There’s an old, funny ‘80s-era song by the band Talking Heads called “(Nothing But) Flowers” — in it, singer-songwriter David Byrne ironically mopes about how much he misses industrial parks and over-built landscapes being usurped by meadows and flowers in a fictional utopian world. “Once there were parking lots, now it’s a peaceful oasis!” he sings with mock horror.
Emilia and Anna deMauro, the sister duo behind East Hampton’s landscape design firm deMauro + deMauro, are all about bringing that wild oasis back to the fore. Or, at least, to the land of the homeowners who hire them to dream, plan and establish a naturescape that brings the character and sustainable strength of the native countryside to a space right outside one’s front door.
It’s an aesthetic that’s grown quite naturally to the deMauros, and in opposition to the boxed-in hedge aesthetic that’s become popular in the Hamptons. Instead, they’re creating that sung about peaceful oasis in every piece of land they touch and in a multitude of formats. They’ve fashioned small cutting gardens for both adults and children, rife with butterfly-attracting flora; overhauled fertilizer-dependent lawns into gentle, breeze-swaying meadows; carved out transportive and serene sitting areas surrounded by a soft sentry of native trees and bushes; full-on reformatted landscapes that get graded and grown to roll with the natural scape of a property.
Their conversation and creative process flows a lot like the structure of their gardens and landscapes, too —thoughtful, interwoven and creative, one sister starting a thought and the other finishing it in a constant sibling-inspired meeting of the minds.
“Just last week, we eliminated a lawn!” says Anna. “And we put in a meadow…”
“…but we created this little, mini native ecosystem instead of having a yard,” continues Emilia. “It was fun.”
The sisters began the business in 2015 on a far smaller scale than the full-on landscape installations they’re becoming known for now. Initially, they were crafting petite flower gardens and making beautiful planters and pots to add pops of colorful beauty to home landscapes. That grew into structuring European-inspired garden borders and larger-scale garden beds.
One day, when working on an installation in Sag Harbor, a woman visiting the property, who’d just purchased a house on Shelter Island in the Ram Island area, noticed how unique and beautiful the deMauros’ work was and asked for a card.
The next thing they knew, they were hired to do their first big project. Out went the staid arborvitae that came with the property; in came the native magnolia and native rose plants, prickly pear, beach plum, cedar and natural grass meadows. “It was a real meeting of the of the minds. They were looking for something sustainable; an alternative landscape, wanting it to be very loose and wild,” says Emilia. “It’s still one of my favorite projects. It just came out so pretty.”
At the heart of all this work, lies their dedication and ever-evolving knowledge in creating a landscape with a sustainable bent, nodding always to the ecosystem inherent to the South Fork. In the mix always are plants more often than not native, that are certainly lovely or interesting on their own, but when thoughtfully woven together create an environment that intrinsically makes a lot of sense.
“In our catalogue of materials, we’re using a lot of natives, a lot of pollinators. Things that make sense in the Hamptons when you’re thinking about landscapes being more sustainable,” says Emilia.
And as a bonus, it all happens to be breathtaking, too. Although every project is completely unique, the signature of a deMauro design is peace — a tumble of texture and color, drawing your eye to the multitude of details but also leaving one with a feeling of utter serenity, kind of the way a garden should.
“I feel like for both of us, we’re very connected to the natural world, through our childhood and our entire lives,” says Emilia. “This work is something that just came very naturally to each of us. And with plant material, like with anything, when you’re really immersed in it and passionate about it, it just sort of happens.”
Both sisters started out their young adult lives in the arts — Anna in figurative art based in clay and plaster, as well as sculpture and painting, (“She’s very talented!,” brags her sister), and Emilia in fashion design. But the core influence of their current business came from growing up in the countryside in the town of Friendsville, Pennsylvania (current population 100), near the New York border.
Their own artistic inclinations didn’t fall far from the family tree: They are the children of an artist and professor dad and landscaper mom. Their mother, Elizabeth Lear, is currently a co-owner and landscape designer of Lear + Mahoney Landscape Associates in Southampton, a founding member of the Horticulture Alliance and also spent time as the head of the garden committee for LongHouse Reserve in Bridgehampton.
The deMauro sisters always felt very connected to the natural world, and began working alongside their mother at a young age. “Our first job was working in gardens and it came back to us,” says Emilia. “We are very much influenced by our childhood, which was spent in very beautiful, rural countryside. You know, rolling hills and lots of farmland. We grew up on a dirt road in an old stone farmhouse.”
Their mother eventually gravitated to the South Fork of Long Island, and the girls spent their childhood summers in the Hamptons, exploring and biking and taking in the natural beauty of the area.
“I think a lot of times when Anna and I are working, we’re thinking of the old Hamptons. It was such a beautiful place, and it still is, but it’s disappearing,” says Emilia. “In our work, we’re always trying to pull from that and find how we can bring that back.”
Painting with plants
“I’m constantly thinking and dreaming. Looking at and pulling images that spark an idea. And it can be a very loose interpretation of what it eventually becomes,” says Anna. “But I’m always looking at gardens, even if we’re just taking a walk I’m always photographing and pulling ideas. It’s an opportunity to create — I feel like it’s a painting every year. It’s amazing to be able to do that.”
A creative journey happens each time the sisters embark upon a master landscape design. There’s the meeting with the client to have a come-together of vision and ideas; lots of time spent getting to know the landscape and envisioning what can come of the space. There’s the creation of both hand and CAD drawings, research both formal and informal (inspiration that comes always from the surrounding environment) into what plantings make sense. Discussions and plans with contractors and architects to talk about everything from how the design of a house fits into the landscape to figuring out if there’s any needed structure and grading. And, of course, planning out the actual plants through the nurseries they partner with.
“There’s our vision, but then there’s the other part of the process — our relationship with the client and having an open dialogue and forming a connection,” says Emilia. “Because in the end, it’s their home and it’s very personal.”
It’s a calling at once very technical and extremely creative, which scratches that itch for both women. It also takes the type of vision that’s spawned from an intricate study of their craft as well as faith in the process — landscapes aren’t built overnight, after all; or the most beautiful and lasting ones aren’t, anyway. For a gardenscape to really begin to come into its own, it takes three to five years, the sisters say.
That’s the exciting part, though, even from the get-go. At a job they installed in the spring, already the parts are starting to come together — sprouting mountain mint, shrubby ilex verticillata stretching its woody branches and leafing out. It’s also something they’re finding more and more demand for, as homeowners become increasingly aware of the benefit of a sustainable landscape for both practical reasons as well as beauty.
“That’s part of the fun of putting things in the ground,” says Anna. “You can have no bees or butterflies or any insects and then all of a sudden you start putting plants in the ground and the place just comes alive, you know? And that’s so much fun.”