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Hamptons Life

May 18, 2012 10:45 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Garden Philosophy

May 21, 2012 11:54 AM

An essential part of life in the Hamptons is spending time outdoors, whether it be enjoying our beaches and waterways or our own backyards.

Hamptons home landscapes run the gamut from small vegetable gardens and pots on decks and patios to breathtaking estates. Whatever the scale, a garden speaks to a need to forge a connection with nature.

The Hamptons are home to many world-class landscapes and the prodigiously talented designers who create them. How do the professionals create these works of living art? How do these landscapes come to express the dreams of their owners in bough and leaf and blossom? Here is some insight into how three top Hamptons designers turn their clients’ dreams into reality.

Modernist Inspiration

The work of landscape designer Frederico Azevedo of Unlimited Earth Care in Bridgehampton is infused with the modernist spirit of his native Brazil. The pioneering landscape design of Roberto Burle Marx influenced Mr. Azevedo greatly as a young man. Mr. Marx revolutionized landscape design by breaking up the geometric shapes of the classical landscape and introducing natural forms by filling spaces with masses of plants.

Mr. Azevedo has been designing landscapes in the Hamptons for 21 years. Key to his work is listening closely to his clients to interpret their wishes for their landscape. The concept they express to him, he says, is not always what they really want. The first step in his design process is to truly understand his clients’ visions for their gardens.

When he and the client agree on the concept for the garden, Mr. Azevedo distills that idea to its simplest form. It’s a narrowing-down, focusing-in process.

We all like a lot of different things, he explained, but we can’t have them all in the same place and all at once. After all, he says, “You can’t wear all the clothes in your closet at the same time.” He added that one needs to make choices in the yard so the entire property looks consistent and unites into a cohesive whole.

Mr. Azevedo’s goal is to make each client’s landscape function visually as a whole and to suit that client’s needs. For instance, should the driveway lead directly to the front door, or perhaps to the garage? Hardscape—driveways, patios and other hard surfaces—and gardens must work together. Design must be practical, first of all, he advised.

Also, the landscape should be as sustainable as possible, and need a minimum of input from the homeowner, he said. Mr. Azevedo achieves this by thoroughly understanding the growing conditions on the client’s property, even on different parts of the property, and finding plants that thrive in those conditions.

Environments vary widely throughout the Hamptons, he reported.

“We have five different types of soils,” he said.

When choosing plants, Mr. Azevedo said that he also considers the amount and quality of light and shade, moisture, and wildlife in the area, such as deer, raccoons and rabbits. The right plant varieties will be suited to their locations. They’ll still need care, all plants do, but “you won’t have to excessively water and fertilize,” he said of his holistic, environmentally-conscious approach.

Clients also need to think ahead about what they can afford to maintain, he warned. Plants need to be cared for, and Mr. Azevedo’s team also maintains the gardens they install. He has to educate clients who aren’t gardeners that for plants to grow they need care, and maintenance factors into the design process.

Mr. Azevedo’s designs begin with an orderly structure, anchored with formal, geometric shapes such as clipped boxwoods. He then fills the structured space with looser, freer masses of plants.

Color is important in Mr. Azevedo’s landscapes, and so is subtlety of tones. There are cool pinks and warm pinks; yellow can be soft and buttery, bright and lemony, richly golden or orangey—they all work differently with other colors. He said that he believes colors should vary—he’s not a fan of monochromatic gardens—but the colors should harmonize, not clash.

Mr. Azevedo does, however, warn against using too many different colors and plants. Fewer species, he says, produce a bolder picture. He repeats colors and textures across a landscape to unify it. He also designs for multi-season interest.

Perfect Plant, Perfect Place

A very different approach is taken by Dianne Benson, best known as Dianne B., who works with her clients to give their gardens more style, personality and character, she said.

“I don’t call myself a garden designer,” she said. “I never set out to design a garden. I’m an idea person and a really great shopper.”

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