Friends, before we embark on the second of eight garden tours, I need to explain an intense physical reaction I had to Elizabeth’s gorgeous (exquisite!) property. It happened to me in two parts: First, as the tour bus pulled into her Heritage Hills neighborhood, I immediately recognized the streets and front yards as the shady neighborhood toward the end of the marathon route, I am guessing around mile 24? It’s where I was really crying hard last April, all sad and hungry and pathetic. So I sat there on the tour bus, sort of paralyzed in my plush seat and nauseous for a moment. I had to actively remind myself that I was wearing a long dress and sandals and no one could make me run today, haha! The second part of all this was the overwhelming relief I felt as soon as said sandals hit the cool, sheltered sidewalk leading up to her house. Elizabeth and Pat were standing there to welcome us, too, so my heart was pretty much dissolving into happiness. Whew!
The overall mood of Elizabeth’s garden was tranquil. Cooling. Soothing. Truly elegant and inviting, maybe even in the Be careful ma’am you might soon find a bunch of us having coffee on your back patio kinda of way. I mean, you walk up to her front steps, beneath this stunning blue spruce, then around the side of her home past a pergola dressed in ancient grape vines, and finally to the back, and feel like you have entered a true Southern estate touched by a bit of Japanese Zen.
Before we chat much more, here is the write up of Elizabeth’s garden provided on our tour sheet:
After three years in her Heritage Hills home, Elizabeth continues to benefit from an existing landscape design. She says her garden is definitely a work in progress. She likes to experiment with shade-loving perennials and enjoys dabbling with annuals for color and to benefit the butterflies. She likes to give different vines a try and has them in pots so she can move them to capture sun and shade. A lovely, old pergola supports a very old grapevine, and be sure to check out the mature sycamores and American Elm here. These trees have had a long life on this small property and provide much needed shade throughout the hot summer. This garden is eclectic and a work in progress which brings the gardener much joy and lots of shade. Spots of sun host pots of flowers and vines and maybe a small fountain in the future.
I love this description and have to repeat that all of it together, but maybe especially the big, old trees on a smallish lot give it the feel of the Deep South. Luxurious closeness and calm. Elizabeth has incorporated some pops of bright color here and there, mostly the cheerful pink of begonias, but the ruling color scheme is blue-green-grey and all things cool. Lots of white edges. I just loved it. This is something I have craved but not had had the nerve to attempt, and she did it. She did it very well. The design is sound, of course, but then there is all the scrupulous attention to detail, the impeccable grooming, the perfect borders and rinsed off surfaces.
In addition to the deep, wonderful front porch, her home boasts an expansive concrete patio out back, raised almost to a second story level and plushly furnished for outdoor living and cooking. We also spotted several sweet little seating areas throughout the shaded backlawn. I saw a patio with a chiminea (which was capped with a colorful glass gazing ball, so fun!) and a darling painted iron bench, for starters.
The mostly formal, estate-like feel of the gardens was made perfectly cheerful and personal with Elizabeth’s judicious use of garden art. What fun!
I have not yet mentioned her Japanese Maple collection. A nice variety of these gentle, feathery trees with their colors ranging from soft rust to quiet purple or mahogany lent the otherwise green paradise some blood. Just a little heat. They grew quietly in the shade or dappled shade and nearly blended in with the bark of their much larger counterparts, the sycamore and Elm; but then without warning they would take center stage. Just magnificent. At a quiet moment toward the end of our stay (I could have stayed here all day, really), I asked our hostess whether she has a favorite Japanese Maple among the collection. She looked around affectionately and answered no, she doesn’t really, though there is that one frilly one there she likes a lot. At this, she smiled and maybe she winked.
The maples at varying heights and fullness, the hostas, the mossy rock paths, so many layers and variations on the theme of soft and cool and quiet… All of it together was a symphony of summertime in the south. I was tempted to believe she had even designed the patterns for how the sun poured through the tree branches. It all worked together beautifully.
Someone should totally linger here and write a classic novel.
Details that made a big impression on me personally:
- I fell in love with her use of different vines in containers. Big, tumbling, voluptuous plants climbing up elegant supports and spilling over the edges of pots… Loved it.
- I loved the sense of symmetry and balance everywhere. Walking through her garden you feel connected to both the ground and the under story of those big trees. You can also feel the symmetry from left to right, front to back. Everywhere. It felt good. Safe.
- I really liked how aggressively the small trees were pruned. Redbuds, maples, a white crab apple, and more boasted clean legs and spacious, reaching tops. It allowed tons of sunshine which created so many lacy shadows.
- Always a sucker for contrast, I was smitten by the many casual blooms filling fancy pots, maybe dressed up with iron ornaments. It reminded me fondly of the French Quarter, where shopkeepers grow asparagus fern in ornate bowls, for example.
Lessons and Take aways:
- Never underestimate the power of good grooming. Perfectly weeded beds, razor sharp edges, black-brown mulch and soil, and well pruned trees and shrubs… All the attention to health and cleanliness makes the visitor feel settled, safe, at rest.
- Master the art of the vignette. A painted bench with a trio of potted flowers or vines, placed right where you need it, is the sweetest thing.
- Honor your color scheme, if you have chosen one. The ruling palette of blue-green-grey, carried throughout her property, made everything feel cohesive and intentional. This doesn’t prevent you from playing with other little pops of color, but it proves how powerful a color scheme can be in the garden.
- Don’t surrender to shade, but work with it. Improve the soil, expand the beds, love the trees. Collect shade loving plants like hostas and hydrangeas. Bless the cool and use it.
- Connect different beds with wide, clean walkways.
- Incorporate symmetry at garden gates or key vistas. Grow pairs of big shrubs, arrange pairs of potted flowers, etc.
- Look hard at existing garden design and build on it as you incorporate your own personality. Especially a property with nearly ancient trees needs care with long term vision and a sense of respect for history.
Thank you so much, Elizabeth, for a truly wonderful slice of time in your paradise. I walked away inspired, calmed, challenged, and feeling very loved for some reason. Your garden exudes your sweet spirit, and I am so happy to have met both.
“Garden as though you will live forever.”