Designer Snapshot: Green Rooms

April 25, 2012

By Paula M. Bodah

To the casual observer, the three gardens below might seem quite similar. They all incorporate long swaths of grass, green rooms, if you will, bounded by stone elements, trees and perennials. But Douglas Jones and Keith LeBlanc of Keith LeBlanc Landscape Architecture speak eloquently about the differences. “In our mind,†says Jones, “they’re very distinct in terms of the objective of each design, what we’re trying to feature, and how each design is driven by its context.â€

What’s common to all three, say the landscape architects (whose work is featured in our March/April issue) is a level of richness and detail in the plantings and stonework combined with an overall simplicity. “We’re very careful in striking the right balance,†Jones says, “Things are pared away and simplified so that the thing that wants to rises to the top.â€

In the case of this garden in the Boston suburbs, the thing that “rises to the top†is the Japanese maple tree on its carpet of ground cover. The goal here was to introduce a contemporary landscape plan to a space populated with wonderful old trees. “The low wall, with its rough granite façade and capping was a detail we had observed in a historic Boston burial ground,†LeBlanc explains. While the wall functions as a retaining wall and to define a grade change in the property, it also stands as a frame that relates to the classical architecture of the house and sets off the Japanese maple. “A tree that might have gotten lost in the woods is turned into a star,†says Jones.

Dedham, Massachusetts. Photos by Keith LeBlanc

For a Nantucket home in town and surrounded by other houses, the landscape is “really more about being inwardly focused,†Jones says. The property consists of several buildings that pinwheel around the open space. “We wanted to amplify the scale of the space, keeping it open but animating it so that it’s not just an empty piece of lawn,†he adds. A series of garden “rooms†stand around the central, main lawn, which offers a sort of pause, a moment of serenity, while also making itself available for a lively game of croquet or soccer. A walkway of paving stones softened by fluffy hydrangeas borders the lawn on two sides. “We used a common bluestone for paving, but played with the pattern, using random lengths to keep the space simple but animated,†Jones notes.

Nantucket, Massachusetts

Nantucket, Massachusetts

Another Nantucket home, this one with ocean views, called for a different treatment of the same theme. Here, the long panel of lawn is one in a series of linear elements that lead to the water. A thin paved walkway provides a sense of enclosure and delineation, but, as LeBlanc notes, “Beyond the thin border it has a much looser organization of perennials, native grasses and native woods.†This garden, says Jones, “is a little more porous in terms of how it connects to the house.â€

In all the gardens, LeBlanc says, open space is a bit of a luxury. While you wouldn’t want an empty room in your house, the landscape equivalent–an expanse of grass–is a restful, peaceful element.