A Growing Concern

July 13, 2015

The yard and gardens of this New Hampshire lakefront home have expanded and evolved over time, becoming lovelier by the year. 

Text by Lisa E. Harrison    Photography by John Hession, Advanced Digital Photography

All too often, landscape designers are brought on board after the fact. After the land is stripped of all its trees and plantings. After the new house or the addition is imagined and completed. After the builders have packed up their tools and moved on to the next job.

Thankfully that wasn’t the case with this ambitious project in the lakes region of New Hampshire. In fact, landscape architect George Pellettieri has been collaborating with architect Chris Williams and the property owners for some two decades. It’s an endeavor that has evolved and grown in scope over the years as new parcels of land were acquired and new structures and renovations planned.

The main house sits on the middle lot; over time, as adjoining lots on either side became available, the owners scooped them up, enabling them to build a boathouse on one lot and a guesthouse and open-air pavilion that joins a beautifully refurbished cottage on the other. The landscaping ties the three properties together into a striking, unified whole.

The owners called upon the landscape architect to create an environment that was “a visual extension of the house,” remembers Pellettieri. Since, according to Williams, the house was designed to “look like it had been there fifty years,” it was essential that the landscaping have a timeless feel, too.

To make sure he was taking full advantage of the site’s natural beauty, Pellettieri began with a study of the existing vegetation. “The analysis allows us to understand what’s there, what’s valuable, and how much should remain,” he explains. One of his goals was to preserve the integrity and character of the shoreline (a complex process that required approval by the New Hampshire State Department of Environmental Services). The analysis also informed design decisions, as Pellettieri took note of everything from views and vegetation to sun angles and wind direction.

Sustainability played a big role, both in terms of architecture and landscape design. “A lot of people clear the site and start from scratch; we build into the site,” says Williams. “From the water we wanted the house to recede into the landscape, so the house is not dominant.”

Pellettieri echoes this sentiment: “We wanted a very natural character to the landscape, to have a landscape maintained and enhanced so that it creates a sense of place and that feeling that it’s always been there.”

To this end, he preserved some of the larger trees—hemlocks, white pines, and red pines—that date back twenty to fifty years and line the water. To balance the towering evergreens and white pines growing naturally, he added dwarf varie­ties of both.

To complement the existing plant materials and add diversity in texture and shape, Pellettieri used many plants native to New Hampshire and the surrounding region, a decision that also stays true to the area’s aesthetic and ensures the plants can tolerate the harsh environment.

Pellettieri leaned heavily on native ground covers (low-bush blueberry, hay-scented ferns, and moss), trees (oak, hemlock, ash, and maple), and shrubs (viburnum, summer sweet, and aronia), plus a gorgeous mix of colorful annuals and perennials to get his desired effect. All told, Pellettieri estimates he incorporated a couple of hundred plant species throughout.

It isn’t just the landscaping that has local lineage; so do many of the hardscape and construction materials. The walkways, patios, steps, gazebo fireplace, and grill base are all fabricated from granite—a long-lasting material that gets better with age and, of course, doubles as the state stone. Likewise, the trees that form the gazebo posts hail from Maine.

This notion of celebrating a sense of place and respecting the environment was important to the owners. So was creating a peaceful, private space—with stunning lakefront views and multi-season appeal—that could easily accommodate family and friends. It’s clear that Pellettieri was able to deliver on all fronts. “Design has a huge impact on how well people use and enjoy the space,” he says.

If history is any indicator, he may not be done yet. After all, the beauty with landscape is that it’s a “living, growing, changing environment,” he says. A hint, perhaps, that, even after twenty years, the collaboration may continue. •

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