The Artist’s Palette

Experimenting with color and texture, a landscape architect tackles his own backyard.

By Ann Luongo | Photography by Tom Sheehan

This is the time of year when summer is in full bloom, both literally and figuratively. Spring’s blossoms have given way to a beautiful and wildly assorted color palette that can only mean one thing – it’s time for outdoor living.

Gardeners in particular enjoy this time of year, when the perennials have made their comeback and colorful, fragrant plantings have finally broken free to display their considerable talents.

Landscape architect Sean Papich keeps two things in mind when choosing plantings for his own yard – hardiness and full-season effect. He likes plants, shrubs and flowers that will not only be able to survive New England’s seasonal weather conditions, but will also have the ability to change in appearance over time, whether they are plants or trees that bear flowers or fruit, or those with leaves that change in hue as the season begins to change.

As the owner of Sean Papich Landscape Architecture in Hingham, Papich knows his business. He began his career in Chicago, and worked in Kansas City and Arizona prior to coming to Boston in 2001. His home holds an eclectic mix of flora and fauna designed to fit his and wife Tami’s creative inclinations. Together, they have created their own lovingly maintained oasis without breaking the bank.

First Impressions

The front of the Papich home is a rich tapestry of natural colors and textures. Immediately off the driveway, bluestone pavers lead to a small, step-down courtyard that brings you to the front door. Here, guests are greeted with hydrangeas, rhododendrons and holly, providing both evergreen and floral touches to the main entrance. Dwarf Fothergilla brings its color-changing leaves, and coral bells have been planted as low ground cover, adding a touch of deeper color. Low landscape lighting adds accent.

“We chose the bluestone because it’s subtle and has soft tones,” Papich explains. “We also wanted a summer palette in the front yard, and included catmint, which is a tough plant with great color, a hybrid dogwood, some Russian sage, the blush-pink Knockout rose and the daylilies, which are also very hardy.”

Along the side of the home, leading to the backyard, Papich chose a variety of shrubs and trees that soften the look of the privacy fence between his home and his neighbor’s. “The juneberry trees are a favorite of the local birds,” says Papich, “and it’s a native, clump tree that has an orangey fall color.”

He also included peonies and ornamental grasses, like fountain grass and feather reed grass, which offer movement. Fruit-bearing apple and peach trees and a mature blueberry bush, along with the pinkish-purple blossoms of the sedum Autumn Joy, run along the side as well.

Backyard retreat

The backyard has a lush, manicured lawn. Two sweetbay magnolias stand close to the three-season, screened-in porch (where guests can relax on a wide porch swing), and smaller plantings like Coreopsis, Annabelle hydrangeas, Miss Kim dwarf lilacs and many other fragrant and colorful plants flank the patio area.

Entertainment space

The centerpiece of the yard, however, is a lovely 12-by-16-foot white pergola and entertainment space. Here, friends and family gather for summer relaxation and laughter. The patio beneath is tumbled brick, chosen for its aged appearance. A tall stone fireplace, constructed of New England fieldstone, commands one end of this space. With an antique granite hearth, mantel and chimney cap, it stands at roughly 12 feet tall. “I felt the need to get the top of the chimney about two feet above the top of the pergola,” Papich explains. “If you were designing a fireplace for a house, you would be required to get (its chimney) about two feet above the ridgeline of the house to meet any local or state codes.  For that reason, I felt that we should keep the top of the chimney a little higher.”

The Papiches’ property is a work in progress, they say, but seems more of a joy. “We wanted the property to look and feel ‘well-designed,’ and not too unfinished,” says Papich, “so, we will occasionally move plants around or plant something to see how it does, but we don’t really make it look too obvious.”

They wanted a landscape that was appropriate for the house and fit their lifestyle (with three children), he says, and that had a full, four-season appeal with evolving color throughout the year – a blend of textures, layered plantings and just enough evergreen to not feel ‘barren’ in the winter.

“We tend to use a lot of ornamental grasses and hardy perennials for the layering of plant material, and not in a ‘cottage style,’ but more of a new American garden style, with drifts of perennials and grasses, more like an artist’s brush strokes.”

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