The Natural Gardener
For Silver Spring's Edamarie Mattei, a landscaping career developed.well, organically
Mattei first meets with clients—who range from beginners looking to grow lettuce and tomatoes to master gardeners with a clear vision of what they want—to discuss their tastes and needs before creating an initial design. Consultation fees are $85 an hour, and projects range in cost from $5,000 to $30,000.
Client Mary Flynn moved to Chevy Chase from San Francisco two years ago, and like many who are new to the area, she was daunted by the riot of weeds that took over her backyard during her first D.C. summer. Flynn turned to Mattei for help because “I knew I wanted to combine a food garden with a nice-looking space where we could enjoy being outside.”
Testing showed Flynn’s soil to be particularly acidic, which is great for blueberries but not for vegetables, so Mattei built a raised bed of asparagus and strawberries along a sun-drenched eastern fence. The tall, feathery asparagus fronds and dark green strawberry leaves also provide a visual feast. Adjacent to a stonework patio with a table and grill is a geometric patchwork of vegetable beds framed by permeable, fixed-gravel paths. Mattei got rid of an aging pond in the shade of two evergreens at the far end of the garden.
“The idea of the pond was appealing,” Flynn says. “But it was a source of mosquitoes, and dealing with the pump was a hassle—it wasn’t as natural as it looked.”
Heavy rains also tended to carve gullies into Flynn’s yard, so Mattei created a rain garden to deal with runoff, using stones from the former pond to make a meandering footpath under the trees. Plants for a rain garden are the kind that grow well along riverbanks—able to tolerate both excess water and dry spells—so in a backyard they create the effect of being at the water’s edge without the challenges of maintaining an actual body of water.
Flynn also wanted some lawn for her two corgis to play on, so Mattei planted the center of the yard with a drought-tolerant variety of grass that grows slowly enough to only need mowing once a month. “I don’t think of grass as the enemy, as I once did,” Mattei says. “But I do think if we’re going to have it, let’s raise it in a responsible way.”
For client Caroline Turner, it was love at first sight when she purchased her one-third of an acre property in Garrett Park three years ago, but the wooded, overgrown lot presented a steep challenge. A British-born master gardener, Turner grew up with traditional cottage gardens in England and re-created one in a previous yard in Frederick.
With this larger property, shaded by municipally protected trees (Garrett Park is officially an arboretum), she wanted a woodland garden with a slightly mysterious Secret Garden feel to it.
“I wanted to plant nothing useful,” she says.
Meeting with Mattei to discuss her ideas, she says the two clicked immediately. “Edamarie listens carefully, and she’s very intuitive,” Turner says.
Mattei moved several large, old azaleas to the back of the property, then created steps and paths that would lead a visitor through various garden “rooms,” including a shaded seating area at the crest of the sloping lot. A permeable driveway opened up the front yard and helps with drainage.
Reluctantly, Turner installed an 8-foot fence recently to keep deer out of her yard “after too many mornings of waking up to the sight of a great buck gazing at me with no fear and a mouthful of daylilies,” she says.
Overpopulation has resulted in deer eating many garden plants that they used to avoid, Mattei says. “They are so starved they are learning to eat plants they wouldn’t normally eat,” she says, adding that deer fences remain the best defense.
Mattei says Backyard Bounty provides garden maintenance, but won’t apply pesticides—though it will advise clients on effective products that are approved for organic gardening. For her own kitchen garden, Mattei relies on lightweight fabric row covers, which require less vigilance because they can be deployed before bug problems emerge. “I also love growing garlic and greens, which get fewer pests,” she says.
Mattei, whose eldest child is now in college, says that lessons learned through parenting and teaching are proving useful in her gardening business.