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The Bostonians: A Modern Agrarian Landscape in New England

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The Bostonians: A Modern Agrarian Landscape in New England

August 13, 2018

When the owners of a working farm just outside of Boston wanted to build a new residence, they could think of no better location than a wooded hillside overlooking their own fields.

The owners turned to landscape architects Richard Burck Associates and landscape construction company Robert Hanss Inc., who devised a plan to turn the steep slope into a buildable lot: a series of terraces supported by fieldstone retaining walls. Through the use of traditional materials and informal plantings, Burck and Hanss, together with the architectural team of Albert, Righter & Tittman, were able to create a fully integrated, rural landscape that though modern, looks like it’s always been there.

Photography by Justine Hand.

A lawn ramp, built with the type of large fieldstones typically used in farms, connects the entry level of the house to the upper outdoor living areas, where another retaining wall frames views of working farm fields. Mature trees were preserved whenever possible to help site the new construction and landscape within its setting. Visible in the distance is one of the largest pines found on the property, which was preserved and pruned.
Above: A lawn ramp, built with the type of large fieldstones typically used in farms, connects the entry level of the house to the upper outdoor living areas, where another retaining wall frames views of working farm fields. Mature trees were preserved whenever possible to help site the new construction and landscape within its setting. Visible in the distance is one of the largest pines found on the property, which was preserved and pruned.

Robert Hanss noted, “Key to the success of the project was the careful selection of masonry materials so that everything supported the agrarian character of the site. For example, the granite steps are a salvaged material with split tops and hand-tooled risers. We fit them into the existing slopes and avoided crisp edges and perfectly tight joints. We used large, chunky stones within the fieldstone walls and purposely used a looser hand in fitting the stones together, left drill marks from splitting stones in half, and used hand chisels to shape and fit stones, trying to maintain any weathered faces. We wanted it to feel as if the walls had always been there, something constructed a hundred years ago or more.”

Planted along the fieldstone walls, grasses create a sense of movement and enhance the agrarian feel of the site.
Above: Planted along the fieldstone walls, grasses create a sense of movement and enhance the agrarian feel of the site.
Bordered by the fieldstone ramp and lined with salvaged cobblestones, the generous entry court includes a basketball court, and doubles as a play area for children.
Above: Bordered by the fieldstone ramp and lined with salvaged cobblestones, the generous entry court includes a basketball court, and doubles as a play area for children.
In the early summer, tall purple lupines emerge from the flowing grasses throughout the property.
Above: In the early summer, tall purple lupines emerge from the flowing grasses throughout the property.
A tightly edited plant list (including sugar maples, fothergilla, and shadblow serviceberry) connects the landscape to the surrounding woods and fields and provides visual unity. One hundred Eastern white pines were also planted to form a backdrop and complement the mature white pine already in place. Where possible crab apples, already on the property were integrated.
Above: A tightly edited plant list (including sugar maples, fothergilla, and shadblow serviceberry) connects the landscape to the surrounding woods and fields and provides visual unity. One hundred Eastern white pines were also planted to form a backdrop and complement the mature white pine already in place. Where possible crab apples, already on the property were integrated.
The four, new, fieldstone walls on the property were constructed using locally sourced stones carefully chosen for its character and appearance. All new walls utilized stones that were intentionally larger and rough-hewn to blend with the rustic surroundings. Some show a combination of “faces,” some are naturally weathered, while others show a tooled edge; all so that the newly built wall feels older.
Above: The four, new, fieldstone walls on the property were constructed using locally sourced stones carefully chosen for its character and appearance. All new walls utilized stones that were intentionally larger and rough-hewn to blend with the rustic surroundings. Some show a combination of “faces,” some are naturally weathered, while others show a tooled edge; all so that the newly built wall feels older.
The hillside was seeded with a meadow mix; in early summer lupine and daisy offset the granite steps. The stairs are made from locally sourced, salvaged granite for an authentic look.
Above: The hillside was seeded with a meadow mix; in early summer lupine and daisy offset the granite steps. The stairs are made from locally sourced, salvaged granite for an authentic look.
More lupine and grass create a soft border along the granite steps.
Above: More lupine and grass create a soft border along the granite steps.
The view from the upper lawn overlooks the family terrace—the most enclosed and intimate part of the landscape—as well as the farmland beyond. The patio surface is made of natural cleft bluestone. Plantings include Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus), shadblow serviceberry (Amelanchier), and lupine.
Above: The view from the upper lawn overlooks the family terrace—the most enclosed and intimate part of the landscape—as well as the farmland beyond. The patio surface is made of natural cleft bluestone. Plantings include Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus), shadblow serviceberry (Amelanchier), and lupine.
In front of the shingle-style house built by Albert, Righter & Tittman Architects, a line of sugar maple trees and another newly built fieldstone wall shelter a generous lawn, the main outdoor living and recreation space.
Above: In front of the shingle-style house built by Albert, Righter & Tittman Architects, a line of sugar maple trees and another newly built fieldstone wall shelter a generous lawn, the main outdoor living and recreation space.
The outdoor dining table features a somewhat more loosely constructed stone wall of its own.
Above: The outdoor dining table features a somewhat more loosely constructed stone wall of its own.
Trimmed at the bottom, the lawn&#8
Above: Trimmed at the bottom, the lawn’s border of trees still allows one to take in the view of the fields below.
Nestled into the hillside meadow, the house takes full advantage of the open view.
Above: Nestled into the hillside meadow, the house takes full advantage of the open view.
A bee harvests nectar from one of the many lupines that boom in early summer.
Above: A bee harvests nectar from one of the many lupines that boom in early summer.
Along the driveway leading to the house, red oak (Quercus rubra) and white pine were planted in a natural, staggered sequence to blend with mature white pine already on the property. &#8
Above: Along the driveway leading to the house, red oak (Quercus rubra) and white pine were planted in a natural, staggered sequence to blend with mature white pine already on the property. “The goal was to create a landscape that looks like a natural outgrowth of the wooded edge just beyond.”
Planted among the grasses along the drive, lupine and daisies provide a bit of color and cheer.
Above: Planted among the grasses along the drive, lupine and daisies provide a bit of color and cheer.
The plantings around the site were deliberately restricted, both to reflect what was already there and to enhance the open, natural appearance of the site.
Above: The plantings around the site were deliberately restricted, both to reflect what was already there and to enhance the open, natural appearance of the site.
Wild grasses sway in the breeze and frame the view of the farm fields beyond.
Above: Wild grasses sway in the breeze and frame the view of the farm fields beyond.

If you’re designing a garden on a slope, see our Hardscapes 101 guide to Retaining Walls 101. Here are more of our favorites featuring rustic stone walls:

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