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Inspiring Garden Design: Italian Sensibilities in Huntsville, Alabama

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As a garden aficionado, nothing gives me greater pleasure, nor inspires more anticipation, than visiting a new green paradise. And when you are very, very lucky you may be rewarded with a garden that lingers in your consciousness, luring you back with one more memory, keeping that visit replaying in your mind over and over.

Such is the garden that I visited recently in Huntsville, Alabama. The traditional and stylistically pure 1830 antebellum house gives no hint of what awaits you within its back brick walls. But a sense of the taste level is apparent from the positioning of the verdigris-potted boxwoods adding a note of seeming intentional formality (what is amusing is that they were just an inspired solution to curb the exigencies of the neighborhood dogs). From any angle they deserve an admiring glance.

Geometry is the key to this plan, inspired first by Italian gardens. Anthracite-gray pebble paths add another note of singularity. Frank Nola, the architect owner, is keen on axes (as am I) — both strong as well as subtle and he’s not shy about making bold statements.

The log pergola (accented with sharp white molded sofa and chairs) is on a direct line with the second floor sunroom at the back of the house.

Small stone-centered pocket gardens lead off the main rectangular path, providing fanciful sightings for visitors. And made all the more meaningful as these intimate spaces are in such contrast to the grand openness of the overall landscape.

Another axis ends in a delicate gate with urn-mounted piers.

Across the garden, a torchiere details another set of brick piers with a solid black wood gate that lets onto the driveway.

A contemporary, yet so classical take on a garden bench that the owner designed (why hasn’t this style been created from cement before?).

And for a surprising finish — a small, simple Japanese garden nestled into the corner of the house.  Thank you, Frank…

With warm appreciation to the Huntsville Museum of Art for this lovely invitation to speak at their major fundraiser, and to Director Christopher Madkour, my wonderful hosts, engaged committee members and generous garden owners. New friends all!

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Bettie Bearden Pardee

About Bettie Bearden Pardee

Author of Private Newport and Living Newport, garden furniture designer (The Parterre Bench), national lecturer, and entertaining expert. An honoree for the second year on "The Salonniere 100 America's Best Party Hosts", she was also the host and creative producer of "The Presidential Palate: Entertaining at the White House".

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