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An interview with Janice Parker - Part II

13 Jun 2014 11:41 AM
An interview with Janice Parker - Part II

Here's the second part of our interview with legendary designer Janice Parker - she talks about sustainable environmental solutions for landscaping, her use of local materials, and much more. Any owners of luxury real estate in Greenwich would do well to contemplate her guidance - very few have their eye on the future of landscape design as closely as she does.

Sotheby's International Realty:  Are sustainable solutions popular, and if so what are they?

JP: Yes, they are popular, and I think it's because people are so conscious and educated about the use of chemicals as far as their health is concerned. So when people say sustainable, I think of plants that require very little coddling with any kind of fertilizer. Sustainable means choosing the right plant for the right place, so you don't plant large shade trees too close to the house because in a few years they get very very big. It also means knowing when to cut back on the irrigation so that the plant becomes strong and self-sustaining so it's not dependent on artificial water and artificial fertilization.

There is a balance between how far out you strategize your landscape, but what I think creates real value for people in a landscape are plants that have their own unique branching habit and their own compacted growth pattern that it doesn't have to be constantly pruned and fed and then end up being too big for the spot.

SIR: What are some of the species that are best suited for this type of low maintenance planting given the Greenwich climate?

JP: Fastigiate plants, [which are] upright-growing plants whose branching habit is very congested. Both trees and shrubs of this sort are fantastic to use because they never grow too wide and shade out what's underneath them. They are strong architectural elements, and they never outgrow their spaces because they can be pruned without looking disfigured. There are fastigiate beech, oak, European hornbeam, maple, pine trees, etc. This is a terrific solution for creating a very multilayered landscape that won't shade itself out.

SIR: Are local materials something that your customers are interested in incorporating into their landscape?

JP: Absolutely. Bluestone is local to New York State and Pennsylvania. It serves as a gold standard - it always looks good in New England. Also, Connecticut fieldstone and granite, which always looks natural because it literally emerges out of our landscape. Most of our stone walls are made with Connecticut fieldstone and granite, and we use a lot of bluestone for paving. The only drawback of bluestone is that it heats up very quickly around the pool, but you can also use local granite around the pool which heats up much more slowly.

SIR: What are some of the design challenges in the area?

JP: A lot of challenges come from the enormous amount of wetlands around. So there are restrictions to what people can do and where they can expand because you cannot build on wetlands or on the buffer zones. The other thing is privacy of the surrounding houses, so creating privacy plantings that look natural, beautiful and sustainable can be very challenging.

SIR: Are there any restrictions, zoning regulations or things like that that you need to take into consideration when you're designing in Greenwich?

JP: The very first thing people need to do is to understand their plot plans - where the utilities are, where the septic is, if there are any wetlands… There are setbacks and regulations that have to do with all of these issues. For example, if you're trying to plan a tennis court or a swimming pool, you have setbacks not only to the property line but also to the underground utilities and wells. So you really have to understand which areas can be developed and which ones cannot be developed. If, in the future, you will want to do a pool, you have to be careful not to do a terrace in the only place on the property where you could do a pool because the equipment, generators, etc. may only be able to go in that one place.

SIR: Do you think these regulations are helpful, or do you feel like sometimes they stymie your creativity?

JP: I think they're very challenging to work with, but they protect the environment and the value of properties, they keep people from being able to put a helipad in the backyard, which is a good thing, and the wetland regulations and the coastal management regulations protect the environment and the natural beauty of the area. But despite their frustrating aspects for the homeowner, I have never been unable to achieve what my clients wanted - if you have a design that makes sense and in the long run enhances the property, you will be able to do it. The regulations are pretty strict but with the right creative and collaborative approach, you can achieve a lot. I always tell my clients not to see them as weaknesses but as something that can be turned into our advantage with a right design.