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Bayside Beauty

Sudbury Design Group transforms a challenging seaside landscape into a stunning multiple-use summer haven.

Sudbury Design Group transforms a challenging seaside landscape

Clearings in the trees give way to a panoramic view of the Buzzard’s Bay water. Photo by Michael Lee

Seclusion and privacy at the end of a long wooded road in a famous Cape Cod location. Panoramic views of Buzzards Bay. There were a lot of positive things to be said for the Upper Cape property purchased by an active family several years ago for their new seaside summer home.

But then there were the challenges of the sprawling site. A large, rather unattractive contemporary home was stuck on the depressed side of the property towards the bay, creating serious drainage issues all around the house and surrounding lawn. The landscape plantings were marginal at best. The peripheral landscape had not been properly maintained and was full of rotting stumps, decayed native plant material, and rampant invasives. There was little screening from neighboring houses.

When Michael Coutu, president of the Sudbury Design Group in Sudbury, Massachusetts, saw the property his firm had been hired to transform, he knew his award-winning crew of horticulturalists, stonemasons, and construction experts would have their hands full with a job that needed to be completed in less than a year’s time. The project required a new driveway, parking areas, a circular courtyard, stonewalls, patios, an outdoor fireplace—as well as the relocation of an existing garage and the construction of a completely new guest house with water views and a gymnasium on the first floor.

Right from the outset, Coutu knew he had to address the location and placement of the house. “The topography of the site is relatively flat, with the house depressed and set down very low on the property,” says Coutu. “As you pulled up, the first floor was really below the level of the driveway beneath a two- to three-foot grade. The house was surrounded by stonewalls on three sides. There were serious aesthetic and environmental issues.”

Coutu says the new homeowners were looking for a landscape with more character, visual interest, enhanced privacy from their neighbors–and dry ground underfoot for a busy family with several grown children and rafts of summer visitors.
“The plantings around the property were pretty scanty and in rough shape,” says Coutu. “There were no shaded areas, not much screening from adjoining neighbors, and worst of all, it never really dried out around the house because of drainage problems created by poor site planning. You could be there in August and the ground would still be squishy.”

As lead designer on the project, Coutu and his crew of experienced project managers created an extensive conceptual plan for the homeowners. Then the real work began. “First, we started with the grade problems,” says Coutu. “We laid out a completely new driveway, several parking areas because there are lots of drivers with guests in the family, and a completely redesigned drainage plan. We actually lowered the grade as much as we could around the house, to set it off when you approach.”

Sudbury Design Group transforms a challenging seaside landscape

Stone walls and hydrangeas give this home true Cape Cod style. Photo by Michael Lee

To enhance the approach to the house, Coutu designed an allee of London Plane Trees at the end of a long gravel driveway that winds through native woods of scrub oak, sassafras, and pitch pine. “We wanted the presentation on the street to be understated, typical of the surrounding landscape,” Coutu explains.

The allee opens out into the home’s entrance courtyard which is paved with soft reddish pavers enhanced by plantings chosen from a cool seaside palette of blues, pinks, yellows, and white. “The homeowners wanted a lot of summer color, so we added pink Fairy Roses, white and blue hydrangeas and perennials such as pastel-colored daylilies around the courtyard,” says Coutu.

To anchor the plantings around the sprawling house and add height and foliage interest as well as screening, gap and flow beds of evergreen and hardwood trees were designed, with Leyland Cypress, White Pines, transplanted Black and Austrian Pines, Eastern and Western Cedar, Swiss Stone Pine, American Arborvitae and Shadblow, Japanese Stewartia, Cherry, and Dogwood trees.

Both native and exotic shrubs were chosen to add seasonal color throughout the property, including American Holly, Bayberry, Summersweet, Inkberry, Spiraea, Lilac, and Azalea, softened with low plantings of Bearberry, Lavender, Heather, Hosta, and other perennials.

“One of the biggest challenges of this project was choosing plant material that could survive in sometimes extremely windy coastal situations,” says Coutu. “From a horticultural standpoint, we had to choose plants that could stand tough Buzzards Bay winds year-round.”

Sudbury Design Group worked with a local builder, Pocasset’s Mark Mahoney, who built the new guest house, relocated the garage, and completely remodeled the main house, transforming the overblown structure into a handsome Cape Cod manse with distinctive, yet subtle nautical details like porthole windows, ships deck-style balconies, water-view gables, and surrounding hardscape features in neutral tones.

Sudbury Design Group transforms a challenging seaside landscape

The home sits on a well-manicured lawn and is surrounded by plenty of lush green landscape. Photo by Michael Lee

On the ocean-side of the property, there were conservation concerns that had not been addressed during the home’s construction eight years before. “It was a coastal bank situation, that had really not been taken care of properly,” says Coutu, whose firm has gained invaluable experience working with conservation authorities for several coastal clients. “There was little to no proper storm water management,” Coutu explains. “Everything we did brought the property up to current storm water guidelines. The local conservation folks were very happy with us.”

To add color and interest to a wild native landscape on the property’s approach down to the ocean, masses of native pink roses were planted above a stonewall encircling the ocean view landscape. All the stonewalls and patios on the property were designed and built by Sudbury Design crew, many of whom have been with the company for decades.

“I think that is one thing that really sets us apart from other landscape design firms,” says Coutu, who notes that Sudbury Design has worked on numerous projects on the Cape, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket as well as throughout Eastern Massachusetts. “Our clientele are looking for people with a lot of experience. Two of our project managers have been with us for 27 years, one has been with us for 16 years, another for 10. We have very low staff turnover, which really helps with a comprehensive project like this.”

That may explain how Sudbury Design was able to completely transform this idyllic Cape location into a stunning, multiple-use landscape with extensive hard and softscape features, new septic and irrigation systems, relocated and newly constructed out-buildings, and more—in just eight months.

When he is asked why he believes his firm was chosen a Best of Boston winner, Coutu gives a typically under-stated response. “Well, we offer complete design and build services that can be much more efficient in terms of time—and will often save costs for our customers as well,” says Coutu, whose son recently joined Sudbury Design’s staff of 30 to 35.

“This project was pretty typical for us really,” says Coutu when he is asked to explain further how the project was completed—during a Cape Cod winter in a challenging seaside location—by the homeowners’ requested July 4th date the following summer. “The homeowners were absolutely thrilled.”

For information on Sudbury Design Group, go to, or call 978-443-3638.

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