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Garden Visit: Beauty and Biodiversity in Lieu of a Front Lawn in Bridgehampton, NY

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Garden Visit: Beauty and Biodiversity in Lieu of a Front Lawn in Bridgehampton, NY

January 25, 2024

This is part of a series with Perfect Earth Project, a nonprofit dedicated to toxic-free, nature-based gardening, on how you can be more sustainable in your landscapes at home.  

“Mother nature is the ultimate landscape designer. We’re just her helpers,” says Emilia deMauro, who, along with her sister Anna, runs the East Hampton, NY, landscape design firm deMauro + deMauro. Their approach to design is imbued with a sense of community and responsibility to preserve the beauty of the native environment.

The sisters grew up shuttling between the rolling hills of rural Northeastern Pennsylvania, where their artist dad lived, and the farm fields and overgrown thickets of the east end of Long Island, where their mother was farming and gardening. “Both of those landscapes play a huge part in our designs,” says Anna, who studied at the Florence Academy of Art in Italy. “There’s something so beautiful in the wildness. We’re constantly pulling from those memories.”

They found kindred spirits in architect Nick Martin and his wife Christina. The couple believed strongly in “pivoting away from green lawns that require chemicals and continual labor, and, most important, that strip our community of habitat for creatures big and small,” says Christina. They hired the sisters to design the landscape outside of Martin Architects, Nick’s new Bridgehampton office on the Montauk highway. A busy thoroughfare, situated just past a gas station and across from a bank, didn’t deter them from achieving their joint vision: a self-sufficient oasis, lush with native plants and alive with birds, butterflies, and wildlife, that looks beautiful year-round. 

Photography by Doug Young, courtesy of deMauro + deMauro, unless otherwise noted.

For the meadow in front of Martin Architects, the deMauros devised an interspecies matrix planting. They densely planted small perennials (grasses like prairie dropseed and wavy hair grass, and flowers including slender blue iris, gray goldenrod, and white heath asters) approximately \1\2 to \18 inches apart to help with weed suppression and water conservation.
Above: For the meadow in front of Martin Architects, the deMauros devised an interspecies matrix planting. They densely planted small perennials (grasses like prairie dropseed and wavy hair grass, and flowers including slender blue iris, gray goldenrod, and white heath asters) approximately 12 to 18 inches apart to help with weed suppression and water conservation.

The property was neglected when the Martins bought it. “To transform the space, we removed the asphalt driveway, regraded the land because the pitch was so bad, with the goal that it wouldn’t need irrigation,” says Nick. He also tried to reuse as many materials as possible. 

For the hardscape, the sisters chose stone dust for the driveway and paths. It’s water permeable, acts as a mulch, and is “beautiful at all times but especially in winter when the garden has an open and serene feeling to it,” says Emilia.
Above: For the hardscape, the sisters chose stone dust for the driveway and paths. It’s water permeable, acts as a mulch, and is “beautiful at all times but especially in winter when the garden has an open and serene feeling to it,” says Emilia.

For the front-yard meadow, which is 90 percent native, the deMauros handpicked every single plant. They had roughly plotted out a matrix on paper in the office before “throwing it all up in the air come planting time,” says Anna, with a laugh, of their instinctual process. “Something happens when you lay out a garden,” adds Emilia. “There’s a little chaos and unknown in nature and that’s where the fun happens. You can’t be too rigid.” 

In front of the property is an old footpath that has been worn away by people walking along it over the years. “We wanted to honor it, so we covered it with stone dust with the hope that people will continue to use it daily and enjoy the insects and birds, and just the plain old beauty of the garden,” says Christina. A Magnolia virginiana ‘Sweet Thing’ tree anchors one end of the path, which is flanked by asters, narrowleaf mountain mint, prairie dropseed grass, and three kinds of Carex.
Above: In front of the property is an old footpath that has been worn away by people walking along it over the years. “We wanted to honor it, so we covered it with stone dust with the hope that people will continue to use it daily and enjoy the insects and birds, and just the plain old beauty of the garden,” says Christina. A Magnolia virginiana ‘Sweet Thing’ tree anchors one end of the path, which is flanked by asters, narrowleaf mountain mint, prairie dropseed grass, and three kinds of Carex.

While the garden is not even a year old, it already has become an attraction for wildlife and humans alike. The Martins have spotted an uncommon Henry’s Elfin butterfly and specialized native bees like Colletes banksi. (For more on the importance of native bees, see Have You Seen Me? A Guide to the Native Bees at Risk of Extinction.) “The meadow has become a haven for insects and birds, all sharing space,” says Christina, who is also studying biodynamic gardening.

&#8\2\16;Silver Column&#8\2\17; willow trees flank the driveway. The meadow isn&#8\2\17;t cut back in the fall so that stems and seedheads stay intact for wintering wildlife. After returning from a family vacatiion to Sweden, the sisters came back with an even greater appreciation for nature au naturel. “Less is more. See the beauty in leaving things be,” says Anna.  
Above: ‘Silver Column’ willow trees flank the driveway. The meadow isn’t cut back in the fall so that stems and seedheads stay intact for wintering wildlife. After returning from a family vacatiion to Sweden, the sisters came back with an even greater appreciation for nature au naturel. “Less is more. See the beauty in leaving things be,” says Anna.  

It’s also attracted the attention of people, including Perfect Earth Project founder Edwina von Gal, who recently was compelled to step on the brakes while driving by to find out more. She’s not the only one. “We have friends stopping by to ask about our plant lists,” says Christina. “That’s the whole idea. We want to share our garden and inspire as many people as possible because the more people who do this, the better.”

 At the back of the property, Anna and Emilia planted a loose allée of native single stem Magnolia virginiana ‘Green Shadow’ trees, leading to a wood sculpture. “This space was intended to have a slightly more formal feeling from the front of the property with fewer plantings and more stone dust,” says Emilia. Photograph courtesy of Nick and Christina Martin.
Above: At the back of the property, Anna and Emilia planted a loose allée of native single stem Magnolia virginiana ‘Green Shadow’ trees, leading to a wood sculpture. “This space was intended to have a slightly more formal feeling from the front of the property with fewer plantings and more stone dust,” says Emilia. Photograph courtesy of Nick and Christina Martin.

The deMauros are encouraged that aesthetics are shifting. “People want to do the right thing,” says Emilia. She and her sister have seen how frustrated people are with the time, money, and effort to keep green lawns and clipped hedges. “It’s important to have these conversations. No one needs a ‘perfect’ lawn. We want to show people that they can have habitat on their property and it can be beautiful.”

The whole office came out to plant the meadow together. “We wanted everyone to have a part in the garden and I was amazed at how much fun everyone was having putting their hands in the dirt,” says Christina. “It was a bonding experience.”
Above: The whole office came out to plant the meadow together. “We wanted everyone to have a part in the garden and I was amazed at how much fun everyone was having putting their hands in the dirt,” says Christina. “It was a bonding experience.”

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