Beneath a protected canopy comprising oak, maple, birch, and pine, the nature-centric handiwork of Matthew Cunningham stands out in his own oasis-like backyard. With a pool and hot tub rimmed in reclaimed granite, and repurposed stones pressed into the ground, both design and execution are carefully considered, culminating in a scene that balances modern tastes with unmistakable comfort.
Although the salvaged hardscape strikes a refined balance between “art and environmental stewardship,” it’s not only the stonework that makes this place—a lush two-acre plot cradled by the protected Mary Herrick Forest—so special. It’s also the purposeful acknowledgement and preservation of wildlife—humming tree frogs, soaring songbirds, and native flora and fauna—that sprinkle a bit of magic onto this landscape architect’s home turf. Instead of taming the forest beyond the board-formed concrete retaining wall, Matthew’s keen design and ecological commitment invite the wilderness in. “The native vegetation and wildlife initially drew us to the property,” Matthew says. “We didn’t want to move to these pristine woods and then surround ourselves with a fence.”
The 5,000-square-foot family home stands quietly engulfed by a coastal woodland palette composed of native hay-scented fern, sweet fern, bayberry, oak leaf hydrangea, moss, and more. “I’m as ecologically focused as I am aesthetically inclined,” Matthew explains, noting that none of the plants on-site are fertilized. The lawn, a clever clover-fescue blend, allows for a reduction in mowing and irrigation. Even the pool utilizes low-chemical technology, providing a place for frequent guilt-free, critter-friendly dips.
When starting a new project, Matthew hones in on the context of the land, seeking ways to integrate smart site ecologies, while steering clients toward celebrating their own unique sense of place upon the land. “No area of a yard or garden is too precious,” says Matthew. “I help my clients cultivate their own personal terrariums that reveal important environmental connections beyond the site boundaries.”