Garden Guru

Q&A with Bridgehampton-based landscape architect Brady Mitchell Anderson

Made In The Shade | Wisteria clambers up a pergola in Water Mill, creating a shady retreat. The rough stone walls contrast with a series of bluestone slabs set simply into the grass.

What are the very first steps on a garden design project?

Brady Mitchell Anderson: Initially, I walk the site with my client and then try to revisit the property several times at as many different times of the day as possible. Then I create a series of sketches and bring along pictures of my own work as well as other inspirational images, and we go from there.

How do you make a landscape look natural?

BMA: You can usually make a few bold changes to a garden that are actually very subtle to the eye but help to tie a landscape together. Also, I think it’s a mistake to fight the natural plant palette—or the regulations that might exist at a site—so you should never do anything that’s too radical.

A 70-foot-long rill at the Jardins des Volières
Dark Beauty | Using regional dark volcanic stone from a nearby church as a framework, Anderson boldly introduced a 70-foot-long rill at the Jardins des Volières, an early- 18th-century chateau in the Auvergne region of France.

In most of your projects, you have a very light hand with masonry. How do you keep it from looking heavy, or expected?

BMA: Trial and error! For example, on a driveway apron in Bridgehampton, I wanted to avoid using the typical Belgian block. Through some experimentation with bluestone and fieldstone, which are also common in the Hamptons, I came up with the idea of laying the stones on their edges instead. With walls, I personally oversee construction to make sure they don’t become too rigid- or monotonous-looking.

What would be your Hamptons dream project?

BMA: I’ve already had many—not to say that there can’t be more! I’ve had great clients, and sites and projects of vastly different scales. And I think it is one of my responsibilities to challenge both myself with new ideas and the clients’ preconceived notions of what a garden or landscape project should or should not be.

Stepping Stones
Stepping Stones | A sharp change in grade is made navigable by irregular stone steps floating in a lawn.

You started out working on a private garden at a chateau in France. What differences do you see today between gardeners in the States and those in Europe? 

BMA: Not that many, although I think Europeans discovered the importance of native plant palettes later than we did and have recently started to embrace them. That said, the French in particular seem to have a fascination with native American prairie plants, like rudbeckia and false indigo.

What are your favorite native plants?

BMA:  My favorite tree would most definitely be the Fagus grandiflora, the American beech. For shrubs, you really can’t beat high-bush blueberries, Vaccinium corybosum, both for their landscape value and their delicious fruit. And Eupatorium, better known as Joe-Pye Weed, is a terrific perennial.

Grassy ramp at Hamptons Garden
Ramped Up Style | A grassy ramp connects different areas of the garden at a 26-acre Hamptons estate.

Most clients want a low-maintenance garden. How do you satisfy that request?

BMA: By first explaining that “low maintenance” is a relative term, and that most any garden will require some degree of maintenance. One helpful solution is to limit the plant palette to several key plants that can be used in different ways throughout a property.

Do your gardens have a common theme?

BMA: Not really, but you can definitely see that my training is in landscape architecture, since I always try to introduce strong structural elements, whether they’re fences, hedges or a row of trees. In the end my projects are subtle, but they always seem like a designed space.

If you were asked to teach a group of landscape architecture students, what would you tell them?

BMA: Travel as much as possible. Landscapes around the world are an unlimited source of inspiration, and they can be reinterpreted in numerous ways for an American audience.