A passion for plants transforms a humdrum home into a waterfront delight.
Photographed by Douglas Merriam
The enthusiasm with which WCVB-TV anchorman Randy Price and his husband, Mark Steffen, discuss their daylilies, dahlias, and hostas is contagious. In fact, their shared obsession with gardening borders on maniacal, and Price chuckles about the reputation they’ve established among their neighbors. “We get a little carried away out there,” he admits.
Located on Kittery Point, the property enjoys views of Sea Point, the Isles of Shoals, and Boon Island Light. Price and Steffen started out as renters but fell in love with the spot and ultimately purchased the 1970s ranch-style house. “It was just a weedy beach house,” Price says, adding that it was Steffen who started the first major project of clearing away scrub brush to expose the dramatic ledge that characterizes the approach to the house. The undertaking began with a shovel and ended with a tractor. So impressive and “Disney-like” is the ledge, Price says, that he wonders if people think it’s fabricated.
The house, however, was in rough shape. Shoddy windows made evident the severity of the storms they’d be facing. “The wind just roars through here, so we have sustainable landscaping where it is the roughest,” Steffen says. On the beach-facing side, they chose wind- and salt-tolerant species that don’t compete with the views — dozens of daylily cultivars, Joe Pye weed, rudbeckia, and Blue Dune grass, which also helps control soil erosion (and birds enjoy the autumn seed pods).
Though the exposed site had the strongest influence on their design decisions, the house also played a role. “There’s not a whole lot of rich detail,” Price says. “It’s basically a box. We’ve tried to make it more interesting, but we knew the gardens would be much more significant.”
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The house’s architectural simplicity draws attention to the garden beds, which vary in design intent. In front — an active area where the couple’s show dogs are housed — emphasis is placed on low-maintenance plants and Japanese-inspired elements like gravel paths and sculptures. In back, low-growing dune grasses don’t obstruct the ocean view. Plants like hydrangea and Joe Pye weed add color and contrast with species chosen for their bold foliage, like hostas.
In truth, the house’s simplicity was part of its appeal. Japanese-inspired elements and plant choices work well with the minimalistic structure, as do the hosta varieties that they’ve been collecting for more than 25 years and the pink-and-white Pinky Winky hydrangeas necklacing the house.
Water troughs packed with vegetable gardens, pots brimming with cuttings from a former garden, verbena started indoors from seed, dahlias shipped from a West Coast farm, and daylilies dug from fields near and far make the Price-Steffen garden a bonanza of masterfully orchestrated color.
“We’ve had many homes over the years, and we’ve always had gardening extravaganzas,” Price says. “We put more time into the gardens than the houses.” Clearly, home is where the garden grows.