Finishing Touches for a Lake House

A landscape architect helps a couple create their dream retreat

The Vernis' resplendent garden — with black-eyed Susans in the foreground, and 'Karl Foerster' reed grass and dwarf maiden grasses beyond — slopes down to their dock on Lake Sunapee. The two container gardens hold purple fountain grass, verbena, million bells and licorice plants.

When Ralph and Kathy Verni built a vacation home on Lake Sunapee eight years ago, they entered a long-term relationship with their landscape architect, George Pellettieri, of Pellettieri Associates, Inc. in Warner. Looking over their resplendent lakefront gardens, the benefits of that relationship are obvious. 

“We’re fortunate that George was recommended to us by our architect,” Ralph says. “He and his team designed our gardens, maintain them and make changes when necessary. People remark all the time on the color and textures of the garden.”

Enjoying the Vernis' garden are, left to right, Kathy and Ralph Verni; landscape architect George Pellettieri of Pellettieri Associates, Inc. in Warner; and Louise Bonfiglio, president of McGray & Nichols in New London, builder of the Verni home. 

The Vernis’ back yard is large—ten thousand square feet—but, due their home’s proximity to the lake, state environmental regulations prohibit a traditional lawn (a large lawn requires maintenance practices that affect water quality). The couple was sensitive to using native plantings to protect the shoreline and enhance its natural beauty. “Our original plan was to have something that required modest upkeep, and used native plants or ones that would flourish in that environment,” Ralph says.

Pellettieri understands the state’s environmental restrictions on water-front property: he was among the professionals who originally reviewed the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services’ construction regulations. The guidelines control construction near lakes and rivers to prevent erosion and protect water quality. “We take them seriously,” he says. “We educate all of our clients on the advantages and disadvantages of their sites.”

Pellettieri wanted to preserve and enhance the Vernis’ lake views while also protecting the shorefront. His landscape plan factored in the property’s steep hillside location, and he selected plants and trees that would best keep the yard intact. The property already had a good mix of evergreens—such as native hemlock, and white and red pine trees—as well as maples, oaks and birches. Pellettieri’s team added more trees to provide privacy from the road leading to the house and to shelter other areas of the yard. To address water runoff from the house and driveway, a rainwater garden—a depressed area containing hardy native plants—was created on the southwest side of the house. This gar-den naturally filters water, allowing it to percolate into the ground and disperse, preventing soil erosion.

The Vernis’ expansive gardens—a mix of blooming perennials and ornamental shrubs—provide color three seasons a year. Pellettieri purposely selected plants that wouldn’t interfere with the couple’s views of the lake from their home. Shrubs such as low-bush blueberries provide groundcover and prevent erosion. Native plants—such as witch hazel, winterberry, black-eyed Susans, geraniums, Shasta daisies, different varieties of hostas and ornamental grasses—add beauty while preventing weed growth and keeping away invasive plants.

Flanked by blueberry bushes, hosta and other shrubs, granite
steps lead from the back yard to the dock.

Garden maintenance is simple. A drip-system irrigation using recycled lake water keeps the garden flourishing, and the perennials can easily be divided and moved when necessary. The garden teems with friendly wildlife, too. “We see so many hummingbirds in the summer,” Kathy says. “They just hover over the flowers.”

On the waterfront

In addition to enjoying their gardens, the Vernis enjoy the lake itself. A natural fieldstone walkway winds through the gardens down to a permanent dock on the water and a perched beach on the other side of the property.

Adding a dock wasn’t an issue, but erosion and pollution issues make conventional sand beaches untenable on lakefront properties in New Hampshire. The solution: a perched beach—a sandy area elevated above shoreline. Similar to a garden terrace, a perched beach is built with a retaining wall above the shoreline, with steps enabling easy access to the water. The beach isn’t eroded by waterfront waves and its impact on the environment is minimal (“Even heavy rains won’t wash away the sand,” Pellettieri says). Surrounded by native trees, evergreen shrubs and flowers, the beach is private and sheltered from wind. It’s Kathy’s favorite spot to relax. “In the middle of summer, there’s nothing nicer than sitting on that beach,” she says.

Their perfect getaway spot

Now, with last year’s addition of a hot tub abutting their back deck, the Vernis have what they consider their perfect getaway. Working with Pellettieri to create their dream landscape—from relaxing in the hot tub to meandering through the garden to the lake—has been “better than great,” Ralph says. “I enjoy sitting on the back porch and deck, looking out over the garden and seeing it change through the seasons. It’s wonderful.”

The back yard is filled with perennials, including black-eyed Susans, geraniums, Shasta daisies, and stately ornamental grasses.

Surrounded by high- and low-bush blueberries, various perennials and ornamental grasses, the screened porch blends in with its natural surroundings. A fieldstone walk leads into the back yard and down to the lake.

Sheltered from wind and surrounded by trees, evergreen shrubs and flowers, the Vernis' perched beach has minimal environmental impact on the lake.

Categories: Gardening & Landscape