As my father loved to say, “travel is broadening.” That wisdom took on a new meaning when gardens and their design became such a focus for me. My recent travels took me South to Birmingham, Atlanta, and Cashiers, North Carolina — all three locations sharing more in common than with a Bellevue Avenue property. So the questions started forming — what was an owner’s response to the existing topography? Why did they choose those particular plants? How are they inspired by specific challenges? For example, embellishing a new parking area created after the removal of a pair of storm-damaged trees? The answer — design a simple repeating diamond-shaped espalier for the brick retaining wall (as seen below).
Let me now introduce you to three ladies, whose successes (and trials) with their gardens have me “considering the possbilities” for my own. I shall respectfully start with an accomplished and renowned horticulturalist, Louise Wrinkle of Birmingham, whose bonafides speak to her passion for gardening: chair of the Garden Club of America’s Horticulture Committee and a Horticulture Judge, past board member of the Birmingham Botanical Garden, recipient of the Garden Club of America’s National Achievement Medal in 2001, and a founding board member of The Garden Conservancy. Louise has now capped off this career with a recently published book, Listen to the Land.
Visiting her woodland garden in Mountain Brook was a rare treat; as one reviewer noted, “at once aesthetically exciting and spiritually restful.” One of the most insightful parts of Louise’s book is the garden’s plant list, with her honest assessment of successful as well as unsuccessful experiences with each. And, on a personal note, reconfirmed that gardening can keep you engaged and vital well into your much later years.
As a contrast to her hillside woodland garden, Louise has created a very southern knot garden, complete with white picket fence and caladiums; the crossed crabtree branches are the bones of a Belgian fence that serves as a sophisticated closure to the driveway side of her small garden.
Dot Ireland, on the other hand, has chosen a very different trajectory than her neighbor, Louise. Let’s call it “turning over a new leaf.” Her recently built home, with its “Tuscan Palladian” (my words) architectural reference, is seemingly a bit out of the norm for Mountain Brook, so all the more intriguing.
As are her answers to the hillside on the backside of the property, which allows for some adventures with focal points as you stroll down a fern-understory allee’.
Which leads you to a very Tuscan, pebbled courtyard that takes advantage of the terraced property.
Dot Ireland looking over her planted knot garden.
Lastly…a Birmingham take on an ages-old style of “garden collage” that incorporates worn tools and gardening must-haves.
Northwest Atlanta properties share a topographical distinction with Mountain Brook residences — sloping hillsides that fall off into brooks and creeks. Jane McLain’s is an example of how this otherwise wooded area can become an opportunity to create something heavenly — to include paths, stepping stones, wooden stairs, and a bridge interspersed among a well-considered selection of woodland plantings.
A charming knot garden and pool area share a bluestone terrace hugging the house,
while the woodland is the perfect setting for a bridge whose design and color was taken directly from Jane’s dining room Zuber wallpaper.
Thank you for joining me, and Louise, Dot and Jane… three ladies whose answer to their own challenges and solutions have proven truly refreshing and informative.