A Stunning and Sustainable Connecticut Landscape
August 3, 2022
From blank slate to woodland oasis, a landscape takes great pains to consider the natural environment
Text by Meaghan O’Neill Photography by Neil Landino
What parent doesn’t imagine giving their children an idyllic experience outdoors?
For a couple with ten acres in North Haven, their vision was to create a kid- and nature-centric property that would be as environmentally sensitive as possible. Determined to use only organic strategies that would keep the ecosystem and its human and animal inhabitants safe, the homeowners were caught off guard when testing revealed that the site—once a turn-of-the-century blacksmithing operation—contained high levels of lead.
Undeterred, they painstakingly removed trees and existing landscaping, remediated the soil, and added a foot of new topsoil where necessary. They then discovered a kindred spirit in landscape designer Donna Christensen. “We were really talking the same language,” says Christensen, who for years had been shifting toward sustainable practices. “They were totally vested in that.”
Eco-intention guided the overall park-like aesthetic, as well as the long-term care plan. It also required deliberate plant choices, including abundant natives, that would thrive with little or no fertilizers or pesticides—and zero synthetic chemicals, ever—and attract wildlife, such as hummingbirds and
butterflies. “It’s not easy to design this way,” says Christensen, “but it’s the defining principle of this project.”
To connect the landscape with the house, which exudes a bit of formality, Christensen created different moods for the front and back yards. At the entry, more traditional plantings, such as boxwood, cypress, and holly, create structure, with seasonal bloomers—cherry trees and hydrangeas, for example—and a mix of perennials delivering color and fragrance.
The back of the house is dedicated to experiencing the great outdoors. The green-roofed pergola and pool overlook huge swaths of native pollinator-friendly perennials that lead to a woodland walk that loops around the property, a beloved family activity. Beyond, the landscape incorporates a gentle pond.
For designer and clients both, what began as an obstacle became an opportunity to transform a beautiful landscape into a spectacular one that enhances the ecology and offers opportunities for play. “When you’re starting from a blank slate,” says Christensen, “you have the chance to do everything right.”