We love the challenge to take on a traditional garden style but execute it in a way that rings true to Green Jay: by improving the landscapes ecological functionality, from biodiversity to ecosystem services. In this case in South Salem, New York, our clients love the traditional French and Italian parterre gardens. A parterre garden refers to a series of contained gardens on a level surface, with gravel pathways in between. There are often evergreen hedges surrounding each garden bed, and the series of beds make up a pattern that is best viewed from above. Symmetry, patterns, and order are hallmarks of the parterre garden theory. We decided to keep the basic framework – four rectilinear garden beds with pathways in between – but had a bit of fun bending the planting rules.

Site Preparation & Development

The framework for the gardens were four beds cor-ten steel borders, this effectively replaces the boxwood hedge of traditional parterre gardens by keeping each rectilinear bed neat and defined. GJL crews prepared the beds with our custom blend of soil and amendments based on the planting palette for each bed – some required more bacteria-dominant soil and some required more fungal-dominant. Each bed was equipped with organic compost and biochar to help stimulate and cultivate essential soil microbial communities.

Picking Parterre Garden Plants: Formally Wild

The guiding philosophy for this design was to provide some mystery and evolution to a garden template that is typically very planned and predictable. Thus, we did not design four identical and symmetrical garden beds. Rather, we gave each bed the same “bones” – same dimensions, and all equipped with a pyramid trellis – but the planting composition and layouts are different across all four. We blended our favorite long-blooming, well-behaved, native perennials with some classic heirloom European perennials and flowering vines (all of which are still heavily visited by pollinators).

The idea was to elevate this garden art into something that invites the viewer’s continued interest and welcomes them to stroll around the gardens and examine them closer, rather than just from above. “Wild in a box,” we affectionately called the project. While nothing in the garden beds was symmetrical, there was a degree of repetition within the plant palette to create thematic resonance.  As Jay says, this living expression of art should convey our Je ne sais quoi and J’oie de vivre! That is, the indescribable exuberance for ever-changing life, all around us; experiencing the garden as it evolves alongside us, throughout the seasons of our lives.

Terrace Design: Connecting the Property

Of course, this concept works so well because of the existing grade changes that provide such optimal viewing platform from the terraces above. The existing retaining walls created a perfect frame for more formal, yet ecological plantings. We chose a mix of hydrangeas with mostly native perennials and ground covers to harmonize with the parterre below, still making it the focal point.

It was a pleasure working with clients that have so much enthusiasm for the natural world. We love being challenged to pursue our mission in a new style, and we love how this New American Parterre Garden turned out!

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Green Jay Landscaping

Where Design Meets Ecology