The landscape has thousands of plants, including perennials, shrubs and small flowering trees, supplemented seasonally with annuals. Photographs by Danilo Maffei.
The proverbial new kid on the block, one grand Berwyn residence stands out among a neighborhood of venerable abodes that have stood for more than half a century. And that’s exactly what the owners were going for, wanting to express their individuality while still living in architectural harmony with their neighbors.
They took inspiration from the setting, a verdant swath of rolling hills. “It’s a gracious home that’s compatible with a setting that creates the feeling of having been established for quite some time,” says landscape designer Danilo Maffei.
The owners brought in Maffei while the house and a detached garage were under construction. The site is a 2.5-acre parcel, subdivided from a property that includes a big old house.
“A priority was establishing a landscape that would provide privacy plus a series of outdoor spaces the owners would enjoy,” he says.
An accomplished gardener, the wife supplied Maffei with an eight-page list of her favorite plants to incorporate into his design. But the most important plant was already on the property: A huge sugar maple that would become the centerpiece of a new landscape exuding the aura of a mature setting.
Maffei’s mission was to ensure the maple survived the construction. He also retained a stand of Norway spruces in what would become a buffer in the front yard.
To bolster the feel of an established landscape, he sourced arborvitae that were at least 12 feet tall. Buying and planting such large specimens is expensive. “But it means you won’t have to wait years and years for them to grow,” Maffei says. “We also chose arborvitae because deer don’t eat them.”
Full and fast-growing Colorado pine and Eastern white spruce also provide year-round screening. A southern magnolia tree with glossy leaves adds shape and texture. “Despite its name, the species does well in southeastern Pennsylvania,” Maffei says. “You can see grand southern magnolias up and down the Main Line.”
Before he designed the landscape, Maffei conducted an intensive analysis of the site, determining the location of the sun, how wet and dry the area is, and if existing vegetation would stay or go.
The design melds the sensibilities of the spouses, combining the wife’s desire for exuberant abundance and the husband’s penchant for order and simplicity. “She likes circles and curving lines,” Maffei says. “He likes geometry and rectangles.”
The swimming pool, a modified rectangle, pleases them both. A sparkling waterfall cascades from the adjoining circular spa. Both are ringed in indigenous Avondale stone to enhance a pond-like connection to the land. There’s no decking. Instead, the pool is surrounded by soft grass. “They wanted the pool to feel like it was part of the garden, not just plopped on the property,” he says.
Stone bases anchor the columns supporting a pergola over the patio, where there’s a large wood-burning fireplace. The walkways and patio are paved in exposed aggregate concrete embedded with tiny beach pebbles.
The acreage features both serene expanses of lawn and joyously effusive gardens. “She wanted an opportunity to grow a tremendous range of plants and take care of them herself, with seasonal help,” says Maffei of the owner.
The landscape has thousands of plants, including perennials, shrubs and small flowering trees, supplemented seasonally with annuals. The property provides a variety of conditions—“shade, sun, sloping, rocky, rich and fertile,” says Maffei, who added plants compatible with each scenario.
In order to expand the front garden, Maffei persuaded the owners to give up plans for a circular driveway. Rozanne geraniums, purple coneflowers, beautyberry and aromatic agastache surround the bluestone pathway leading to the front door. “It’s in the same family as mint,” says Maffei of the agastache. “It has a great fragrance, but it’s not aggressive like mint. It’s well behaved in the landscape and grows to about three feet tall.”
Granite boulders were hauled to the patio, anchoring plantings of sedum, creeping thyme, flowering sage and lamb’s ears. All like fast-draining soil and at least six hours of sun a day. “They don’t like rich soil, standing water or shade. They like things lean and mean,” Maffei says. “The boulders leave little nooks and crannies, and these plants spill out from them and create great energy.”
Dwarf flowering crab trees were planted by the patio. Large urns give the owners an opportunity to rotate colorful annuals as the seasons change. “You have control over what type of soil goes into the container and where you place that container and how much sun it receives,” says Maffei.
In spring, pots and plots are vibrant with snapdragons, pansies and lettuces that thrive in cool weather. Summer brings a burst of purple petunias, cosmos and Angelonia, as well as the vivid yellows and pinks of lantana. In fall, Maffei is fond of ornamental kale, but he’s not as keen on chrysanthemums “because they take a lot of grooming to keep them looking good.”
In winter, he likes “cut red-stemmed dogwood or winterberry holly [to] display in pots or window boxes.”
And the sugar maple that has stood on the property for decades now has company, providing shade for hosta, heuchera astilbe, lady’s mantel and long-stalk holly. “It’s a beautiful tree, well worth preserving,” Maffei says. “It will keep watch over the garden for many years to come.”