Photographed by Richard Felber, Courtesy OvS

The perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the gritty city, the Hamptons have a reputation for scenic views and lush greenery. Now with high-end landscape architects leading the way for a more sustainable future, the nature-filled getaway is undergoing a floral facelift. Abundant in native plants and shrubbery, horticulturalists and innovators from the Perfect Earth Project and the firm OEHME, van SWEDEN are forging a more organic path on the East End.

Esteemed landscape architect Edwina von Gal founded the non-profit Perfect Earth Project in 2013. Operating out of offices in East Hampton, the organization’s goal is to raise awareness about the detrimental consequences of synthetic chemicals on lawns and gardens. Denouncing harsh fertilizers that are dangerous to humans, animals, and the environment, Perfect Earth Project educates landowners about innovative and natural lawn-care techniques; once a garden is free of toxins, synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, the organization dubs it “PRFCT.”

“The demand for nature-based land care services is growing fast but the conventional landscape industry is not responding quickly enough to meet it,” von Gal tells GRAZIA Gazette: Hamptons. “We are now immersed in developing a major education program to train a new community of land care specialists, and to help landowners better understand what a ‘good’ landscape is.”

Courtesy of Perfect Earth Project

Her goal is to change the idea that a landscape should be frozen in time, neatly clipped and manicured, and instead can become a place that is vibrant and alive.

The garden expert’s origin story begins when she was just a child and had to do garden chores. “I never thought it would be something I loved,” von Gal says. “But in my early 20s, I decided to plant a little herb garden in my backyard…in the shade! Gardeners love to learn from, and share, their disasters. From that moment on, I kept learning. Still am.”

Creating innovative and organic landscapes for high- end clientele that includes fashion designer Calvin Klein, the Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten and photographer Cindy Sherman, von Gal established her landscaping company in Manhattan in 1984 and has collaborated with the likes of artist Maya Lin, who is responsible for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C.

After beginning to travel out East in the late ‘80s, von Gal finally relocated to Sagaponack in 1998. Unexpectedly, a visit to her dentist years later inspired von Gal to establish the Perfect Earth Project. “He asked me where he could get information on how to garden without chemicals,” she explains. “He was worried about the effect of his lawn on his waterfront. I couldn’t find any place offering what he needed, so I just couldn’t resist giving it a try.”

Realizing just how dangerous chemicals applied to lawns can be to people, pets and the planet was a big wake up call for von Gal.

“Landscape chemicals are connected [to] cancers, autism, nervous system disorders, and endocrine disruption” and “they’re especially harmful to pregnant women and children under 5,” she notes. “Pets are vulnerable, too, since they spend more time in direct contact with lawns, and they can’t read those warning signs!”

Photographed by Marion Brenner (Courtesy: Oehme van Sweden)

According to von Gal, the typical American landscape uses up to four times more pesticides and fertilizers per square foot than agriculture. “That means for every property we convert, our impact is huge,” she says.

OEHME, van SWEDEN is another hub of landscape architects, horticulturalists, designers, and innovative thinkers. The firm was first established by pioneers of the landscaping industry Wolfgang Oehme and James van Sweden in Washington D.C. in 1975. Together, they would create their own signature style known as the New American Garden, which pays homage to the seasonal grandeur of the American meadow. OvS is now led by a second generation of creatives, including Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects (FASLA) Lisa Delplace, Sheila Brady, and Eric Groft.

OvS is publishing its sixth book, Beyond Bold: Inspiration, Collaboration, Evolution, in October, which encompasses their work across private gardens, residential estates, and public landmarks for clients in Southhampton, East Hampton, Sagaponack, The Springs, and Amagansett. They have curated quintessentially Hamptons traits, like private hedges, while maintaining the glory and wonder of nature for an eco- friendly effect.

Courtesy of Perfect Earth Project

So what exactly goes into creating a nature-based landscape? von Gal explains that it ideally has less lawn and is primarily made up of native plants. “It maintains all biomass on the property, uses no synthetic chemicals and very few inputs, or products like mulch, brought from off-site,” she says, adding this type of landscape “needs very little watering, and very little pruning, and this translates to a much-reduced carbon footprint, eliminates air water and soil pollution, health benefits, and contributes to biodiversity.”

Spearheading this eco-friendly mission is something she loves doing. “It makes me feel so good, and in a world of rampant eco-anxiety, why not share that with everyone I can?”