A landscape designer creates a welcoming entry with swirling stonework and colorful, textured plants.
Photographed by Douglas Merriam
A house renovation should make you happy, but whenever Karen and her husband pulled into the driveway of their freshly updated Boothbay home, their spirits sank. The problem wasn’t the house — they loved it, and they loved their ever-changing water view even more. Rather, the problem was the front-yard landscaping: There wasn’t any. It had been sacrificed to the new construction.
“It was depressing. Without plants, you couldn’t appreciate all the work we’d done,” says Karen, who asked that her surname be withheld. “So we got our neighbor involved.”
Okay, he isn’t just any neighbor. He’s landscape architect Bruce John Riddell, who has created scores of residential estate and public gardens up and down the coast, including several at nearby Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. Riddell’s friends’ grounds presented familiar challenges — bedrock, extreme weather, and hungry deer — along with a unique one: there were two doors on the house’s L-shaped facade, leaving visitors confused about which to use.
Riddell sketched three courtyard designs that would steer foot traffic to the main entrance at the inside corner, including a no-holds-barred plan with stone paths whirling off a yin-yang center, like a giant long-legged starfish. Much to his delight, that’s the one his friends chose — once they overcame some initial timidity. “It was exciting that they chose the wilder of the three,” Riddell says, “because I’d dreamt about creating that motion and energy within the stonework.”
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Karen has a particular fondness for astilbes and lavender, which are uncommon in the south central United States, where she lives most of the year. “I’m all about purples, blues, pinks, whites, and limes,” she says. Bruce Riddell, who designed the gardens of her waterfront Boothbay home, adds, “When she said that, I said, ‘Yes!’ That’s my favorite palette.”
Assembled with contrasting Oak Mountain and Heritage granite from local quarries, the walkway is softly fringed with Chocolate Chip ajuga, a low-growing perennial with springtime light-blue flowers giving way to purple and green foliage, as well as native wintergreen sod, bunchberry, and haircap moss. Near the front door is Karen’s favorite shrub, hydrangea. This variety, Limelight, blooms huge lime-green flowers, but other kinds, like pink and blue Twist-n-Shout and white Pee Gee and Tardiva, are sprinkled liberally around the property, as are lavender, Russian sage, and several kinds of feathery astilbes.
The rear of the house faces an island-dotted cove blessed with splendid sunsets, but Riddell and Bath landscape gardener Mark Jorgensen, a frequent collaborator, have made it even better by reorganizing a prominent ledge’s Sea Foam roses and black-eyed Susans and adding Japanese irises, pink, red, and gold sedums, and blue hydrangeas. They created a new garden around the pool deck, using lamb’s ear (an old-fashioned variety that produces interesting spiky seed heads), Shasta daisies, several kinds of mint, bright-pink Autumn Joy sedums, and scaevola, a fast-growing annual with white and blue fan-shaped flowers.
“It’s stunning to think about what it looked like before we turned it over to Bruce and what it looks like now,” Karen says. “We used to pull up and think, ‘Ugh!’ Now the flow and balance are there.”