Talking to the Earth

Ed Hollander’s new book is a gorgeous how-to for Hamptons landscape design
Although Edmund Hollander and his associates design landscapes on a variety of terrains, many of the images in the book are properties on water. But even in East Hampton, he noted that there are very diverse habitats including ocean, marshes, fields, and woodlands, that make a typical “Hamptons” landscape hard to define. Instead of a coffee-table book, “The Private Oasis” is more of a how-to guide for people looking for ideas for their own properties with separate sections on pools, entries, outdoor living, and dining. Charles Mayer Photos

   Edmund Hollander isn’t just kidding when he says his outsize, dense, and lavishly illustrated new book, “The Private Oasis” (Grayson Publishing), is not a coffee-table book: “It could break the typical coffee table in weight alone,” the part-time Sag Harbor resident joked. But, more than that, “The Private Oasis” is meant to be highly utilitarian, rather than simply ornamental.

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    “It’s not your typical architectural monograph of 12 beautiful houses, as we had done in a previous book,” Mr. Hollander said. “It’s a hands-on document where you can find things that relate to you, that are useful, and flag them. We made it for people to use as a reference.”
    Rather than being organized property by property, the book, which features a number of houses around the tri­state region and beyond, is divided into sections according to subject. There are chapters on entryways, outdoor seating, outdoor dining areas, flow of movement through a property, swimming pools and water features, and tennis courts.
    “The Private Oasis” is part one of a two-volume set. It is devoted to the physical structures in a landscape and how they relate to the site. Part two will look at plants and environment.
    Mr. Hollander, a landscape architect who is the founder and president of Edmund Hollander Design in New York and Sag Harbor, wrote the book with his colleague Maryanne Connelly. If some of the ideas look familiar, it is because the firm has an extensive client list throughout the South Fork and the images featured here are all East Hampton properties.
    Asked whether there was a defining “Hamptons style” in landscape design here, Mr. Hollander said he did not think so. “One of the remarkable things about the landscape in the Hamptons is the great diversity within a relatively close proximity. You have to look at the particular site as the defining element. You have to think what it’s like to be on the ocean in comparison with Hook Pond or Long Lane or in the woods or fields.”
    “The key is to understand the nuances and different environments of each unique property, so that it is responsive to the site, client, and overall landscape.” Although, he said humorously, some of his clients think he sounds like Shirley MacLaine when he says so, he often tells them to “listen to what the land tells you it wants to have done to it.”
     When trying to determine what can and should be done on the property, there are many factors, unique to each site, to consider: the bedrock, the soils, the vegetation — all play a part, he said. This is why he will always walk the property with the homeowner on the very first site visit.
    He learned this practice at the University of Pennsylvania in the early 1980s. “The way we were taught was to analyze the layers, from the bedrock to the hydration of the soil on top of it. It’s not just what’s growing on the surface.”
    In addition to these physical properties, the site’s history and its use by humans must also be taken into account: whether it’s untouched or has been used for farming; whether it contains a historic structure or is surrounded by ancient trees.
    For example, certain questions, he said, must be asked when approaching a smaller village parcel: “How do I want to get to the front of the house? How do I want guests to arrive? How do I want to eat outside? Is it a traditional or modern house?” On a half-acre parcel, every square foot will count. “On five acres that is less of a concern.”
    The South Fork is known for its extraordinary loam and excellent growing conditions, but each property has challenges. “After Hurricane Irene there were certain properties with great environmental stress,” Mr. Hollander said. The diversity and proximity of properties again comes into play. “There was damage to 30 percent of the trees on Further Lane. On Huntting Lane, not as much.”
    He also cautioned that a consideration for the earth is crucial to a successful landscape design. “Soil is a living thing. Construction squeezes the life out of it. It has to be protected and rebuilt.” The soil and growing conditions at the south-facing side of an oceanfront property will likely be entirely different from those at the north side, in the lee of the wind and protected from salt water. “I thought I knew everything out of college, but I killed a lot of plants.”
    The most common mistake homeowners make is trying to impose a landscape on a property that does not belong there.
    Other questions that must be considered, he said, include: “How do I want to use the property today and how will that change 5 to 10 years from now? A landscape will continue to change and evolve throughout the years. You can’t design something today that will be perfect 10 years later.”
    “When you create and plant a landscape, it’s like having a baby. I say now the fun begins.”