Take a Stroll Through a Formal Garden in Beacon Hill
February 18, 2023
The outdoor spaces of a landmark townhome in Boston finally get a chance to bloom.
Text by Kathryn O’Shea-Evan Photography by Neil Landino
Any history buff would agree that this four-story Beacon Hill home is a treasure trove. Designed in 1821 by starchitect Alexander Parris, the home was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1977. But the gardens? Not exactly worthy of lore. Until, that is, the family who bought the property in 2019 added a garage beneath the home’s courtyard and reached out to landscape architect Dan Gordon to work his magic. The goal: a peaceful and leafy green space to serve as an outdoor extension of the classically beautiful Federal-style residence.
To ensure a lush feel, the designers included gurgling fountains and sizable Skyline honey locust trees. “A lattice screen provides privacy and enclosure on the two open sides, but we wanted to soften it and provide a bit of a canopy to the space, and the trees are really essential in doing that,” Gordon says. Tucked underneath it all, a subsurface collection system and wire waffle filtering mats ensure adequate drainage from the garage roof. Dan Gordon Landscape Architects Senior Associate Patrick Taylor employed the Greek-key motif on the home’s street-facing portico in custom detailing on the entry gate. (The design team also reworked the home’s street-facing garden.)
A timeless color palette and tried-and-true regional flora comprise the plantings. “It’s just a classic mix of plants: boxwood, hydrangea, evergreen groundcovers, and honey locust for dappled shade,” Gordon says. “It all works really well together, and we’ve had a lot of success with this palette.” If that green grass looks too good to be true, that’s because it is. The design team installed a faux version from SYNLawn. “There really wasn’t enough sunlight, and it’s just too heavily trafficked for lawn,” Taylor says. Plus, turf comes with some major perks—including no need to mow, chemically fertilize, or water in a region that’s recently seen significant drought.
Upstairs, the top-floor roof-deck, which features panoramic views of Boston Common and the Back Bay, was originally “pretty sparse—just some planters and an old wood deck,” says renovation architect Guy Grassi. “We developed it with an outdoor fireplace, grill system, and all the things you’d want to have up there,” he says, adding that his firm tries to design outdoor spaces with as much functionality as indoor ones. Think a de facto living room, dining room, and kitchen—all things Parris could only have dreamt about in the early nineteenth century.
Whether you’re indoors or out, the results are the same. “Spectacular,” Grassi says.