From his office in New Canaan, Mark Hicks of Elise Landscapes & Nursery conceives some of the most beautiful outdoor spaces in Fairfield and Westchester counties. Since he founded the business in 1983, he’s designed everything from intimate gardens to sprawling estates, winning awards in the process, along with accolades from his clients and peers who champion his work, including landscapes showcased at the annual New Canaan Secret Gardens tour. We asked this design expert for his thoughts on the features that can turn a run-of-the-mill garden into something serenely spectacular.
Photographs: Hulya Kolabas
A New Canaan garden by Elise
1. Hicks believes a garden should have public and private spaces, such as a place for entertaining and a sanctuary for the homeowner. “I think it’s important to have both,” he says. “For a private space, I love a beautiful meditation garden.”
2. He encourages his clients to think about how they want to treat the light at two of the loveliest times of the day: dawn and twilight. “You want to capture both effects,” he says, noting that an area designed to catch the late afternoon light is often a great place for a water feature.
3. Water features bring a lot to a garden, visually and acoustically, and Hicks says there are more options than ever to choose from. Something as simple as a bubble urn fountain can really enhance the landscape, although it’s not unusual for his clients to ask for custom designs. “One client in New Canaan had a sculpture of a bear that meant a lot to him. So, we found a place for it in a meditation garden and built a six-foot granite wall fountain behind it.”
4. Hicks is a fan of landscape lighting. “It extends the effects and enjoyment of a garden, at least for as long as you keep lights on. And it’s becoming more sophisticated, with features like low-voltage LED bulbs, which use less electricity and can stand up to rough weather,” he says. Lighting is being used in more non-traditional ways, too. You can put lights in water, in columns and high up in trees, so they shine down and offer a dreamier, more romantic look than traditional uplighting.”
5. When planning your landscape, don’t forget a winter aesthetic, says Hicks. “Plan landscape lighting for the colder seasons and choose trees that catch snow beautifully, such as native dogwoods and spruce.”
Path adds interest
6. Add an element of surprise to your garden. “Have something unexpected,” says Hicks. “It can be anything from a statue to a path that leads to nowhere, which piques interest.”