Creating an Outdoor Private Oasis

Landscape architect Julie Moir Messervy creates a pond that results in a private oasis.



Photos by Todd Gieg

Julie Moir Messervy, the award-winning Saxons River, Vermont, landscape designer and author, laughs as she recalls the beginnings of this dreamy woodland pond and garden in Beverly Farms.

“One day I got a call from the homeowner and I went to see her,” Messervy recalls. “She has a big old house overlooking the ocean set on a wonderful piece of land. The problem she brought to me was the fact that the road goes close by her door, exposing her to the gaze of passing motorists. ‘I want a garden where I can walk around in my nightgown,’ she told me. When we first began to work on this project, we called it the Nightgown Garden.”

A less talented designer might have put up a tall fence, but Messervy created privacy in a far more imaginative way: Her plan called for the creation of a new pond. The soil unearthed when the pond was dug became a mound along its upland edge. Atop that berm, trees turn the pond into a convincing woodland feature while creating a privacy screen.
“We situated the pond where it might naturally occur, which is below a big outcropping of ledge,” Messervy says. “Now it is part of a long view toward the water, but at the same time, it is a wonderful planting environment for the homeowner, who is a passionate gardener.”

The pond, which is lined with clay to help retain the water, is also an opportunity for whimsical and poetic features like an island shaped like a tortoise and a waterfall sheeting down the face of the boldest part of the ledge. A well supplies the waterfall, and all of the water is continually circulated. Under the trees nearby, rustic furniture provides a comfortable place for enjoying the view, as does a two-story gazebo. Below the pond, the woods give way to salt marshes, and then to the beach. The overall effect is one of untouched nature.
“To create an instant garden and make it look convincing, we planted large trees, including Japanese maples and evergreens,” explains the designer. “In a large landscape like this, you can’t just plunk little things in the ground and hope for the best—the competing plants will shade them and crowd them out before they have a chance to grow.”

The pond project launched a multiyear garden design for the entire estate. It includes perennial beds, woodland rhododendron plantings, a rock garden, and fragrant herbs that grow between stone pavers outside the kitchen door.

“Originally, you stepped right onto the dirt of the yard,” says Messervy. “We created a nicer relationship between the inside and out.”

She also softened the transition at the driveway entrance, where ornamental trees and shrubs edge around a Japanese gate. Here, as amid the trees beside the pond, the homeowner has planted tall ornamental alliums, their spherical heads of purple blossoms contrasting with the gray-green and bronze foliage of the shrubbery. The pondside ledge, too, is a favorite garden. Over the years, its earthen pockets have been filled with roses, succulents, Yucca, juniper, and Liriope. Under the tall trees, the enormous leaves of butterbur are interspersed with lacy ferns. In a sunnier spot, billows of pale blue catmint make a pretty foil for the lavender blossoms of a ‘Miss Kim’ lilac.

“She is really a devoted gardener,” Messervy says of the homeowner. “She understands that this kind of constant bloom requires a lot of work. She is out there every day, planting, weeding, deadheading, and doing all those other garden chores.”

Thanks to her landscape designer, she can do them in her nightgown.

Photos by Todd Gieg

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