Landscape architect Ed Hollander discusses how three ecologies come into play to create harmonious Hamptons gardens.
Since starting your landscape studio in 1989 until today, what are the main differences in what your clients look for in a garden? People want something simpler and cleaner [now]—something that requires less maintenance and chemicals, a garden where they can relax and that is aesthetically pleasing without the fuss. In contemporary and traditional architecture, clients are looking for simplicity in gardens.
Why is your partnership with [your colleague] Maryanne Connelly so successful? Inherent trust and honesty are the two main components. In terms of skills, Maryanne is an artist, and I am the plant person. It’s the collaboration of those skills and how they blend together that help us realize the ecological and visual aspects of a landscape. You can’t just have a vision; a landscape needs to function ecologically and horticulturally.
Please explain the three ecologies at work. Natural ecology would be soils, topography, drainage, and wildlife. Architectural ecology is how gardens relate to the architecture of a site. And human ecology is how we interact with a garden, including things like allergies, play felds, organic vegetal gardens, and wanting less chemicals. Every design is a combination of those three factors. If you don’t consider all three, a garden will not work.
Plants complement the architecture of a house; they could never redefne it. Architecture infuences the plants that go into the garden, but plants can’t fight a piece of architecture. If we don’t listen to architecture, plants won’t look right. The same way if we don’t listen to how our clients will interact with the garden, it will not last.
What are the mistakes that educate a landscaper the most? Every project is different and teaches you something. Technology changes what we do; climate change affects the plants we select. We are using more southern plants because of climate change—which is not weather, it’s a long-term impact in what we grow. An example of this is the use of native shad—Amelanchier canadensis—which is dying all over because of human ecology. When an old farm returns slowly to being a forest, the first trees to sprout are cedar, which are host to a rust or fungus that kills amelanchiers, as well as other trees in the rose family. So we are learning by observation the plants that used to, but that we can no longer, grow.
Why are completely native landscapes so challenging to grow? The definition of a native garden, where plants grow harmoniously in nature, is changing. Landscapes that thrive are landscapes that will grow on their own without pesticides or excessive artifcial irrigation. That might not necessarily be a garden of only native plants. When the relationship between soil and bacteria changes because of human impact, we have to fgure out what is growing at that particular moment. If soil is no longer native, then the plants that grow in it will be different.
Where do lawns fit in the natural landscape? Lawns are a combination of natural and human ecology. The right lawn will be a mix for the appropriate place and maintenance. Natural lawns will need more compost teas, so that is also something to consider. Clients need to accept that [using] no chemicals results in less than perfect lawns. The trade-off is that children can play freely on a lawn without the fear of becoming sick. But we also need to look at the impact of fertilizers and pesticides, especially out here on Long Island where we are poisoning the ponds. Green-bluealgae population explosions could be poisonous to animals and humans.
How do you create mystery in a garden when there isn’t so much land? Don’t show off everything you have at one time. An empty space will always look smaller; using hedges, fences, and winding paths for different vantage points creates a beautiful and diverse garden in a small place.
What is the perfect example of a Hamptons garden today? We don’t have one singular architectural style that defnes our times. The right garden works well for all three ecologies. What made our studio different and successful is that we never come into a site with a set style in mind. The right style is the appropriate response to all three ecologies. There is no such thing as the perfect garden. Enjoy, and don’t take plantings so seriously; there is no perfection. Edmund Hollander Landscape Architects, 200 Park Ave. South, Ste. 200, 212-473-0620