Gardens that respect nature and sustainability as well as please the eye are the specialty of one South Shore landscape designer.By Carol K. Dumas | Photography by Rich Pomerantz
Amy Martin of Amy Martin Landscape Design believes every home has a story to tell, a story that starts from within its walls.
For the Arnolds of Cohasset, the story was obviously the spectacular view of Little Harbor and the marsh the family enjoyed from the large front windows of the grand house perched on a sloping half-acre lot. “We get beautiful birds, hawks and so much wildlife!” exclaims homeowner Helen Arnold. The home’s interior colors reflect the subtle hues outside: the sage green of marsh grass, the blue of sky and ocean. Saying, “I didn’t want to be weeding all the time,” Arnold wanted a low-maintenance landscape that was natural and beautiful, yet a design that wouldn’t compete with the view.
Martin didn’t disappoint. A landscape designer for the past 15 years, Martin creates gardens and landscapes that respect nature and sustainability. A design begins with a visit to the home, to get a sense of the family who lives there and translate that sensibility outdoors. She firmly believes the design improves with collaboration. Homeowners are encouraged to collect photos of designs they like on Pinterest, for example. Martin first develops a vision board with photos of suggested plant species and then, eventually, a computer-rendered design.
“To manifest an idea, a vision, and bring it into form for the improvement of people’s lives and the good of the earth is deeply gratifying,” she says. “You’re creating a design that is its own ecosystem, and you’re the caretaker of that.”
Martin arrived on the scene shortly after the Shingle Style house was built, in 2016. The hardscape had been installed: a driveway, walkways and stone walls. A rock ledge towered along one side of the lot. Martin, in determining a color palette, took into consideration the warm beige of the house’s façade, although the stunning setting dictated many of her choices.
That high ledge proved to be a major issue for her design, as rain and melting snow cascaded down the wall and pooled into the front of the property. Martin rectified the soggy situation with storm-water drainage leading to a rain garden that captures the water from the downspouts into a crushed stone reservoir, topped with pea stone and punctuated with plantings and planters. “This prevents water from flowing down the driveway and out into the street, as well as ice build-up in the winter,” she explains.
Plantings here include native clethra alnifolia, rhus aromatica and anemone canadensis, “which happily drink up the excess water and create a healthy ecosystem of biodiversity,” observes Martin. A tall birdhouse and a terraced seating area make for a delightful garden room with a view of the marsh and harbor.
Evergreen boxwood and blue-star juniper provide an interesting contrast of shades of green and textures all year round, while majestic, tall grasses with airy fronds swaying in the sea breeze lend a beachy feeling. These three elements are repeated throughout the landscape. While Martin’s design is mostly a subtle palette, she chose red shrub roses as an accent here and there. “I wanted a strong, rich red with the neutral color of the house,” she says.
Other repeating elements include swaths of spring bulbs, lavender and Solomon’s seal. “There are whole waves of plantings,” is how Arnold puts it. Specimen deciduous and flowering trees and shrubs add further interest and texture: birch, cherry, magnolia, dogwood (a particularly unusual variegated species called “Wolf Eyes”), Japanese dwarf maple, witch hazel and hydrangea. Perennial salvia and geranium and perennial woodland ground covers like winterberry and hellebore fill in any “holes” in the landscape, along with Russian sage, also a perennial. Huge container plantings are changed with the seasons.
Over the years, the landscape has matured and blended comfortably and beautifully into this coastal setting, becoming part of the view. However, for Martin, landscape design goes beyond creating a beautiful space. “We’re constantly editing depending on what affects that ecosystem, such as diseases that impact the plants’ health, or something invasive that disrupts the landscape,” she points out. “But my goal is to make the space meaningful, not just beautiful.”