Outdoor Guide | Gardening

From the Ground Up

Though John Manchester always tells clients to start a plan, he ignored his advice... and ended up with a beautiful living portfolio

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For John Manchester, it’s what’s on the outside that counts. It only makes sense that the professional landscape architect and his family were drawn to a bucolic property on which to build their home. At the helm of Manchester Landscaping for decades, it’s no surprise that when an acre and a quarter of Stewart Nursery’s land in South Kingstown became available, John and his wife jumped at the chance to build their family home. A gargantuan pair of 15-foot rhododendrons John admits he was drawn to proved a good omen for the Manchesters. After all, he’s a member and past president of the Rhode Island Nursery and Landscape Association.

The Manchesters say they were drawn to this area in South County because it was quiet enough for secluded living but convenient to town. John has made the grounds surrounding the family’s charming home a testament to his passion for landscape design. Describing his outdoor space as “different and unique” since it encompasses gardens, a variety of horticultural elements, hardscapes, softscapes and woodlands, John says the overall design scheme ironically breaks his single most important rule regarding landscape design: he didn’t have a plan.

“I always tell my customers, ‘have a plan before you stick a shovel in the ground.’ I broke that right off the bat. A stone garage I built took two years of my spare time. From there I created a walk out because the property slopes so much,” he reveals. “Then I built a partition and gardens off of that, and another garage. It kind of created the bones of a walled-in backyard, so I connected it all, adding a sunken walled-in courtyard.” It’s been an evolution of 15 years, but despite not listening to his own advice, it all comes together cohesively for an enviable outdoor paradise.

When homeowners simply can’t wrap their head around a new design, John, a Rhode Island Certified Horticulturalist, welcomes them to see his property. “It’s a great way to show clients the different paving and stonework that I do,” he explains. “People can come to my house and look at a lot of things within the landscape as opposed to in a nursery or garden center. It points them in the right direction.”