Namcook: A Breezy, Coastal, Summer “Cottage”

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.

A small, formal, hedged garden leads into the backyard and shows off the beautiful garden cottage and picket fence. Since an outdoor shower was also located in this area, three cedar privacy screens (which match a trellis that previously existed on site) were added to provide screening for the shower area and further enclosure for the entry garden.

A small, formal, hedged garden leads into the backyard and shows off the beautiful garden cottage and picket fence. Three cedar privacy screens (which match a trellis that previously existed on site) were added to provide screening for the outdoor shower area and to further enclose the entry garden.

Plant materials soften and blur the hard edges of fencing.

Plant materials soften and blur the hard edges of fencing.

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.

During the summer months, the garden has to sing, as it is the site for many family gatherings and functions.

During the summer months the garden  is the site for many family gatherings and functions and has to sing.

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.

Bedlines weave in and out of the pool area, so the pool is no longer defined by the rectangle that surrounds it, but by the color that leads the eye around the garden

Bedlines weave in and out of the pool area, so the pool is no longer defined by the rectangle that surrounds it, but by the color that leads the eye around the garden

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.

New views of color and texture are revealed as you move about the garden.

New views of color and texture are revealed as you move about the garden.

Cobble pavers reflect the homes’ leaded-glass windows that overlook this area from above.

Cobble pavers reflect the homes’ leaded-glass windows that overlook this area from above.

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.

Tough, summer-blooming, sun-loving perennials (mostly native) break up the monotony of the stone wall and frame the view to the meadow. The plant pallet was selected to withstand a barrage of assaults: endless wind from Narragansett Bay, blazing sun, salt spray, herds of grazing deer, and flocks of wild turkey. The goal here is to provide prime interest during the summer months.

Tough, summer-blooming, sun-loving perennials (mostly native) break up the monotony of the stone wall and frame the view to the meadow. The plant palette was selected to withstand a barrage of assaults: endless wind from Narragansett Bay, blazing sun, salt spray, herds of grazing deer, and flocks of wild turkey. The goal here is to provide prime interest during the summer months.

Shawn Mayers - Fire Pit Repeats Cut-out Circle Theme

A cut-out circle theme repeats in the fire pit garden. Here, it is edged in cobble pavers and connects to the pathway shown at left.

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.Shawn Mayers - Illustrative Master Plan