Nahant Terraced Gardens

Nahant, MA
Architect: Michael Weishan, Landscape Designer

When Jack Shea of the S + H Landscape & Site Work Division first made a site visit to this project in Nahant, on a cliff looking out over the Atlantic Ocean, he knew that it presented some unique logistical challenges. The owner had built a home at this location to resemble a villa from his native France. The client was looking to complement the house with an equally stunning landscape design and installation. He chose Michael Weishan as the landscape designer.

"With a 40 foot drop in elevation from the street to the edge of the cliff, and hemmed in by property lines on two sides, we could see that this was going to take some planning and head-scratching to get right," said Shea. “ We started at the lowest elevation right next to the cliff, and worked our way back.“

Pinning re-bar into the ledge, S + H then formed and poured the concrete retaining walls at the lowest level first. Because no equipment could get in after these structures were in place, all loam and large trees had to be delivered and stockpiled at each level progressively as the retaining walls were completed. The staircases and railings between levels were custom fabricated from precast stone, and this required precise measuring and calculation of elevations.  Shea says that weather was a factor as well. “It could be sunny and 80 degrees in the morning, and blowing rain in the 40s in the afternoon. That’s the nature of New England weather, but being high up on a cliff next to ocean just makes things more extreme.“

The retaining walls were all stucco to match the house, and relief details were designed to enhance the visual appeal. “We built the main entry area patio to the house above a large storage area at the basement level. All the patios are also custom ordered manufactured stone.“ said Shea.  Landscape lighting was integrated into the work and coordinated with the concrete pours. Small plant materials were brought in by hand at the end and installed.

As the work progressed, Shea says the crew noticed that the original stucco job at the house was in bad shape. "Essentially, it was a poor installation, and the location was also wearing it out. We have a great guy who is an expert in this type of modern stucco installation, and we ended up stripping and replacing the stucco on the entire house."

Other features of this declining access to the cliff included a fountain, a gas fireplace, and two pergolas. S + H also installed a new aggregate concrete driveway with radiant heat, and built a new garage. The client wanted the garage to blend with, not detract from, the existing house. A similar flat roof design, stucco finish and custom garage doors did the trick. “It’s seamless,“ said Shea; “it looks like it was always there, and really compliments the site work and landscape. This whole project was a great challenge, and it was very satisfying to see it to completion.”