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An award-winning landscape design - a perennial garden surrounds a pool with a lake in the background.

Landscape Design Q&A With An Award-Winning Designer

By Amanda Shepard, American Meadows staff writer and gardener

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 projects that have 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 say, ‘Don’t put orange in the front of my house.’ Then you get the occasional person who says, ‘I love orange’ and I get excited because there is a whole grouping of plants I can actually use.

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 a while 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."

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 (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 (Black Cohosh). 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 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 thought, ‘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 about a 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. This is what I get to do to make the world a more beautiful place.”

What is your experience working with wildflowers?

“I’ve had great experiences 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.”

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.

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."

"In this job, the stone is 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]. 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. I designed to get them the most impact in the summer months, which is really different from most projects.”

Get This Look In Your Garden

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.

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 ornamental grasses.

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

Get This Look In Your Garden

Updated June 15, 2021.