun or shade. PLANT TAGS will specify:

  • Shade  (no direct sunlight)
  • Shade to Part Sun or Sun to Part Shade (3 to 6 hours of sunlight)
  • Full Sun (at least 6 hours of direct sunlight)

Keep in mind that optimal conditions will produce the best results.  For example, a plant that is labeled Sun to Part Shade may survive in a lot of shade but it may not flower as robustly as if it were in a sunnier spot.  Or it may disappear one winter and never return.

ULTIMATE SIZE  A common mistake people make is not fully appreciating the ultimate mature size of plants.  This is more likely to happen when you are buying that cute little plant that is small because it is young.   By checking the plant tag for Spacing recommendations as well as Size, you will have a better sense if that beautiful Ginkgo biloba (which can reach a height of 50 to 75 feet high) will fit in your small side yard.

Great gardens take planning – page 1 of the GARDEN HANDBOOK!  We are always here to help too.