Voices of the Bay: Bristol’s Brooke Merriam of Sunflower Designs

A landscape designer gives her take on bees, plantings, mulch, and more


After college, while living and working in Denver, Brooke Merriam realized she was not meant for an office job. The Middlebury College graduate decided to take some classes cultivating a long-held interest in plants, which grew into completing a degree program in Horticulture and Design from Front Range Community College. The natural beauty of the outdoors is a daily source of inspiration for the active hiker and trail runner’s aesthetic as owner of Sunflower Designs, a residential landscape design firm. Merriam began her business almost 20 years ago when she and her family moved back East. As the growing season gets underway, the Bristol resident shares some tips for the home gardener.


Yard Space: It is really important to think about how you use the yard. How much space do you really need for a patio? What are the traffic patterns throughout the yard? We are a residential landscape design firm, which also does project management design overseeing installations involving plantings, patios, decks, and pools.


More is Better: People often will plant one each of an assortment of different plants, which is a mistake. You don’t get the impact visually. You never see only one of something in nature. To have an impact, you need a massive amount of a plant. In a large space, your eye doesn’t know where to go if there is only one of a lot of things. Another mistake is [to have repetition of] a plant, mulch, a plant, mulch etc. That’s not how things grow in nature. With more plants to cover the ground, they do the work and do not need as much mulch.


Less Mulch: We always mulch new jobs to help keep down weeds and retain moisture. Over time, the goal is not to have as much mulch. Instead, have ground cover plants, referred to as green mulch or living mulch, which do the same job and don’t necessarily need to be replenished every year. I recommend staying away from dyed mulches like reds and oranges and stick to pine bark or hemlock mulch.


April DIY: I am a proponent of leaving growth standing through the winter. It can look interesting and it supports insects and wildlife. Late March and April is the time to cut everything back, like ornamental grasses. Clean up a little bit. You don’t need to rake every last leaf out of your garden. Those leaves support nature. You can start planting shrubs. It’s a little early for perennials and there is not much availability. You don’t want to work in the soil if it’s too wet; let it dry out a bit.


Bring Nature Back: People often say, “I want all these flowers but I hate bees.” Bees are part of it; they’re a good thing.The accepted aesthetic of the American yard has been a big lawn and plants along the foundation. My style is more naturalistic, looser and less formal landscaping. We have stripped away a lot of native natural areas. I want to bring back native plants of the Northeast, which are more adaptable and support wildlife and insects. We don’t have to go find nature; we can have it in our own backyard. Learn more at SunflowerLD.com



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