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Landscape Design Q&A With Award-Winning Designer

landscape design

This project won the Large Scale Residential Build Merit Award from GreenWorks.

Marie Limoge is an award winning Landscape Designer who works in Northern Vermont at DiStefano Landscaping. I sat down with her to talk about her landscape design process, favorite plants and several of her recent projects that received awards.

What is your design process?

“It has a lot to do with what the individual client wants, because every project is so drastically different, which is one of the nice parts about my job because it's not the same thing over and over again.”

“I’ve been to some houses where people are like, ‘I want my beds flowy and colorful and I want something blooming all year round.’ And then the next person I talk to says, ‘I want straight lines, no flowers – only grasses.’ On a normal project, I chat with the clients first about what their goals are, whether they want things for butterflies or just want color, something blooming year-round to have that interest. Then we start talking about colors – do they lean more towards cool colors or warm colors, what colors do they not like?

What people don’t like is almost more important than what they do.

Nine times out of ten people are like, ‘Don’t put orange in the front of my house.’ Then you get the occasional person who’s like, ‘I love orange’ and I get [excited] because there are a whole grouping of plants I can actually use.”

landscape design drawing

A drawing for her large-scale planting in Colchester, Vermont.

Once I narrow down what the client is looking for, then I pull out my plant books and start my list. If people want more warm colors, I use things like Ninebark, Bee Balm, Rudbeckia and those bolder colors. If they want cool colors I like to use Nepeta, Geranium and Salvia. I usually have my long list and then work on the design with heights and bloom time, narrowing it down to a shorter list.

Is there a certain formula you use to decide which varieties to use?

“I’ve been doing this for 12 years so I kind of have my staples now. I know what’s going to work in certain places and every once in awhile I learn about a new plant and get really excited and it shows up in a lot of projects … color is such a big part of the garden and texture, the texture is really important too. Having different leaf sizes and shapes makes it interesting.”

landscape design with annuals

What are your favorite plants to use in landscape design?

“That is a super hard question. My favorite trees are Honey Locust and Catalpa. My favorite large shrub is Amelanchier canadensis (Shadblow or Serviceberry). It’s a native Vermont plant and it’s the first thing that blooms in the spring. I love Rudbeckia and Cranesbill Geranium just blooms and blooms and blooms. This summer I have been using a lot of Astilbe, the texture and foliage are so nice. I love the height, color and smell of Bugbane. Nepeta is nice if you need a big impact in one little spot. I just fell in love with Butterfly Weed this year – I love the orange. I also really started playing with a lot of the different Heuchera (Coral Bells), some of those colors are just amazing.”

What is your experience working with wildflowers?

“I’ve had great experience with American Meadows seeds actually. I did this very steep bank for an older man in his 80s, just this wonderful guy … it was too steep to mow and I thought to try wildflowers. I told him that he had to be patient as the first year would be a little rough, the next year he called me and told me I had to come over and see how amazing it was and that his neighbors would come over to enjoy it all the time ... this year we've done a few different wildflower plantings.”

landscape design drawing
One of Marie's plans of the gardens at this project.

A large-scale hardscaping and garden design in Colchester, Vermont.

This project won Best Landscaping from the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Northern Vermont and the Large Scale Residential Design Merit Award from GreenWorks -The VT Nursery and Landscape Association.

“I got to this home and the woman said, ‘I just need some color in my front beds.’ There was nothing there, literally a little foundation planting and nothing else around the multi-million dollar house. There was no way to get to the pool in the back … she told me they wanted to just put some color in their beds and I came back to her with a full plan and she loved it.”

landscape design around pool
Instead of a chain link fence, they built stone walls around the pool and added grasses for safety.

“We brought in trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals. The stonework is the bones of the project; most hardscape gets designed first, whether we need walls, retaining, a fire pit or a walkway. Then the plants are the frosting, they are the things that tie the stone to the natural landscape and make you smile. Sometimes, picking the plants is about what’s going to make the stonework look the best. If we’re using granite with cooler colors, let’s play with that.”

foundation planting landscape design

They added plantings around the entire home.

“In this job the stone is a little more golden and yellow so we got to play with that. There was so much hardscape that it really needed something to cozy it in. We did steps and grasses in front of their wall so we didn’t have to do a fence [around the pool]; just the foundation plantings too. They had some boulders but there was nothing against the beautiful house so we added the plantings.”

“This project was interesting because they are only here June through September, so we didn’t care about anything blooming before June or after September. So I had to get them the most impact from June to September, which is really different from most projects.”

landscape design

A hardscaping and garden design in Essex, Vermont.

This project won the Large Scale Residential Build Merit Award from GreenWorks -The VT Nursery and Landscape Association. 

“This project is so drastically different from the last project and we did this one right after. The other project had formal, clean lines and this project is so much more informal.”

landscape design

“We used bluestone and it fits into the landscape better, way more natural. It was fun because the plant combinations and the colors were different too. The homeowner was really interested and printed out like 60 pages of plants she wanted to use and obviously some of them worked and some of them didn’t … I threw some of my own stuff in too. The garden is all dwarf conifers, roses and grasses – it’s just such a different feel.”

landscape design stone work

Marie added Creeping Thyme in between the stepping stones for a natural, low-maintenance look.

“She had some stepping stones but because we wanted to keep the lawn line solid for maintenance, and I still wanted have that green between the stones, I did two different varieties of creeping Thyme in between the stepping stones.”

annual landscape design

This client lets Marie play with annuals each season.

What is your favorite thing about your job?

“I love seeing that doodle that I did come to life. I love standing on a patio that I drew, or I love walking around the corner and seeing that Coreopsis blooming next to the Bee Balm. It’s amazing that I had that vision in my head and I wasn’t sure it was going to work and there it is.”

“I remember graduating from college and being on site for my first big project and I had 12 guys in the crew, it was pouring rain and I was just pointing and they were moving trees and I’m like, ‘This is so cool.’ When I have bad days I just try to remember that day. I get the make the world a more beautiful place.”

“Growing up there was a book called Miss Rumphius and its about this little girl whose grandfather always asks, ‘What are you going to do to make the world a more beautiful place?’ As she gets older, she turns into an old woman living on the coast of Maine and spreads Lupine seeds wherever she goes. It’s just one of those funny little things from being little that I’ve just kept and this is what I get to do to make the world a more beautiful place.”

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