I call myself a landscape architect but there is more to the story.

I often think about how I got here and what factors influenced my life. I grew up surrounded by elegant, sophisticated gardens and a tradition for gardening that created landscapes of simple beauty celebrating the flower garden along with the wild growth on the rocky shores of Rhode Island. It was a tradition where the rough rocky coastline served as a backdrop for formal English gardens, and I was made aware of the ways in which contrasts between the formal and the wild landscape produced a powerful setting with never ending movement and interest.

The natural forces of the local environment shaped my response to the landscape. Living next to the sea, we felt the full force of ocean storms and the constant moisture of the salt spray. I was able to observe over time which plants survived the salt and hurricanes. Fog was a given in the month of June, making our gardens all the more mysterious and the colors more softened and painterly. I still prefer muted tones, rarely using bright reds or oranges.

My first memories of gardens were two secret garden rooms. One at my grandmother’s house in Middletown, RI. It was at the end of a winding path through native overgrowth, a potato field that had been left to go natural for twenty-five years. A grass path lead to a circle of red cedars in which my grandmother had placed a wonderful blue canvas awning–covered daybed. It was the precursor to the modern glider. We used to go down there and take books, naps and have doll parties, and feel completely alone and at home in the wilderness. Sometimes we would have a formal tea with my grandmother who also loved going there to read or nap. The other place was an old crab apple tree at the end of the hay field at our summer house that had fallen over in a storm and continued to grow, forming looping branches that defined rooms within its leafy canopy. My sisters and I would play house within the branches of the tree here the dining room, there the kitchen. It was second nature for us to use the natural landscape as our playground. No one ever had a swing set or trampoline. We valued the opportunities for play that the natural landscape afforded us. And we have all grown to create gardens with a series of outdoor rooms.

My early perceptions of gardens as places or rooms is a concept that I still feel is the essence of the landscape. I design my gardens with defined spaces analogous to the rooms of a house. The floor is the base plane, lawn is carpet, hedges, shrubs, fences and stone walls or buildings are walls, allees are corridors, changes of grade are the stairs, framed views are windows, trees, trellises and umbrellas are the ceiling. Every garden or property has a formal foyer before coming to the front door. Furniture, sculpture and lighting are all included as the elements that give the space an animated use.

Middletown in the fifties was still largely agricultural land with potatoes, hay and corn. My grandmother owned several houses and large fields which were rented for a dollar a year to various farmers. We had a group of friends that lived in another family compound across the fields. We had well worn paths through the fields connecting the families and cousins together and we were free to roam the territory, as long as we were back in time for a bath before dinner. The families were close friends and everyone hot together for drinks on a regular basis. One of the favorite topics of discussion between the adults and the children was whether we had seen the leprechauns who lived in the corn fields between the houses. We were convinced of their existence and would leave treats under our favorite crabapple tree or brave an excursion into the corn stalks to deposit some cookie crumbs. We would lie awake at night talking about the little people and what they might be names, how many children they had, and what they would be wearing. I’m almost ashamed to admit it but I still believe that the fields were haunted by these happy folk, and they blessed our childhood with their promise of fantasy. I’m still conscious of the magic in the landscape and design in a way that allows the spirit a place to express itself and be felt by anyone receptive to its charm.

Since we were summer residents of Newport, our gardens were filled with annuals for cutting and all summer color. My grandmother would always make her trip to the garden center her first priority upon arriving from Washington. For our family, the gardens came first, then the house. It seems natural to me now to have that very approach to design and construction. So often the buildings are designed and then made to fit onto the land, instead of growing out of the site.

My first landscaping job was as my grandmother’s gardener. I was sixteen and despite the pressures to meet my friends at Bailey’s Beach, I really loved spending the mornings weeding her perennial garden and rose bed.

She used to come out and tell me the names of the flowers and point out which was a weed if I was unsure. She would wear a long faded denim skirt and white keds, always a hat and usually a sleeveless oxford shirt. If it was really sunny, she would add a parasol for shade. We would break for iced tea on the terrace which was covered with a grape vine and relax for a bit together talking about things. We weren’t friends in the way today’s generations have lost their hierarchical distinctions, but there was love and adoration flowing in both directions.

What I learned from my grandmother and from her gardener, Frank Mendonca, was to be meticulous about weeds, and to keep the soil light and loose around the plants. I learned that the more thorough I was with the cultivator in ridding the soil of weeds and weed roots, the less time it took in the long run to maintain the garden beds. I learned a lot about perennials and roses. Those flowers that were her favorites have formed the core of my plant palette with surprisingly few additions. I have inherited many of her books on flowers and garden design. The horticultural world has added some wonderful varieties but little else seems to have changed in the world of gardening. I am also blessed with one of her benches, a half circle of white limestone with a back and griffen end figures. Reminiscences of a past era are all but gone except in my memories and in the gardens of my clients.

My grandmother believed that one should cut the flowers from the perennial garden to bring in the house, thereby making the task of deadheading all but unnecessary. She had planted masses of each type of flower so that any cuttings would still leave enough color in the garden itself. Her rose garden was a circle of white marble with a beautiful lead figure in the center. The roses were underplanted with heliotrope and the bed surrounded by ivy and sweet alyssum. The scent of heliotrope and lavender filled the bedrooms and bathrooms, as my grandmother believed that on every dresser and sink should always be an arrangement of fresh flowers. My mother has carried on with this tradition, and I find myself rushing out to cut a few greens or flowers whenever I have guests.

I have worked on many beautiful gardens that have taken me from Maine to Florida and France. Almost all of my clients have become friends and continue to call me to help them with new projects, large or small. Their births, like any construction project, were sometimes stressful, but it has always been a joy to watch them grow over the years.

I have always loved the tropics. There is something very special about the southern light and the way it illuminates everything into architectural or sculptural planes and intensifies the colors. It appeals to my senses as a painter. My first experience working in the tropical climate of the Palm Beach was to help a client whose landscaping I had designed in New England with their newly purchased beach house, which was being renovated. I transformed the pool (a sixties, naturalistic style with a wooden bridge going over it) into a sleek, clean rectangular pool with a negative edge that seems to flow into the ocean. The color of the pool was the exact color of the ocean no matter what the sky, and it incorporated an underwater chaise lounge, integral spa with a negative edge, and water wall to keep out traffic noises.

Each time I find myself in a new setting I confirm that the principles of design do not change from one region to the next. What does change are the environmental constraints and personal taste and style, which can both vary dramatically, even between next door neighbors!

I have come to realize that every garden is unique and has its own set of cultural, architectural, environmental and spiritual conditions. I love the challenge of exploring a new site and finding out about its wonders and mysteries. I’ve worked on some interesting gardens – establishing prairie grasslands, creating azalea and native plant collections, wetland restoration, and coastal planning with native plants; designing for children, indoor/outdoor swimming pools, pools located on the side of a cliff, sculpture gardens and lighting. I’ve also created all white gardens, moss gardens, Japanese dry gardens, putting greens, croquet lawns and bocce courts!

I love working with a completely different plant palette from that of New England. When thinking of the tropics, images come to mind of brightly colored flowers and birds. However, my sense of the essential tropical landscape is on of form, texture and brilliant luminescence in contrast with deep and welcoming shade. The light is so intense that all materials are transformed into volumes with contrasting planes, harsh edges and intensified colors. How very different from the soft edges and blended forms of the New England landscape.

There is no true Palm Beach style of gardens, but rather an expression of the synthesis of the architecture, the function and the client’s tastes. A Miznor house, for example, doesn’t automatically indicate a formal, geometric landscape plan. Flowing lines and curvilinear forms could well serve to compliment the house and work with the style of its owners. I love to plan the overall structure, or bones, of the Florida garden with symmetry and balance, and then have the base plan flow like a river beneath the formal verticals and overhead canopy.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for most gardeners in Palm Beach is trying to blend a style of garden with the natural conditions and local microclimate. We have all grown to love many beautiful exotic plants that are not well suited to the island. I’m a full believer in going native, and getting familiar with the plants that thrive under harsh conditions. If used in accordance with good design concepts, these plants will look good almost all the time, and will provide a windbreak that will allow less tough plants to thrive. Some plants I like in Florida…

CANOPY TREES

Coccoloba unifera Seagrape

SHRUBS

Coccothrinax argentata Silver Palm

Scaevola plumieri Scaevola

Serenoa repens Saw Palmetto

Yucca aloifolia Spanish Bayonet

GROUND COVER

Croton sp. Beach Croton

Zamia pumila Coontie

For the lee side of the dunes, these natives could be very useful:

CANOPY TREES

Bursera simaruba Gumbo Limbo

Clusia rosea Pitch Apple

Coccoloba unifera Sea Grape

Ficus aurea Strangler Fig

Quercus virginiana Live Oak

Sibal palmetto Cabbage Palm

UNDERSTORY TREES

Eugenia sp. Stopper

Guaiacum sanctum Lignum vitae

Thrinax morrisii Key Thatch Palm

Thrinax radiate Thatch Palm

SHRUBS

Eugenia foetida Spanish Stopper

Myrsine guianensis Myrsine

Serenoa repens Saw Palmetto

Materials and design are the keys to creating a front walkway that puts your best foot forward

Open your front door and look at the walkway in front of you: Chances are you’ll be staring at an uninspiring path of concrete. Your house deserves to make a better first impression. “The front walkway is really an exterior foyer,” says landscape architect Kate Field, principal of Katherine Field and Associates, in Newport, Rhode Island. “Take your cues from the existing landscape, the architecture of your house, and your personal style,” she adds.

Material choices are numerous, but consider how the chosen material will blend with your house. Says landscape designer Jeff Goldman, of Silver Spring, Maryland, “The goal is to have the finished product seem like it was always there.”

A major consideration is how the walkway material will be affected by weather. Crushed gravel, for example, is not a good choice if you live in an area prone to snow, because it cannot be shoveled. Concrete weathers the freeze-thaw cycle well and for that reason makes a good underlayer for such natural stones as bluestone or granite laid with mortar joints. Natural stone can also be laid on sand and compacted stone dust, as can brick pavers and interlocking concrete pavers. If materials set on sand heave in winter, they can be reset fairly easily, but come spring and summer, you must be vigilant about weeding.

Consider safety when choosing your walkway material. “To minimize the trip factor, go with a smooth surface,” says Field, who prefers bluestone and granite. “Native fieldstone has a natural cleft top, which may cause some people to trip.” Walkways that have only one step, versus two or more, are hazards because the eye doesn’t always notice the subtlety of one step.

Your yard and house should set the tone for the walkway. A curving front walkway will enhance the overall look of a contemporary-style house. By contrast, a formal Federal-style house calls for a straight walkway. Design the edge of the walkway as well: Brick or fieldstone set on end create nice edges and flowerbeds add color. The walkway’s width should keep with the scale of your house. Typically walkway widths range from 42 inches to 60 inches, but if you want to be able to walk beside someone (an elderly person who needs support), make sure your walkway is 5 feet wide.

Planting for the future as well as the present

The business of planning a garden is much like planning a wardrobe: Fads come and go, but good bones are always “in”.

That’s why it’s so important to have a plan in place for creating or enhancing those good bones in a garden, no matter what particular flowers or plants you choose to dress them with.

“A lot of people have a single concept of what they like, or they think that what they want is a little bit of everything,” said Newport landscape architect Katherine Field, whose offices (in a Mary Street Colonial that dates to the 1700s) are lined with glossy photographs of projects she and her associates have done over the past couple of decades on Aquidneck Island, in Jamestown, In Boston and France, and in Palm Beach, Florida.

The photographs show lifestyles that are grander than those of the average homeowner, but the principles of landscape design that they illustrate can be applied even to the simplest of suburban colonials or ranch houses.

“Before you do anything else-and even before the house is built, if it’s a new one-make sure you have a master plan for the site in place that you can chip away at,” is Field’s first rule of landscape planning.

A topographical site plan is important, because having one means that costs can be projected accurately for such big-ticket projects as grading, drainage-laying, paving and stonework.

“Often, especially in new developments, the soil is terrible because there has only been a minimum of topsoil put back after the construction process,” says Field. “If that’s the case, then no matter what you plant, it won’t take hold. You’ve got to get the soil and the drainage right before you do anything else.

“It’s best to get a landscape architect in at the same time as the septic engineer, because the placement of the septic field and tank should be fitted into an overall plan.”

Field, whose company works on both residential and corporate/commercial projects, has been awarded two Professional Excellence Awards for Residential Design by the Rhode Island Nursery and Landscape Association. Her firm also took a first place award for public design for the Children’s Garden at the Providence Children’s Museum. Another recent high-profile project in Newport was the landscape design for the renovated Chanler Inn on Memorial Boulevard overlooking First Beach.

In speeches to garden groups, Field says she often lays out a list of guidelines to follow when planning any landscape.

  • First, it’s important to understand the difference between a landscape architect and a landscape designer: “A landscape architect has been licensed by the state and approaches a project looking at all of its dimensions, such as grading, drainage, viewlines and privacy. You might spend as much as $250 an hour for a consultation, but it’s money well spent because you will start with a good concept that will help you evaluate your choices all along the way.”
  • Think long term: “A garden is a dynamic adventure. It’s about change, and our task in planning it is to be visionary. What will this landscape look like 10 years from now, or 20, or 50? Plan for the future as well as the present.”
  • For that reason , Field says she always advises planting a couple of heritage trees. “These are trees that will not be major players in this generation, but in the next one they will be. A beech tree, for example, an oak, or some of the disease resistant elms.
  • “Speaking of trees, Field has some favorites for certain purposes that she says are often undervalued. “The catalpa, for instance, has a course outline and drops these unsightly seedpods in the fall. It’s messy, but in the right place-not up close but at some distance, like a park tree-it provides a bold note of unusual green foliage that gives great texture.”
  • Other trees that Field would like to see more of are Zelkovas (similar to traditional elms but more disease resistant), American beeches (which thrive in New Engalnd forests but are hard to find in nurseries), and white cedars (another strong native tree that does particularly well in wet areas).
  • Field advises looking to the natural environment for ideas on what to plant on your own little acre (or acres). “For a project in Newport near the Country Club, I studied what trees and plants are growing well on the club land to get ideas for my client. A particularly bad problem on Aquidneck Island and in all of Rhode Island is deer. You need to know what plants deer are attracted to, such as yews and hostas, so that you can avoid using them in your landscape.”
  • A frequent misconception is that “perennial” means planting once and then ignoring. “The true meaning of perennial is ‘perennial maintenance,'” says Field. “Every garden, every landscape, needs to be managed, or it will eventually revert to wild. Even in ‘natural’ landscape, you’ve got to manage the invasives, like bittersweet, that will crowd out other plants.”
  • Take lessonsfrom Japanese principles of gardening. “People often try to put too many varieties, when using just one or two kinds of plants would have more impact,” says Field. “Plant in groups of three, or in a large space, of odd numbers. If you have one of each thing, you end up with something that looks like a hodge-podge.”
  • The same rule of “les is more” applies to planting pots: “The simple combination of heliotrope, verbena and sweet allyssum is great in a pot. And remember that there’s nothing wrong with green in a pot or in the garden. The flowers in a perennial garden will come and go, but the greens add texture and color that will be there all season.”
  • Mulch is everywhere at this time of year. Field prefers the darkest mulches, not the reddish ones, and adds that mulch is fine to use around trees or as a pathway, but it has no place in a garden. “You can’t work mulch into the soil. And NEVER use peat moss as a mulch for the same reason. It will sit on top and take up moisture. In a garden, you need to work the soil by adding compost, not mulch.There’s nothing prettier than a garden full of rich dark soil.”
  • Watch the weed-whackers and mowers. Weed-whackers, especially, are the enemy of trees because their whipping strings ring the bark, making wounds that kill the tree by starving it of nutrients and allowing diseases to be introduced through the cuts.
  • One of the toughest problems for the homeowner is trying to landscape around an above-ground pool. “It’s a huge structure in the landscape, yet it needs to be integrated in some way. You don’t necessarily want to ring it, because just by doing that, you’re really drawing attention to the structure. Make sure the seating area faces away from the pool, and maybe go for a xeriscape look by planting some tall grasses for a beachy concept? It’s a hard one.”
  • A few of Field’s pet peeves: “I think that ornamental grasses have been overused in suburban gardens. To me, that’s mixing a wild with a suburban palette, and it doesn’t work. I think that colored foliage is not done as tastefully as it might be. Not reds, because they enhance any landscape, but the yellow-tipped arborvitaes, for example.They need to have the right place, to be an accent plant, not a hedge.”

While versions of the orginal wooden tubs are still around today, outdoor spas are more common. Aboveground spas, also referred to as “portable,” were introduced to the market about 20 years ago. Portable spas differ from hot tubs in that they are equipped with many more jets (they might contain 20, 30, even 40, depending on the spa size) and have an acrylic fiberglass, or thermoplastic shell and skirting. Between the tub itself and the exterior cladding are the piping, filters, and controls.

By the early 1990s, custom-made in-ground spas were being crafted for upscale homes and over the following years, spa designs have become increasingly architecturally sophisticated. “We’re no longer dealing with the basic, off-the-shelf tub on the deck,” says Doug Jones, principal architect with Keith LeBlanc Landscape Architecture; “the 1970s trend has morphed into something much different.”

The majority of in-ground spas are made out of the concrete form of gunite, which is sprayed into a steel-reinforced form, similar to the way in-ground pools are constructed. “The advantage with gunite spas is that they are much more elegant than above-ground models,” says Katherine Field, a landscape architect who runs her own Rhode Island-based firm. Most spas, she says, are conceived with a great deal of consideration to the landscape of the site on which they are located and have sleek, contemporary designs with intricate tiling, brick, or stone features along the edges and interiors.

“With customized spas, you can control all of the standards. There’s a lot you can play around with,” says Doug Jones. For custom-designed spas, clients are able to select the size, shape, and depth of the spa, and the location and placement of the benches. The average spa seats five to six adults, yet some are made to accommodate as few as two or as many as ten. One of the greatest benefits of a custom-designed spa is that the interior may be designed to fit any ergonomic specifications. It’s not uncommon today for a 6-foot tall male to be married to a woman who is 5-feet, 3-inches tall,” says Richard Johnson, a principal landscape architect with Stephen Stimson Associates. “Obviously, their should heights are much different, and want both of them to be comfortable.”

Katherine Field designed a spa for a family where the husband was very tall. His measurements were taken and the spa was customized to fit his dimensions. “If he were to sit on a normal-size bench, the upper half of his body would be out of the water. We made one of the benches lower for him, so his shoulders were able to be massaged by the jets, and kept the other benches at a more standard height for his wife and children.”

There are usually between eight and ten jets in a custom spa, significantly less than the number found in a portable spa, and Johnson says that is one of the few advantages portable spas have over in-ground models. “If a client is interested in and intensive spa therepy, it’s hard to beat the prefabricated types because they have so many different jets at various positions,” he explains. “It’s difficult to be that elaborate with a custom spa.” However, he continues, placement of the jets is also a customized feature, so while there are may be fewer of them, clients are able to select ideal jet positions in order to target specific areas of the body.

For example, Johnson cites a spa he designed for an older female client who was active in tennis and golf. “She was aware that her hips were very sensitive, so she asked that we position the jets so she could stand in one spot and have jets massage both of her hips,” he describes.

Not only are spas equipped with the components to provide wonderful massage, they may offer health benefits as well. The typical spa is heated to about 104 degrees Fahrenheit and according to the National Pool and Spa Institute, water that warm not only relaxes muscles, but also causes the blood vessels to dilate, lowering blood pressure. The buoyancy of water counteracts gravity, so sitting submerges to your shoulders can make your heart 10 to 20 percent more efficient. Buoyancy also reduces the strain on muscles and joints.

Jones says that the popularity of custom spas has risen recently as people are not spending more time outside and devoting more energy to creating comfortable and unique outdoor living areas. “People are building really elaborate recreation spaces, outdoor game areas, tennis courts, and pools. And the majority of the pools we design are accompanied by a spa,” he says.

While pools and spas are often located on the same site, the considerations behind the exact placesment of a spa are different from those affecting the positioning of a pool. “When designing pools, you’re most concerned with where people will be sitting around it-where the terrace or patio is situated,” says Johnson. “Where the pool itself is oriented is not nearly as important because swimmers don’t generally take in the view of the horizon. People sitting in spas do.”

When selecting the exact spot for a spa it’s vital to remember its purpose; that it serves as a place to be calm. “A pool is an active thing,” emphasizes Field. “A spa is for relaxing. In a spa, you have a much slower observation pace; it should be oriented to where you can have the best view of the property. You want to be able to site in the spa and watch the sunset, absorb the natural surroundings, enjoy a glass of wine,” she says.

However, not all customized spas are located on properties that have expansive views. jones says that some of his clients prefer their spas to be placed in more concealed settings. “For some people, it’s less important to have a beautiful horizon view. They want something private, in an introspective setting,” he explains. “For one of our projects, the client wanted us to put the spa inside a structure, so we enclosed it within a gazebo where it was still possible to connect with the outside elements, but hidden as well.”

Johnson, who does the majority of his spa work for Cape and Islands coastal sights in combination with a pool, says that he also occasionally has clients who request stand-alone spas built in more unique locales. He notes one particular spa he designed that was far behind the house on a knoll in the woods. A rock patio surrounded the tub and a wood-plank wall enclosed the area on one side, so the space really had the feel of being an oudoor room. “The homeowner tells me that it’s a truly amazing experience to sit in the spa on a snowy winter night and look up at the stars,” he says.

Spas typically measure 6 feet by 6 feet and generally are about bathtub depth. However, Jones says he’s often asked to design slightly larger spas known as “plunge pools” or “swim spa” that are up to 4 feet deep and have dimensions of about 7 feet by 11 feet. These oversized spas have benches on the sides and function basically the same way as a typical spa. And while you can’t swim laps in one, you’re able to plunge and swim in place,” he says. He adds that some plunge pools are equipped to move water to produce a current that offers a slight resistance, enabling you to engage in aerobic exercise and light hydrotherapy.

“There aren’t many things nicer than being in the spa in the snow,” says Jones. Many spa owners agree and opt to keep their spas operational all year round. For pools and spas located on the same site, Field recommends that owners have separate equipment for their pool and spa. While it’s possible-and may seem less complicated- to have both share a common filtration system and heater, she says, “If the spa in connected with the pool equipment, you have to manually turn on the main system every time you want to use it and that can be a real hassle. When the spa has its own smaller circulation systems, it’s able to function all year round, and you only have to turn on a switch that gets the heat and jets going before you use it.” Some spas, she adds, even have manual controls in the house, so you can get it ready without even having to go outside.

“Spas are interesting,” says Johnson. “When spas are mentioned, people tend to think of the romantic, of something you enjoy on vacation every once in a while. But really, spas are great things to use on a daily basis. They help you to relax, let you step outside of yourself for a little while. Hey,” he continues with a chuckle, ” I wish I had one in my yard.”

The owners of this Victorian-style cottage in Newport, Rhode Island, created calming green spaces and outdoor rooms for living-all on a long narrow lot.

When David and Jeannie Clarke converted their new home in Newport, Rhode Island’s Historic Hill district from multi- to single-family use two years ago, they also wanted a matching makeover for the outside.

Faced with a privet hedge that hid the front entrance, a backyard covered with asphalt for off-street parking, and a long driveway to the garage at the far end of the 60×150-foot lot, the Clarkes decided the only wise course was to seek professional help.

Enter Newport landscape architect Kate Field, who agreed to mastermind the grading, drainage, planting, even running the utility wires underground and the choice of garden furniture.

“This type of late-1800s Victorian cottage is distinguished by clean, simple lines and a charming symmetry,” Field says. “The architecture and the size of the lot-and the personal style of the new owners-dictated the style of the gardens.”

“The first of the three outdoor living rooms she installed is a mahogany deck. It extends from the kitchen steps to the property line and looks over a garden room furnished with chaise lounges. The home’s third outside room is a gated, formal garden that goes to the end of the lot.

“When the architectural details and the garden style agree, a sense of peace occurs,” Field says. The structures and ornaments in the gardens support the Victorian theme. The balusters of the porch, for example, are repeated in the backyard on the balcony off the second-floor sitting room.

“Wherever you go in the gardens,” Field says, “comfortable seating, cheerful flowers, gentle colors, fragrance, views, and a sense of peace are waiting. It’s surprising there could be so much pleasure in a reclaimed parking lot.”

Your home-and its land- is where the heart is. Integral to the comfort and beauty of your home, your outdoor living space should be a space that both welcomes you home upon any return and beckons you outdoors no matter the season.

As you approach a new landscape project, therefore, consider letting a landscape architect help you envision the right marriage between your site, its climate conditions, and the planned use of your outdoor space. In addition to the engineering, architectural, and planting elements of a site plan, it is the “intangible properties of the site” that a professional can understand as he or she “finds the heart and soul of the land,” says landscape architect Katherine Field. Sun, wind, and shade- these are nuanced factors that a landscape architect can navigate to ensure that your landscape is just as beautiful as your home. Septic system placement, zoning limitations, grading that causes potential basement flooding, room orientation for best views- these are the tangible aspects that a landscape architect can help address during new home construction, especially in relation to your deck, patio, or pool space.

What this vision translates into for you is the most apprropriate placement of a contemplation garden, for example, or the creation of an entry garden that reflects a homeowner’s interior design preferences. Whether designing a contemporary landscape or a traditional one, Field is guided by her philosophy of achieving “an established look that isn’t overly decorated.” This approach results in Field’s use of native plants and trees, which evoke a natural yet aesthetically pleasing look.

Field recommends the use of native plants, particularly in larger landscapes, as a fitting and pleasing means by which “to restore the natural character” of your yard. “There is value in natural habitats,” notes Field. Aesthetically, integrating native trees, plants, and flowers can help provide appealing colors throughout the year. Functionally, they can boast lower maintenance.

Field offers the following additional tips for achieving a natural look in your yard:

– Use simple plant palettes throughout the yard;

– Avoid using too many types of plants by integrating a class of plants in different varieties (e.g., roses or hydrangea);

– Layer plants and over-story trees;

– Be wary of ornamental grasses, which can look out of place or overly fussy; and

– Use the “squint test” if you are having a stone wall built (no stone should jump out due to color, size, or orientation).

Remember that you are the most natural part of your landscape. So enjoy your outdoor space throughout the year!

For plants best suited for Southern New England landscape architect Katherine Field recommends the following:

CONIFEROUS EVERGREENS

Abesi fraseri – Fraser Fir

Chamaecyparis thyoides – Atlantic White Cedar

Juniperus virginiana – Eastern Red Cedar

Picea glauca – White Spruce

DECIDUOUS TREES

Acer rubrum – Red Maple

Amelanchier laevis -Shadblow Serviceberry

Betula papyrifera- Paper Birch

Cornus florida – Flowering Dogwood

Fagus grandifolia – American Beech

Franklinia alatamaha – Franklin Tree

Halesia carolina – Carolina Silverbel

Liriodendron tulipifera – Tulip Poplar

Magnolia virginiana – Sweetbay Magnolia

Nyssa sylvatica – Tupelo

Oxydendrum arboretum -Sourwood

DECIDUOUS SHRUBS

Azalea vaseyi – Pinkshell Azalea

Calycanthus floridus – Carolina Allspice

Clethra Alnifolia – Summersweet

Cornus amomum – Silky Dogwood

Hydrangea quercifolia – Oakleaf Hydrangea

Hypericum frondosum – Golden St. John’s Wort

Ilex verticillata – Common Winterberry

Myrica pennsylvanica – Bayberry

Prunus maritime – Beach Plum

Vaccinium angustifolium – Low Bush Blueberry

Vaccinium corymbosum – High Bush Blueberry

Viburnum dentatum – Arrowwood Viburnum

VINES AND CLIMBERS

Campsis radicans – Trumpet Vine

Parthenocissus quinquefolia – Virginia Creeper

HERBACEOUS PERENNIALS

Aster novae-angliae – New England Aster

Baptesia australis – Blue False Indigo

Cimicifuga ragemosa – Black Bugbane

Dicentra eximia – Fringed Bleeding Heart

Eupatorium fistulosum – Hollow Joe-Pye Weed

Heliopsis helianthoides – Oxeye

Liatris spicata – Dense Blazing Star

Phystostegia virginiana -False Dragonhead

Veronicastrum virginicum – Culver’s Root

FERNS

Dennstaedtia punctiloba – Hay Scented Fern

GRASSES

Panicum virgatum – Switch Grass