Catching an Artist's Eye
Yankee pragmatism and old-fashioned hard work give artistic form
to everyday function.
By Heather Hammatt, ASLA
For landscape architect Mary Smith, gardening is a passion as well
as a vocation. Since she was a child, she has been interested in
watching and aiding all growing things. This enthusiasm for outdoor
environments melds well with Smith's penchants for painting and
traveling abroad. With paintbrush in hand, she has explored and
evaluated landscapes near and far, capturing ideas, color combinations,
and spatial relations with a soft palette of watercolors or in the
detailed scribble of a pencil sketch. These aesthetic studies inspire
many of her landscape designs, including her own Quincy, Massachusetts,
Photo by Steve Dunwell
Smith lives across the street from Black's Creek, a tidal estuary
and migrating bird flyway that runs all the way up to Blue Hill,
the recognized southern end of Olmsted's Emerald Necklace park system.
According to Smith, the neighborhood known locally as Merrymount
has a view of Quincy Bay and used to be quite a "party" location
in the 1600s, when Massachusetts's early settlers socialized on
what was, at the time, a farm (thus the name "merry mount"). "I
feel like I'm living on a stretch of landscape architectural history,"
she says. "Furnace Brook Parkway, of which my street is an extension,
is the road that Olmsted designed to come from Blue Hill to Wollaston
Beach, with the thought that it would eventually extend past my
house to Nut Island at Hough's Neck in Quincy."
The front of Smith's residence faces north and is subject to nor'easters
(intense storms that batter the Northeast in the fall and winter
months, with winds that can last for days on end). "When it rains,
the drops that hit the windows go up!" she says. Everything is constantly
covered with salt spray. Smith erected a dowel fence, in part to
protect the perennial garden in her frontyard from the wind, as
well as to provide some protection from the street and a sense of
The backyard has a more friendly microclimate, allowing for a wider
range of plant choices. "In fact, sometimes it's too hot," says
Smith. "Usually the plants in back do better than expected for this
zone (5-6). I can have the gray perennials like lavender and artemisia
along with herbs and sages." The backyard's protected courtyard
garden is like an oasiswarm and sunny, with colorful beds of flowers
and potted trees scattered throughout. "I had kousa dogwoods living
outside in terra-cotta pots for almost six years," she says.
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