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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, backyard.

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 privacy.

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 oasis—warm 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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