The busy Washington, DC, couple who purchased this five-acre waterfront property just outside St. Michaels in 1983 intended to use the home they were building for weekend getaways from their hectic urban lifestyle.
And, for a long time, that’s just what they did.
But after retiring several years ago, the serene retreat they had created beckoned, and they moved here permanently (though depart often to travel the globe).
The grey-shingled house with its crisp white trim and peaked roof lines wouldn’t be out of place on the New England coast, but it fits right into the Eastern Shore’s long history and blend of architectural styles.
The house, completed in 1990, has been expanded through the years, but always with a view—literally—to taking full advantage of the ever-changing garden vistas. And for that, the homeowners turned to landscape designer and sculptor Jan Kirsh of nearby Bozman, Maryland.
Kirsh has worked closely with the couple for the past decade so that the property would evolve through both the seasons and the years.
For the impatient among us, Kirsh counsels that it takes about three years for a garden to mature enough so that homeowners can finally say, “Yes, I get it!”
“When the colors and textures fill in, the original plan becomes evident,” says Kirsh.
For these homeowners, Kirsh aimed for a look that conveyed both drama and calmness, and one that could be enjoyed not only while on the property itself, but also from within the house and even from the couple’s boat on Broad Creek.
“I wanted everything to work from every vantage point,” says Kirsh, who adds that because aesthetics are important to her, she likes to share her philosophy of “living artfully” with her clients. Many of the gardens she designs, for example, also include her lifelike yet whimsical horticultural sculptures.
“Art and plants are a great combination,” she says.
When good weather beckons, the couple and their friends have the option of various sitting areas throughout the garden, from a wooden bench flanked by stately English oaks to the outside dining area or grass-bordered swimming pool.
And when the weather turns chilly, everyone heads indoors to the sitting room or coffee room, both of which have been situated—as have the decks and porches—to overlook the informal gardens that Kirsh prefers over more manicured landscapes.
“The homeowners and I like a more natural look, but one with clear edges so that the plants can take their own shape,” she says.
For a cohesive look, she repeats textures, colors, and groundcover throughout the yard, in addition to referencing features of the house (such as the pitched roof, which is reflected in the design of the bluestone walkway leading to the back garden).
“I try to design gardens that are appropriate to the landforms and to the architecture,” Kirsh explains. “I like to have the landscape help the house, not compete with it.”
Along with the many spaces from which the homeowners can enjoy the garden are the many plants growing in it, including Cercis canadensis “Covey” (weeping Eastern Redbud), Pistacia chinensis (Chinese Pistache), hardy gardenias, Pennisetum orientale “Tall Tails” (Oriental Fountain Grass), and unusual low-growing shrubs and grasses along the shoreline.
Kirsh likes to use native trees in her plantings, as well, including Betula nigra “Dura Heat” (River Birch), Magnolia virginiana (Sweet Bay Magnolia), Gleditsia triacanthos (Thornless Honeylocust), and hybrid forms of redbud with reddish-purple foliage.
Thanks to such careful planning and attention to detail, something is “always happening” in the garden, which, in the spring, boasts favorites such as daffodils, catmint, and coneflowers.
And so that the garden offers enjoyment during the frostier months, too, Kirsh has also created a “winter space” with hardy plants such as yucca and Red Twig Dogwood.
When planning a garden, whether springtime-blooming or all-season, “It’s important to think about how you use your space,” Kirsh advises.
“How do you live? What is your style? What are your inspirations? How do shadows and textures come into play throughout the year and throughout your home?”
As these happy homeowners have learned, there’s something wonderful about envisioning a garden and then living with it as it matures.
“A well-designed garden has such psychic benefits,” says Kirsh. “It really improves your outlook.”
For more information on Jan Kirsh Landscapes, visit www.jankirsh.com.