living — 2004 — Wye Island, Maryland

Wye Hall

The model created at Wye Hall will move the dialogue of rural development forward towards a healthier coexistence between culture and nature.

Wye Hall dates to the 1790s. Jay Graham's work on the property showed how historical knowledge and a responsible land ethic can shape a strategy for design and conservation that will transform the site into a model for cultural and natural stewardship. As a result, a respectful 21st century landscape layer now overlays the 18th century foundation, recapturing its heritage, preserving its archaeology, and establishing sustainable land strategies for the landowners.




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Photos by Victoria Cooper

Existing Conditions + Site Analysis

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  • 18th century estate
  • Located on a 2800-acre island in the Chesapeake Bay
  • 90% of the island is a natural resource management area controlled by the State of Maryland
  • 30 acres of domestic landscape around the main house and former stable
  • 100 acres of surrounding land in meadow, woodland, and crops
  • 2.8 miles of tidal shoreline
Soil Analysis1
Cultural Corridors1

Soil Analysis

Cultural Corridors

The Comprehensive Plan

Design Objectives

  • An ecologically healthy landscape reflective of the Chesapeake Bay tidewater region
  • Harmony between the natural systems and the cultural history
  • A retreat for 21st century country lifestyle that includes active and passive recreation

Design Approach

  • A holistic vision - blending elements of production, conservation, and recreation
  • A multidisciplinary collaboration that includes landowners, archaeologists, architects, wildlife ecologists, park rangers, and horticultural consultants
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Landscape Master Plan

Residential Site Plan

Key Design Elements

MP Event Map.vwx

Site Program Diagram


Rendered Site Plan

Project Data + Facts

1. Archaeology Informs Ecology

Our team reasoned for an archaeological study of the site in order to better understand what pieces of the site may be extant and informative as the property was brought back to life. The archaeologists’ findings created strong directives for the 21st century landscape layer.

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archaeology map
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Historic research revealed the functional axis cut longitudinally through the house. This guided our placement of the recreational amenities along this remnant of the old service road.

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In studying the layout of the earthwork terraces we noticed that Mr. Paca used the golden rectangle proportions in dimensioning the large terraces. We continued to use that proportion when placing features such as the fountain in the garden.

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Archaeological information regarding locations of original fencing influenced our use of meadows, at ascending heights, transitioning from the domestic landscape to agricultural fields, decreasing the use of lawn, and increasing wildlife habitat while reduced mowing.

2. Layers of Garden

All work near the house was conceived to protect underground archaeological resources. Around the manor house we focused on plants used in Federal era gardens. Plantings become less formal and more native as they extend beyond the fence line of the historic residence. 

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Plantings in closest proximity to the residence enhance the north and south landforms, providing structure, scale, and seasonal interest. 

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Colorful island beds, a reference to T. Jefferson and H. Repton, define inner and outer gardens and replace foundation plantings.

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On the sides of the house, the landscape architects placed the kitchen garden and the cutting garden. The Cutting Garden features an orderly layout with four tuteurs that provide garden structure. 

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The West Garden adjoins an informal family room and overlooks the meadows and farm fields. Plantings are native in homage to the “wilderness” garden William Paca created as part of his Annapolis garden in the early 18th century.

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Planting strategies extend outward to reforestation projects, hedge-row and forest buffer expansion.

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Along the shoreline we significantly widened the State mandated buffer intended to improve Chesapeake Bay water quality. For shoreline restoration, we used native groundcovers and shrubs to control the eroding banks of the Wye River.

3. Ecological Conservation

Beyond the garden wall, land management at Wye Hall used conservation practices to achieve a landscape aesthetic that reduces the environmental impact of conventional agriculture and reduces mowing regimens.

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In the expanses beyond the domestic landscape, we created 26 acres of meadow to replace high-maintenance turf areas. The fields were to become habitat for ground nesting birds.

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These low and high meadows are burned in spring, on a three-year cycle that benefits both the fauna and flora.

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In small, less efficient agricultural fields we connected existing woodlands through 10 acres of initial reforestation in order to enhance and diversify habitat.

Plant Palette

Zone 1 - Entrance Garden

[tree]                                      Cercis canadensis            Eastern Redbud

Entrance Garden_01
Entrance Garden_06

[tree]                                         Ilex opaca                        American Holly

[shrub]                                      Rhus aromatica                 Fragrant Sumac

Entrance Garden_03
Entrance Garden_04

[shrub]                                      Viburnum dentatum  Arrowwood Viburnum

[shrub]                                      Viburnum prunifolium        Blackhaw Viburnum

Entrance Garden_05
Entrance Garden_02

[shrub]                                      Ilex glabra                          Inkberry

Zone 2 - Around the House

[tree]                                      Chionanthus virginicus          Fringe Tree

Around the House_01
Around the House_02

[shrub]                                         Buxus sempervirens 'Suffruticosa' English Boxwood

[Perennial]                                    Perovskia atriplicifilia                 Russian Sage

Around the House_04
Around the House_05

[Perennial]                                    Verbena bonariensis                  Verbena

[Perennial]                                    Dicentra spectabilis 'Alba'    White Bleeding Heart

Around the House_03
Around the House_06

[Perennial]                                    Vinca minor 'Alba'                      White Periwinkle

Zone 3 - Pool & Tennis Garden

[tree]                                      Quercus phellos                      Willow Oak

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Pool and Tennis Garden_01

[shrub]                                         Aesculus parviflora        Bottlebrush Buckeye

[shrub]                                    Calycanthus floridus                

Pool and Tennis Garden_03
Pool and Tennis Garden_04

[shrub]                                    Hydrangea quercifolia                Oak Leaf Hydrangea

[Perennial]                                    Echinacea purpurea   Coneflower

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Pool and Tennis Garden_06

[Perennial]                                    Sporobolus heterolepis                Prairie Dropseed

Zone 4 - Wilderness Garden

[tree]                                      Magnolia virginiana                    Sweetbay Magnolia

Wilderness Garden_01a
Wilderness Garden_03

[shrub]                                         Rhus aromatica 'Gro-Low'   'Gro Low' Sumac

[Perennial]                                    Chasmanthium latifolium        Northern Sea Oats

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Wilderness Garden_04a

[Perennial]                                    Tiarella cordifolia                  Foamflower

[Perennial]                                    Amsonia hubrichtii           

Wilderness Garden_02
Wilderness Garden_07

[Perennial]                                    Athyrium filix-femina            Lady Fern

Zone 5 - Kitchen Garden

[tree]                                      Vitex agnus-castus                Chastetree

Kitchen Garden_01
Kitchen Garden_03

[shrub]                                         Myrica pennsylvanica  Northern Bayberry

[Perennial]                                    Clematis spp.       

Kitchen Garden_06
Kitchen Garden_05

[Perennial]                                    Ceratostigma plumbaginoides  Leadwort

[Perennial]                                    Galanthus nivalis          
Snow Drops

Kitchen Garden_02
Kitchen Garden_04

[Perennial]                                    Narcissus spp.                  Daffodil

Impact On the Profession & Future

In addition to establishing this site as a valuable archaeological resource, we set a new course for responsible ecological stewardship of the 130-acre tidewater parcel.

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  • Creating the model: By researching models for sustaining rural estates such as 18th century estates in the UK and the original examples William Paca used as his aesthetic model, we learned the value of establishing stable eco-systems that require minimal staff to maintain. Before recommending specific treatments we created a conservation master plan to address the cultural resource as well as the ecological opportunities.
  • Implementing the model: Over time, and with our guidance, the owners and their staff have learned about best environmental practices while being “hands-on” installers and maintainers of our design. In addition to the many design and construction documents we prepared, we also prepared a manual to help the staff identify invasive plants and strategies to control these plants on banks and along edges of the woodlands.
  • Sharing the model: Planning to be stewards of this land long into the future, the owners have hosted professional tours and educational sessions at the property. They have allowed non-profits to use the estate for fundraising events. This exposure has resulted in a larger segment of the public being aware of the aesthetic that results from this cultural and environmental stewardship.


Project Design Credits

Consultant for the Wye Hall Renovations: Dr. James E. Adams, MA CChem FRSC                                                                                                                
Wye Hall Restoration, Conservatory Addition, & Boathouse: Michael John Ray, AIA, Good Architecture                                                                     
North Porch of Carriage House & Pool Complex: Mark S. Buchanan, AIA, Versaci Neumann & Partners                                                                           
Barn: Mark S. Buchanan, AIA, Versaci Neumann & Partners                  

Architecture: Neumann Lewis Buchanan                                                      
Archaeology: Mark Leone, PhD, University of Maryland                                                                          
Fine Art Finishes: Vera Karelian, Wyecrest Studio   

18th Century Decorative Art Consultant: Gary Lawrik, Lawrik Interiors                                                                                                                          
Boxwood Consultant: Lynn Batdorf, U.S. National Arboretum                                                                       
Horticultural Consultant: Norm & Karl Fischer, Wye Nursery                                                                    
Geothermal Engineering: David Hoffman, Gipe Associates                                                                           
Shoreline Restoration: Colin A. MacLachlan, ASLA


2007 Honor Award, American Society of Landscape Architects, Maryland Chapter

Philip Trammell Shutze Award, Institute of Classical Architecture, 2010  



Time Span

1999 - 2004


Wye Island, Maryland