The Portland Symphony Orchestra’s 12th Annual ShowHouse
A soft-spoken man with a quick smile, Ted Carter is a landscaper who is just as interested in energy as he is in greenery.
Carter—whose work with his Carter Design Group has become synonymous with tasteful, high-quality landscaping over the past three decades—often begins a large-scale project by walking around the property with his dowsing rod. Instead of using the ancient practice to search for underground water, Carter dowses for what he describes as “concentrations of energy,” around which he will place significant hardscape features, such as a bench or patio.
When considering the driveway and front gardens, Carter knew bold changes were needed to enhance the energy guests would feel upon arrival. “The approach to a home is so important,” he opines, “and at the Oakley Estate the asphalt used to come up within ten feet of the front door, which was unacceptable for a house of this stature.” Carter pushed the tarmac back, more than doubling the length of the front path. Then, using mellow slabs of bluestone, the path was also widened from four to six feet so that a couple could traverse it abreast. “This is a much more gracious entry now,” Carter says. The mix of formal and relaxed plantings he placed around the entry includes boxwood, holly, vertical European hornbeam, and Washington Hawthorn trees.
Carter’s most dramatic move in the backyard was softening the gradient, which formerly dropped precipitously away from the house. “Stepping out used to—literarily—be a downer,” quips Carter. Just steps from the kitchen’s French doors, he also designed a more rustic flagstone path that leads from the patio to a small vegetable and herb garden before leading on to a striking in-ground pool. Along the path, lush stephanandra makes up a great deal of the groundcover.
At the far edge of the property, where the tidal ebb and flow of Mussel Cove meets the shore, Carter placed a granite bench by sculptor Gary Haven Smith under a grand old pine tree. Carter often works with sculpture curator June LaCombe, as he did at the Oakley Estate, to place sculpture into his landscape designs. “Art introduces spirit into the garden in such a serious way,” he says.
In this case, however, the bench serves another purpose, too. In addition to sitting near a great concentration of energy, Carter says the bench creates a “destination” in the landscape. “We live in a day and age of great uncertainty,” he muses, “and we all need places we can commune with and feel safe in.”