For Roxine Brown of Bridgehampton-based Harmonia, garden design comes naturally
HC&G: Your grandmother was a serious gardener. What did you learn from her?
Roxine Brown: I grew up in the Bay Area of California, which has such a wonderful climate for gardening, and as a child I made my allowance pulling weeds. I got paid by the bucket. My grandmother had beautiful roses and a phenomenal veggie garden, and at my mother’s house, we had a landscape of ivy, geraniums, and bonsai. So between the two I had a very rich horticultural upbringing.
You started out in fashion before moving into landscape design. How does your fashion background influence your work?
I spent many years at Liz Claiborne, at Halston with Randolph Duke, and at the Limited, which gave me an understanding of how to put different elements together to make something beautiful. Texture, color, and proportion are as important in fashion as they are in garden design. Today the biggest trend among all my clients is the desire to create layers in the garden, and that’s essentially the same aesthetic approach you take in fashion design.
How did you get started with garden design on the East End?
A friend of mine who knew I loved gardening asked me if I would do all her containers one summer. It started at 85 pots, then went up to 125 two years later! And I still do her pots to this day. Then someone asked me to fluff up their property for a Labor Day party. Now I’m in my ninth season of business.
You’re known for creating romantic gardens. How do you achieve that look?
A landscape needs to have structure and the proper allocation of space, but I always like to incorporate plants that have a lot of movement and can flow with the topography of a property. And I encourage clients to plant trees—not the lollipop varieties, but ones with more character and grace. It’s not so much “English garden” romance but rather bohemian—flowing and natural.
How organic are your gardens?
All the material that we put into the ground is organic. We don’t do pesticides and don’t recommend big spray programs. Plants have a natural immune system, but you have to help them along, and that takes discipline and time. For instance, I used lacewings to get rid of a woolly aphid problem on a tree at my own property. It took awhile, but it’s a much healthier approach.
What is your ideal project?
I can do a blank-slate garden, but I really love projects where I can save and reuse some plants, bring in something new, and get an amazing result. Even a flat potato field can be made more interesting, although it’s more fun when the topography is a challenge.
What are your favorite gardens, and what have you learned from them?
I love the work of Oehme, van Sweden, but I get most of my ideas from nature in its true state. Even though I have a million gardening books in the office, I always return to the natural world for inspiration. As tough and emotionally challenging as things can be today, we are returning to an awareness of nature again, and I find that incredibly exciting.