East Meets West

Landscape architect William Carson Joyce of Edgecomb brings eco-friendly design and a clean, SoCal aesthetic to Maine.


William Carson Joyce’s first canvas was his mother’s wooded one-acre lot in Western Massachusetts. A single parent, Cheryl Joyce didn’t have funds to hire anyone to fulfill her vision for the property, so she relied on her son to help her gravel the driveway, experiment with shade plants, and install a bluestone patio, stonewalls, and espaliered apple trees. At age 17 William started his own masonry company and went on to earn a master’s degree in landscape architecture and train with Santa Barbara landscape architect Isabelle Greene, granddaughter of famed architect Henry Mather Greene. In 2013 William and partner Michael Douglas Brennan formed Carson Douglas Landscape Architecture in San Diego, a business William operates from his 1860 farmhouse in Edgecomb.

Q: How does your work in Southern California influence your Maine practice?

A: To deal with the serious issues of drought and water pollution in California, every new construction project is required by law to have a licensed professional sign off on the landscape design, irrigation, and grading plans. We specify minimized lawns, drought-tolerant plants, and irrigation systems that help clients comply with water usage mandates and create drainage solutions that keep runoff out of the ocean and waterways. Environmental conditions may not be so dire here in Maine, but we believe basic sustainability principles translate everywhere. Living with a scientist [wife Nichole Price is a senior research scientist at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay] also helps keep these issues in the forefront of my mind.

Q: What does a sustainable Maine landscape look like?

A: My wife and I are working on creating one on our property in Edgecomb. We have eight acres, six of which are meadow. The field has native grasses and perennials and once in awhile I seed it with my favorite annuals, and this has become a habitat for birds, bees, butterflies, deer, and many other animals. I mow it once a year in the fall and it’s the lowest maintenance thing we have at our house. The other two acres I would like to be mostly food—fruit trees and a 100 by 50-foot fenced-in vegetable garden—with as little lawn as possible. If you’re going to spend hours of your weekend taking care of something, why not have some awesome peaches or apples to show for it? In an urban setting you can do these things on a smaller scale by incorporating gardens that attract pollinators, raised vegetable beds, and hardscaping to limit the lawn.

To deal with runoff, or to keep water away from a building, we try to work with the natural grade. On my property the land slopes toward the house so I have designed a beautiful dry creek with cobblestones, grasses, and granite boulders to catch and drain the rainwater before it hits the foundation.

Q: How would you describe your aesthetic?

A: Having spent almost 12 years in California, I’ve developed a contemporary sensibility that I would love to bring to Maine. What I mostly see here is beds with lots of flowering perennials mixed together against a backdrop of evergreens or expansive lawn. I’d like to simplify that and make it easier to read by incorporating more clean lines and a pared down plant palette. Picture square-edged beds with rows of clumping grasses or masses of ferns and an alée of trees. Some of my favorite things to use in California are native grasses interspersed with succulents such as agave. Here you could mix grasses with sculptural shrubs or dwarf trees to get that same stunning contrast of bold plants and swaying blades.