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Julie Moir Messervy, MCP '78, MArch '78

Landscape designer unlocks secret gardens

“Everyone has a garden inside them,” says Julie Moir Messervy, MCP ‘78, MArch ‘78. “Locked in that garden are associations, images, feelings, memories, dreams.”

Julie Moir Messervy, MCP ‘78, MArch ‘78, recently published Outside the Not So Big House.

The doors to these wondrous places don’t stay locked for long, if Messervy has anything to do with it. The popular garden designer and author helps people discover the colors, textures, and spaces of their inner gardens. “My goal in every instance is to create outdoor sanctuaries that feed the spirit,” she says.

This story is part of the September/October 2006 Issue of the MIT News Magazine
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The principal of Julie Moir Messervy Associates, based in Saxtons River, VT, Messervy sometimes elicits design ideas by asking new clients to sketch their childhood daydreaming places. In her own childhood, she played under pine trees and near stream beds in Northbrook, IL, and Wilton, CT.

But it wasn’t until she studied East Asian architecture and design at MIT that Messervy’s own interior garden blossomed. When then-lecturer Gunter Nitschke assigned an open-ended design project, Messervy searched the library for inspiration. “I found a book on Japanese gardens,” she recalls. “Right then, I knew I wanted to learn their secrets.”

During her master’s studies, Messervy flew to Kyoto to study with Japanese garden master Kinsaku Nakane, first as a Henry Luce Scholar and then as a Japan Foundation Fellow. “I studied about 85 gardens and did a lot of pruning, weeding, and hauling dirt. It was a very useful experience,” she says with a laugh.

Since then, Messervy has cultivated a well-earned reputation as a groundbreaking landscape designer. In addition to designing many residential gardens, Messervy works in public venues. In 1999, she created the Toronto Music Garden in collaboration with renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the City of Toronto. The three-acre public park is inspired by J. S. Bach’s First Suite for Unaccompanied Cello.

Messervy also writes prolifically. Her second book, The Inward Garden, won the 1996 Garden Writers Association of America Gold Medal. In 2005, she published her fourth book, Outside the Not So Big House, with architect Sarah Susanka.

“What’s fun about garden design is that the whole world is in there–everything from soil science to religion, horticulture to philosophy,” says Messervy. “Gardens are my life’s work.”

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