Set on the Wye River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, a white, clapboard home comprised of peaked, gabled forms stood in stark relief against a bare, empty lawn. Such was the state of affairs when landscape architect Kevin Campion got a call from a DC-based couple who had recently purchased the property as a weekend getaway and summer home. The new owners had hired Annapolis architect Chip Bohl to renovate the 1996 residence. They then tapped Campion and his associate, Nick Ries, to tackle their 16-acre waterfront site, which also encompassed two adjacent guest houses and a detached garage.
“The existing conditions had the lawn going right up to the house—no foundation plantings or Chesapeake semblance at all,” recalls Ries. “It’s a beautiful, modern home, but it could have been sited anywhere and didn’t fit in with the Eastern Shore. We wanted to change that.”
Taking inspiration from the Tidewater habitat, Campion and Ries selected a palette of native plants that would soften the profile of the house yet still respect its modern oeuvre. Textural but clean-lined gardens were developed around other amenities the clients requested: a pool with a terrace, a spa and a fire pit where they could gather to watch sailboats skim by on their way to and from the Chesapeake Bay.
Starting in the front where cars parked right up against the house, the landscape architects established a forecourt for guest parking and a 30-yard bluestone path that connects it to the home. “Guests get out and walk to the front door, which creates some drama in the approach,” says Campion. A side drive on the left leads to the garage.
Along the front façade, Campion and Ries created a living foundation with bands of boxwood, Carl Foerster reed grass and nassella—species that are “appropriate for a modern house,” says Ries. “The grass lends itself to the peak idea; it’s reaching for the sky, just like the house.”
Behind the home, they sited the pool, spa and Corten steel fire pit between the main house and the western guest house, a spot close to both the kitchen and the screened porch. From here, the owners and guests enjoy “commanding views of the Wye River,” says Campion.
The third phase of the project—still in progress—is planting the expansive riverside lawn with blocks of ornamental grasses and perennials. “These coastal grasses bring the Tidewater landscape up to the house,” Campion explains. “The idea is to reduce the amount of lawn and the impact of runoff. We’re still working on planting along the water’s edge, which is the most ecologically important place to filter storm water.”
These gardens add texture, color and movement to the landscape—and create a wildlife habitat. “Minarda comes up in the spring and is a deep burgundy color. The bees go nuts over it,” notes Ries. “And Blue Spires Russian sage blooms from June to September. It moves with the wind and the bees, birds and butterflies are all over it.”
A low, stone plinth separates the house and pool area from the lawn, which slopes down to the river. Long, wide stairs edged in stone create an amphitheater effect. “Adults can sit on the steps and look down at the kids playing,” says Campion. Kayaks, jon boats, dirt bikes and four-wheelers stored in the garage can easily be taken down to the dock or on jaunts around the property. Near the garage, Campion Hruby is also preparing a family vegetable garden where the owners and their two children can cultivate fruits and vegetables.
A far cry from its barren beginnings, this newly established landscape finally connects to—and protects—its Eastern Shore surroundings, while its style complements the existing structures on the site. As Campion concludes, “We found a lot of hard edges and tried to soften them without losing the sense of modern design.”
LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE: KEVIN CAMPION, ASLA, principal; NICK RIES, ASLA, project manager, Campion Hruby Landscape Architects, Annapolis, Maryland. BUILDER: Nuttle Builders, Denton, Maryland. LANDSCAPE MAINTENANCE: Unity Landscape, Church Hill, Maryland. POOL: Sunset Pools, Annapolis, Maryland.