Postage Stamp Garden Delivers in Boston

In Boston, where legacy is king, landscape designer Matthew Cunningham strikes a balance between historic reverence and thoughtful ease using a revamped 415-square-foot entry courtyard.

“My aim was to unite the program prerequisites using a distance that felt firmly rooted in a palette of materials unique to New England,” says Cunningham. “The inside of the home is very modern, but the shell of the construction is conventional. Both elements are intentionally blended by the backyard. It is meant to feel present and stylish without even turning its back to the incredibly wealthy context of Boston’s South End.”

Privacy, intense microclimates and architectural continuity all play crucial roles when designing urban gardens, and unlike with conventional yards, there’s little room for excess. “Urban gardens may be tough to establish,” says Cunningham. “The secret is to keep things simple and intentional.”

Matthew Cunningham Landscape Design LLC

For a small footprint, shoes are filled by the courtyard. More than a garden, it is an entry, dining area, land line along with physical projection of their customer’s aesthetic.

“The customer sought a backyard which was lasting and easy to maintain,” says Cunningham. The courtyard was created as an outdoor extension of the home as well as a welcoming invitation.

He immediately resolved privacy issues by surrounding the previously underutilized courtyard. Eight-foot fencing separates the intimate courtyard in your tropical alley.

Matthew Cunningham Landscape Design LLC

The garden draws the experience of the home outside — creating a feeling of seclusion in the middle of metropolitan Boston.

“it is a fairly quiet area,” says Cunningham. “You don’t really observe the bustle and hustle of the city because it is on the alley side of their property. You find the sky and some surrounding buildings.”

Matthew Cunningham Landscape Design LLC

Ambient locality light illuminates a lot of the backyard. Candles are its only additional light source.

Matthew Cunningham Landscape Design LLC

Resilient Hardscape

Much of historic Boston is Made from brick. Cunningham utilized granite paving as an intentional diversion out of this tradition while staying true to regional aesthetics and clean design.

Dry-laid cobbles — many already on site — were closely tucked with sterile native moss, keeping permeability and allowing water percolation.

Matthew Cunningham Landscape Design LLC

All woodwork and fencing is whitewashed fir contrasted with corrugated galvanized steel.

While the site is somewhat protected, the climate of the American Northeast is ferocious, and all materials will need to withstand its inflictions — humidity, snow, rain — while weathering gracefully and naturally.

The hardscape colour suits the modern, industrial aesthetic of the space while still habituated to traditional New England gardens.

Matthew Cunningham Landscape Design LLC

Matthew Cunningham Landscape Design LLC

Shade-tolerant Planting

“Understanding the developing conditions is crucial,” says Cunningham. This site receives hardly three hours of direct sunlight every day, so selecting plants that would survive in shade and retain moisture was crucial.

Like the minimalist substance palette, the primary planting palette is limited to two shade-loving perennials. Hakone grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’) and Heuchera (Heuchera micrantha ‘Palace Purple’)are blended within the terraced beds that are raised. “They flourish in the area and also have excellent multi-seasonality. We utilize annuals from the containers in the backyard — and utilize palms in the containers which flank the entry of the home.”

Matthew Cunningham Landscape Design LLC

While not all plants are evergreen, Cunningham says, the clients enjoy the backyard yearlong. The Hakone grass continues to flourish over the winter, blowing off in the frosty wind while cascading over terraced planters.

Matthew Cunningham Landscape Design LLC

Space-saving Details

Every square foot of outside area is accounted for.

Cunningham avoided wasted space by selecting a sliding barn-style gate rather than a classic moving door. Built-in closets keep AC components, trash and recycling from view — removing clutter.

He adopted the firewood storage for a design feature by leaving the stack vulnerable. A granite pier forms the pedestal of the dining table.

Matthew Cunningham Landscape Design LLC

Cunningham employed optical apparatus to add distance.

The horizontal slats of the fencing were intentionally utilized to elongate the distance, directing the visitor from the alley into the garden and home.

Matthew Cunningham Landscape Design LLC

Landscape plan of South End Courtyard.

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