Growth Mindset

Landscape designer Ted Carter shares his recipe for creating a dream yard. Hint: the most important ingredient is you.

When mapping out a landscape plan, there are all sorts of technical details you’ve got to get right. You need soil that’s stable enough to hold moisture and nutrients, yet loose enough to drain. You need flowers, shrubs, and trees that are hardy enough to withstand Maine’s fickle seasons, yet also provide color and interest throughout the year. But the most important details to consider are decidedly more personal, says Ted Carter, of Ted Carter Inspired Landscapes in Buxton. “It’s essential to assess your own temperament and capacity to steward the land.” In short, sustainable landscape design is very much an inside job. Here, Carter offers a checklist to start you down the right path.

Start inside.

Ask yourself which rooms you spend the most time in, and what views they offer, and let the answers guide where you focus your efforts outside, Carter says. “We spend 90 percent of our lives on the inside looking out — you don’t want to invest a lot of time and energy into a part of the landscape that’s never seen.” 

landscaping by Ted Carter Inspired Landscapes
In Cape Elizabeth, a sheared boxwood hedge backed with Endless Summer hydrangeas fortifies a formal landscape and echoes the crisp lines of the Mystic Mountain granite pool. Photographed by Charlene Clark.

Know thyself.

When Carter visits a property for the first time, he pays close attention to how formally — or not — the owners seem to live.“If the place looks neat as a pin, we want to bring art and order to the outside as well,” he says. He might take a symmetrical approach to hardscaping and gardens, incorporating plants like boxwood and European hornbeam, which lend themselves to structure and shaping. For a client with a more casual style, he’ll go with freeform plantings, such as Japanese pines, lilacs, and bridal wreath, which produces cascades of tiny white blooms. “I wouldn’t plant hedges in the front yard of a person who lives a bohemian lifestyle,” he says. 

Think ages and stages.

Honestly assess your life right now. If you’re in the throes of raising young kids, and/or a hard-charging career, you don’t want perennial beds that require diligent weeding and deadheading, Carter says. Instead, opt for more resilient, low-maintenance deciduous plants and evergreens that still offer great color and texture, like hostas, Japanese maples, lilies, and Montgomery spruces. By contrast, if you have the time and desire to get your hands dirty, by all means — go wild with beds packed with bright-bloomers such as campanula, coreopsis, daisies, and liatris.

To learn more, visit or call 207-761-1823.