with a ledge garden. Here, a circular lawn is surrounded with trees,
flowering shrubs, and conifers such as Bar Harbor juniper. At mid-
level, near the driveway, a circular garden welcomes guests and serves
as Lynn’s cutting garden, with plenty of phlox, hollyhocks, coneflowers,
and hydrangeas. Near the front door, a wooden bridge crosses a moat of
river stones framed in green with lowbush blueberry, hay-scented ferns,
and wintergreen sod. The swale serves dual purposes,
redirecting heavy spring rains away from the house and
creating beauty with seasonal clumps of irises, delphin-
iums, and phlox along the brook-like edges.
native plants: Create a natural framework with broad sweeps of
native plants, then sprinkle ornamentals throughout. “Native
lowbush blueberries offer a kaleidoscope of colorful foliage,
beginning with green in the spring, then changing to red in the fall,
and revealing bare maroon stems in the winter snow,” says Riddell.
“Hay-scented ferns also turn from green to gold to red throughout the
stone structures: Allow the design to mimic nature. “If stones are
too perfectly paired, a hand shows in the design,” says Riddell.
“Instead, embrace a mix of stone colors and sizes.”
ornamentals: Layer time-tested perennials and annuals to bring
seasonal interest to natural landscapes. “For the Browns’ cottage, we
lined borders with chartreuse lady’s mantle and silver artemisia, we
accented ground covers with clumps of irises and yellow coreopsis,
and we ringed a porch with pink-and-white astilbe.” Information on
top-performing perennials can be found at perennialplant.org/
design decision Natural by Design
Landscape architect Bruce John Riddell offers a three-prong approach
to achieving a naturalistic look in garden design.
nearly 20 tons of local
granite ledge stone and
boulders are arranged in
natural progression down the
hillside. Stone and landscape
installation was done by
Gordon Robb Landscape in
Mount Dessert, Maine. Kate
Unkel of East Blue Hill,
Maine, tends the garden.
On the ocean side of the house, a lawn extends from a stone patio
and appears to merge with the bay, thanks to a ha-ha, a landscaping
technique that gained prominence in England. Here, Riddell cleverly
created a negative-edge lawn — much like an infinity pool — by placing a row of hidden boulders below the lawn’s far edge. A purple beech
tree (Fagus sylvatica ‘Swat Magret’), planted to the side of the lawn,
helps frame the ocean view and offers shade.
From the rear lawn and patio, Riddell’s stone artistry shines as a
mix of broad granite steps wrap around the base of the turret, descend
the slope to the impressive granite nautilus patio, then climb back up
the hill to the front drive. “Clients are often overwhelmed by the scale
of stones we bring in, but we try to mimic stones in nature,” says Riddell, who ordered nearly 20 tons of local granite for the project.
On the spiral patio, pink and woolly thymes emerge among buff,
deep red, and gray stones. Additional boulders, unearthed during excavation, spill down the hillside in hommage to the area’s rich glacial
Beyond the stonework, Riddell’s plant knowledge is evident in
his careful selection of species in these terraced gardens. The nautilus
area alone features dozens of varieties, including many hard-working
perennials such as lady’s mantle, Russian sage, and lavender.
“Maine’s climate, with its cool nights and warm days and more
moderate coastal temperature extremes, allows us to push the limits on
Northern and Southern planting zones,” says Riddell. Given this broad
plant palette, he artfully layers trees, shrubs, annuals, and perennials,
both wild and domesticated.
“I like to combine the best of both worlds,” says Riddell. “I use
ornamentals near the house for color and bang, then as I move farther
away, I combine them with native plants and shrubs.”
Riddell tied in plenty of the coastal natives that Lynn and her hus-
band admired on their early Maine vacations and tours of local gardens.
“We fell in love with the state’s native shrubs like rugosa roses and low-
bush blueberries,” says Lynn, “and thankfully Bruce found plenty of
ways to fit them into our design.”