Massachusetts-based landscape architect Clara Couric Batchelor has recently made news when the Hamptons home she rehabbed for her very famous sister Katie Couric was featured in regional shelter rag Hamptons Cottages & Gardens. Harvard-educated, she founded CBA Landscape Architects in 1985 and says her office works on anywhere from 20 to 40 different projects, ranging from private homes to public parks, at any given time. "A landscape is a composition, so you have to look at the whole composition, and all the parts have to work together," Batchelor told us ever so eloquently by phone. Let's see what else she has to say.
When you arrive on a project site for the first time, what do you initially look for?
I look for the potential of the site. I get excited when you go to a site and have all these ideas come to your mind—the more ideas the more exciting a project is. And because all my sites either have an architect or an owner or someone else with input, I'm always excited to help people fulfill their dreams of what they envision.
Talk a little about what inspires you.
From the site: if there are natural features there, if there's something unique with the architecture, or the toporgarphy of the site, which could be rock cropping ot particular specimen trees. It could also be views from the site.
Would you say that certain types of architecture/building marry well with certain types of landscaping? Or is it more random?
Just like I like really contemporary houses that have traditional furniture—that can be a really fun look—I think the landscape can be a contemporary landscape that complements a traditional house. And sometimes a very contemporary house may want a more traitional landscape. Most people who have a contemporary home like contempoary landscapes. It's also interesting because you can imagine a contemporary home in a very bucolic, beautiful pristine setting—the landscape around Fallingwater is very traditional. But the house is not.
Name a few places whose lawn or gardens particularly inspired you, and why.
I can termember the landscape that made the biggest impression as a child—Gunston Hall, in Virginia. There were these boxwood hedges, and as a child they seemed 12 feet tall. They were taller than my parents. That made a huge impression on me. Also, the deCordova Museum in Lincoln, Mass. It has a beautiful sculpture park, some beautiful walls, and I think it's a beautiful place to visit.
What must every lawn have?
Sun and water.
What must a lawn never have?
Too much shade and drought.
Is there a plant, flower, or architectural element that's your signature—something we might find in all your work?
Probably blue hollies and Delaware Valley white azaleas.
Name a plant or flower you hate.
Norway maple. They're incredibly invasive and they ruin the natural environment. They use to be very popular, people liked them as street trees because they're indestructible—but then people saw how invasive they were and learned that nothing grows under them.
Describe the ugliest outdoor space you've ever seen.
I have seen outdoor spaces that are terrible and people imagine that there is an easy fix. They say, "I bought a house and even though the landscape is terrible, I can fix it." They have no idea about the amount of work and the cost of the fix. Yards that slope towards the house and flood the basement are serious problems that can be expensive to correct. Or adding a few plants and flowers to a landscape that has no integrity and no overall composition will not remedy the problem. It's like putting a pretty pin on a ugly dress.