New York City-based landscaper Christian Duvernois worked as a lawyer before launching his landscape design company, but where others see contrast, he sees a continuum. “My grandmother took me to classic French gardens like Versailles and Chantilly, and my family collects art,” Duvernois says.
A French native, Duvernois studied both law and art. “I specialized in environmental law, which was pretty avant-garde at the time,” he says. “As an environmental attorney, I became more involved in landscape architecture.” After launching art galleries in Paris and New York, Duvernois combined his diverse interests into one business in 2001, and Christian Duvernois Landscape/Studio (CDL/S) was born.
Duvernois and his team focus on residential and institutional landscaping, from rooftop gardens in Manhattan to estates in the Hamptons and Connecticut. He uses his legal skills to navigate the regulations and permitting processes of the city and county agencies where he works, and his artful eye to create distinctive settings that combine plants and art. His work is informed by the styles of André Le Nôtre, royal gardener of King Louis XIV and the renowned landscape architect of Vaux-le-Vicomte and Versailles, the more rambling Anglo-Chinese gardens of Marie-Antoinette at nearby Trianon, and traditional Japanese gardens. “Inspiration is everywhere,” he says.
“I plant trees in specific places to play with the viewer’s vision.” Christian Duvernois
Nature inspires all gardens, Duvernois says, but he cautions against categorizing gardens as either natural or formal. “Both styles are illusions,” he says. “They perfect nature, but they aren’t natural. Both Le Nôtre’s gardens and English gardens were optical illusions. Today, I plant trees in specific places to play with the viewer’s vision,” he adds. Contemporary landscapes incorporate both formal and informal styles, he notes. Clients of CDL/S usually request natural-looking, ecologically sound landscapes.
“The environment is important to our clients, and they ask for environmentally friendly gardens,” Duvernois says. Native plants are low-maintenance, weather-resistant, and mandatory according to the laws of some municipalities. They also attract pollinators, and his rooftop gardens attract bees, butterflies, and birds in the midst of the metropolis.
Duvernois customizes each project by asking clients how they’d like to use their outdoor space. Homeowners want to relax and entertain outside, while institutions require outdoor meeting and dining areas. He wants to give kids a safe place to play and to feed people’s souls by planting vegetable gardens and fruit trees.
Whether clients want to read, swim, play, meet, or even watch TV outside, Duvernois creates the space.
“The contemporary vision of a garden’s purpose has changed,” says Duvernois. “Gardens used to be designed walk through, but today how the client will use the space dictates its design.” Whether clients want to read, swim, play, meet, or even watch TV outside, Duvernois creates the space. He can highlight a gorgeous view, or disguise a not-so-great view.
Water is an important element in every landscape. “People love to look at water and listen to its sound, so we include a lot of fountains and small reflecting pools, even on rooftops,” Duvernois says. He also incorporates sculpture and other works of art into his designs. “Our clients are often art collectors, and they want to showcase their art inside and outside their homes,” he adds. Sometimes they ask Duvernois to integrate pieces they already own, but often he works as a liaison between clients and contemporary artists.
Yet Duvernois insists it’s the small things that make a garden into an oasis.
To complement an extensive collection of Chinese art at an apartment on Park Avenue in New York, Duvernois included a mirrored glass sculpture by artist Vicky Colombet. He created a bi-level contemplative garden to be an extension of the home’s art-filled rooms. Several blocks away on a terrace above the city, he created a veritable arboretum and added a sculptural copper fountain by artist Serge Besançon. In addition, Duvernois works with the casting studio at the Louvre in Paris to perfectly reproduce sculptures and bring them out of the museum and into the outdoors. He’s commissioned reproductions of a 1711 sculpture by Claude Poirier and part of a 1699 bronze by François Girardon that was almost entirely destroyed in the French Revolution.
Yet Duvernois insists it’s the small things that make a garden into an oasis. Details from sustainable wood walkways to diminutive herb gardens make his gardens inviting. “We’re working on projects in New York and the Hamptons where the homeowner will have an outdoor buffet and bar, and I’m planting grapevines,” says Duvernois. “Gardens remind us of where our food comes from—or in this case, our wine grapes.”