The Owners of This New Hampshire Home Transformed Their Lawn Into a Field of Gold

misty sunrise through the trees in the meadow
Claire Takacs

No matter which door of her weekend home Sharon Malt slips out of, she encounters an epic view. From the back, morning coffee in hand, she often sees fog lifting from a distant valley as the sun scales Pack Monadnock Mountain to the east. In the evening, when she and her husband, Brad, sip wine in the front courtyard, they bask in the sky's glow as the sun sinks over Mount Monadnock to the west. When the Boston couple purchased the place in Peterborough, New Hampshire, in 1989, the spectacular views were the main draw. Ten years in, they decided to bring some of that dramatic beauty to their own yard.

The pair had spent their first three years there clearing the 64-acre property of invasive plants. After that, their kids played on the open lawns, and the family spent hours hiking nearby trails. But then, on a trip to the Midwest with the Garden Club of America, Sharon fell in love with the prairie landscapes at the Chicago Botanic Garden and came home with a new vision: a big, breezy meadow.

In 2000, she hired landscape architect Peter White of Zen Associates, in Boston, to "capture the spirit of that habitat," she says of the fields teeming with tall grasses and flowers she saw on that trip. To create a lush expanse, White plotted out swaths of ornamental grasses such as switchgrass and inland sea oats, and mixed in tough perennials that wouldn't be squeezed out by them, like low-growing nepeta, mid-size Russian sage, and native echinacea. (The multilayered plantings also ensure that every blade and sprig gets enough light to thrive without competition.) He then established peastone walkways ranging from three to six feet wide to wind through the landscape. "We came up with a big garden that encourages immersion," White says. "The paths all lead somewhere, but never directly. It's meant for meandering." The design gives the family a front-row seat to their local ecosystem, as well: the insects and animals that share the meadow. "You feel the wind through the grasses and listen to the birds," says Sharon.

Finally, the Malts tackled the backyard. White filled the sloping area, once punctuated by scrubby trees, with grassy "islands" mixed with native shrubs, such as blueberry, summer-sweet clethra, ninebark, spirea, and viburnum; then he separated the beds with extensive mowed pathways leading to man-made ponds that hold water runoff. The family expanded a back terrace, adding a fireplace and a grape-covered pergola to frame those magical morning rays.

The gardens continue to engage and enchant the Malts. They always loved to look at nature, but today they relish their active role in cultivating it and creating homes for all kinds of living things. "Before, this place was just a lawn," Sharon says. "Now it's so much more."

Light streams through organically shaped "islands" of ornamental grasses, perennials, shrubs, and slender birch trees on the Malt family's property. To create them, Boston-based landscape architect Peter White packed in no fewer than 25 plants of each variety for an abundant effect. He used the existing lawn between them to create wide pathways that invite strolling.

01 of 05

Happy Habitat

cottage-style home front meadow
Claire Takacs

"When we arrive here from the city, we roll down the windows and feel the freshness," says Sharon. "Inhaling the scents of nature—it's often sensory overload." The home's front meadow brims with tall Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster' grass and perennials. In autumn, the meadow turns golden, and the seed heads provide a feast for birds. The Malts cut back the ornamental grasses every winter.

02 of 05

Daisy Waves

white swan flower
Claire Takacs

The garden's perennials include Echinacea 'White Swan,' with daisy-like flowers.

03 of 05

Magenta Movement

emperor's wave flower
Claire Takacs

Sedum telephium 'Emperor's Wave' brings color and texture.

04 of 05

Pollinate, Please

perovskia atriplicifolia flower
Claire Takacs

Perovskia atriplicifolia, like the all of the aforementioned perennials, is a haven for pollinators.

05 of 05

Scene Setter

natural stone fire pit in meadow
Claire Takacs

To add a firepit outside a guest cottage they built, the Malts cleared a rare patch of level ground and constructed a stone wall to define the gathering spot. Then Brad went with landscape architect Peter White of Zen Associates to shop for a long, flat granite stone to use as a viewing bench. On chilly fall afternoons, the Malts light a fire and bundle up to admire Mount Monadnock in the distance.

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