From his New Jersey roots to becoming founder of Landscape Details — with its green trucks and award-winning landscapes — landscape architect Michael Derrig gives us a tour of his stunning new offices in East Hampton while explaining what makes his firm the best.
How did you find your way to landscaping? Were your family members avid gardeners?
I love being outdoors. And I love trees. Always have. I went to Rutgers University to become a landscape architect. And then, after working for others, I found my way to East Hampton. My father passed away when I was very young, but we both always enjoyed being outdoors together.
You’ve developed some of the most iconic and spectacular landscapes on the East End and your portfolio shows a wide range of styles. Do you have a favorite style?
My favorite style is what works best for the property. We have years of experience and know how to develop a cohesive plan that works with size of the lot, its topography, and the micro climate, and that meets the needs of the homeowners. Of course, I tend towards simplicity.
I love the color green and most of my designs favor shape and balance over a multitude of colors. I’d say I’m a classicist. I like the clean lines of modernity and some of the shapes and influences of the traditional cottages that inform the history of the East End.
Once you are hired, how do you proceed in developing a concept for the grounds?
The most important skill I’ve cultivated is listening. When I meet with my clients, I ask questions to learn about what they care about, how they entertain, if they collect art, how they foresee using the property. We use everything we’ve learned to create a plan that gives the property balance and shape — adding structures where needed, creating spaces for entertaining, determining where to site a pool.
Then, we share renderings and discuss plant materials. I’ve been doing this for over 30 years, so I also understand native plants — what the ocean, bays, salt water, and winter storms do to trees and shrubs out here. This is critically important if you want a successful landscape.
Do you generally work with the architects or with homeowners?
Both. It’s a wonderful balance.
Are you a follower of any historically important landscapers?
Probably my biggest influence is Frederick Law Olmstead, who designed Central Park.
What are some of your favorite planting combinations, particularly for the East End environment?
I use a lot of boxwood, because it’s evergreen, and can be used in a variety of ways to delineate space and create borders. And the deer stay away. Japanese holly as well. I’ve created allées with Crape Myrtle and Little Leaf Lindens, and I love large caliper trees. In fact, I have my own tree farm west of here.
Your company touts organic landscapes. What exactly does that mean to you and technically?
This is perhaps the most important trend out here. It’s possible to have a beautiful property without using chemicals that are harmful to the environment.
What are some of the challenges you face when installing a landscape on the East End?
Salt. Wind. Brutal winters.
It’s a very short season. You can’t start until it’s warm enough and everyone wants perfection by May 25.
Your green trucks are iconic at this point. What is it about that green that appeals to you?
That green — our green — to me is “new leaf green.” It’s bright and hopeful. And it really stands out on the road, which is great. At our offices on Route 27 in East Hampton, the mailbox is the same color. It makes me smile every time I pull in.
Learn more about Landscape Details by visiting www.landscapedetails.com or call 631.329.3000.