by Shawn Mayers
While the property at Namcook is more than 10 acres in total, the landscaped area for the home (which groundSwell Designs was asked to focus on) is just over an acre at 48,112 square feet. The site served as farmland at the turn of the century and as a result has compacted, dry, depleted soils. On its perch above Narragansett Bay, the site is windswept and endures blazing sun, salt spray, herds of grazing deer, and, believe it or not, wild turkey.
Several invasive species, including black swallow wort, had taken over and needed management. There are neighboring houses to the north and west, so there was a need for privacy plantings; however, the client was very sensitive to blocking views of his neighbors. The property is bordered on three sides by old fieldstone walls, which, while beautiful, introduced a bit of monotony in the landscape.
With all the challenges that this site presented we had to focus on tough plants, arranged creatively, that are well adapted to the rigors of the coastal climate.
Namcook is a summer home for the family of five; they are only on-site in July and August. During those two months, the garden had to sing, as it is the site for many family gatherings and functions. The English cottage architecture of the historic home was the inspiration for the landscape with a “New American” twist: a profusion of color and texture, utilizing planted drifts of predominantly native plant materials rather than fussy, high maintenance flowers.
Namcook is located in horticultural zone 6b with average rainfall 49 inches. A soil test confirmed that pH was within desired range (slightly acidic, as is the norm) but that the addition of compost and mulch would be helpful to improve texture and improve moisture. Most of the garden areas are full sun.
Landscape Design Award of Merit
According to the Perennial Plant Association (PPA), the national organization recognizes design projects from across the US that are “exemplary in use of herbaceous perennials to help create balanced and beautiful landscapes.” Each year, judges evaluate many outstanding landscape designs and select the most excellent entries based on the effectiveness of herbaceous perennial plant material used. At Namcook, PPA judges commented on the garden’s “lovely design elements,” and particularly noted the “perfect” selection of plants for summer bloom, patterned walkways, and drifts along the stone wall.
About the Author
Shawn Mayers heads groundSwell Designs, a collaborative design studio in Jamestown, RI. Shawn has spent the last 10 years designing landscapes of all shapes, sizes, and functions. A graduate of the prestigious Landscape Institute of Harvard University and the Boston Architectural College, Shawn completed her undergraduate studies at Providence College. A love of plants first introduced Shawn to the garden, but the tried and true appeal of scientific principles is what ultimately led her to the field of landscape architecture and, more specifically, ecological site planning. “There are so many cost-saving solutions to environmental problems that can be implemented in the landscape,” she says. “Understanding how to implement these practices is important for clients facing regulatory, spatial and budgetary restraints.” This symbiotic relationship between plants, water, soil, climate – and flooding, pollution, erosion – continually inspires and informs Shawn’s work.