Edmund Hollander’s new book chronicles the quiet beauty of gardens


Q&A with landscape designer Edmund 
Hollander, co-author (with Phil Langdon) of the 
new two-volume book The Private Oasis: 
The Landscape Architecture and Garden Design of Edmund Hollander and 
Maryanne Connelly (Grayson Publishing)

HC&G: What makes this book 
different from other gardening books?
Edmund Hollander: This isn’t a look-at-the-work-that-we-have-done book; rather, it’s a 
look-at-the-work-you-can-do book! It’s more accessible to everyone, and focuses on how people live on a property, whether it’s a little 
one like mine in Sag Harbor or 50 acres on Further Lane. It’s designed to inform.

How do you start a project?

We begin by listening. Some landscape architects 
have a style, and that’s it—they don’t have to listen. But because we work on properties with a variety of architectural structures, we’ll spend lots of time on the land and then just listening to the client. You have to listen for the feeling as opposed to just the spoken words. You can’t “talk” landscape; you need to look at pictures and find the innate feeling the client wants. We’re making people’s dreams come true.

Although you specialize in large 
properties, what can a small-property owner take away from this?
You don’t have to have five acres to have a great property—size doesn’t matter! The idea of spatial quality and the way people use and live in their space is of utmost importance. Everything is intimately related and based on the architecture of the dwelling. It is a three-way marriage: family, house, and landscape. We’ve gone back to properties we had designed earlier for previous owners and found we had to change them completely because of the needs of the new inhabitants.

“You can’t ‘talk’ landscape; you need to look at
pictures and find the innate feeling the client wants”

Here’s a classic Hamptons question: What’s the best placement for a pool?
In an ideal world, a swimming pool should be a place to go to, but not your primary view. However, some people want it as a focal point close to the house. I’ll see their reactions on the computer screen, and it all goes to inner-child stuff: What is lighting up their brain that says, “This is home”?

What’s modern now in gardens?
Simplicity. With today’s stresses, people are desperate to simplify their lives. For example, nowadays all our pools are saltwater pools, which are easier to maintain than chlorine pools. And you feel like silk after swimming in saltwater, rather than smell like chlorine. The desire for simplicity crosses architectural genres, too, whether you have a modern beach shack on Gardiners Lane or a classic shingle-style house on Lake Agawam.

What does every garden need?
Love. You can always tell whether a garden is loved or not, be it a meadow or a formal allée. If you care about it, the landscape will reflect your love. It’s not money; it’s care.

What does the second volume of 
your book have in store for us?
It’s about the living landscape and all the 
various things that go into it. In this first book, we’ve looked at the various nonliving elements and spaces, but the real sexiness comes from the living bits: the light, the color, the texture, and the fragrance. You can’t do all that till the spatial parts are right. If you can create the spaces to live in and then create the living elements, the emotional fulfillment 
follows naturally.

What’s your favorite aspect of being 
a landscape architect?
Well, I didn’t think I was ever going to be a landscape architect—it just sort of happened. I came to the field through an extremely serendipitous route. One of my first professional jobs was on the team for the ill-fated Westway project in New York City, and I got a real taste of politics. It made me realize that what I like is getting things done. Making a project happen is a thrill, from the bulldozers to the cranes bringing in trees to the rolls of sod being laid. It never stops amazing me.