The best dinner parties slowly migrate to the back porch — where stories are told, laughter is shared, and the starry skies create the perfect vista.
For Mary Kirk Anderson, that seemed to be the general theme for her dinner parties, where guests meandered out to the porch to continue the enjoyable evening. After one such evening, Mary Kirk and Jonathan, her husband, began to envision their dream outdoor living space. They broke out a yellow legal pad and began to sketch.
The Anderson family purchased their home in Columbia’s beautiful Lake Katherine neighborhood in 2019. After an extensive interior renovation, they ironically most often found themselves unwinding in the rocking chairs on the front piazza, enjoying their time together and watching their children climb the majestic maple trees in the front garden. Recognizing this would become a regular occurrence, the Andersons’ next project became the gardens.
Mary Kirk and Jonathan affectionately refer to their home as Little Cloverdale, named after Mary Kirk’s great-grandmother’s childhood home near the Rappahannock River in the town of Tappahannock, Virginia. As a child, Mary Kirk remembers visiting the Cloverdale grounds with her family and exploring the beautiful area, while admiring the spectacular flowering gardens along the river.
Jonathan’s love for landscaping started at an early age. A gardener in his own right, he inherited his green thumb from his father who had a passion for gardening and even had his own greenhouses, in which he tirelessly worked during his free time. Jonathan looks back fondly on that time, as he often helped his father work his magic in the yard, cultivating azaleas and rooting camellias. It comes as no surprise then that Mary Kirk and Jonathan wanted their outdoor space to be just as stunning as those they grew up admiring. Their desire to emulate that sense of tranquility and beauty resulted in the creation of an extensive variety of blooming shrubs and an outdoor space second to none.
“The front yard had an immaculate footprint when we bought our home,” says Mary Kirk. “With some tender loving care, we knew it could be transformed into our own little paradise.” Three stately magnolia trees and an array of evergreens lined the front corridor. While beautiful, they needed to be shaped up. As a surgeon with a steady hand and a great vision, Jonathan donned his gardening gloves and tree clippers and began manicuring the trees.
The Andersons realized the project was going to be a heavy lift, so they called on a professional tree company to help them finish the project. What started as cleaning up three magnolias ended up with the removal of several trees and shrubs and clearing out many of the existing beds. The end result was a garden filled with an assortment of vibrant colors of flowering trees and shrubs, adding beauty to the landscape throughout all seasons while keeping the integrity of the beautiful canvas of the yard.
The front door of the home is a calm, welcoming shade of celeste blue and served as the inspiration for the palette of the outdoor gardens, replete with pink roses, camellias, and azaleas; blue hydrangeas; and white gardenias, crepe myrtles, and drift roses. “The front door is truly the first impression of a home,” says Mary Kirk. “When our guests visit, I want them to feel immediately refreshed and graciously welcomed. The calming color of the door sets that tone.”
When guests enter the front door, they are enveloped by the same peaceful atmosphere felt in the outdoor gardens. The serenity of the blues, whites, and greens of the interior harken to Mary Kirk’s childhood, where she spent many summers on Edisto Beach. These shades infused into the interior design of her home enable Mary Kirk to create a calming retreat for her family.
The interior of the Anderson home is at once comfortable and elegant. “When we renovated, we wanted to have a home with spaces we could use every day — wonderful spaces all throughout our home’s interior and exterior allow us truly to spend time in every spot,” says Mary Kirk.
Mary Kirk also wanted to imbue tradition throughout her home. She inherited her grandmother’s large oval mahogany inlaid Virginia Galleries dining room table, sideboard, and dining chairs. “We wanted to follow in my grandparents’ footsteps of continuing gracious entertaining,” says Mary Kirk. When the Andersons purchased the home, the original dining room was a petite space, so their designer, Elizabeth Newman of Charleston, had the idea to flip the original living room with the dining room. To make the new dining room more elegant, they added wainscoting and heavy molding, along with a large hand-cut crystal chandelier hanging over the table.
For the Andersons, having exceptional spots for entertaining both indoors and out is truly special. One exterior spot that is a family favorite to enjoy is also a focal point of the outdoor space. Two distinct water features provide peace and tranquility, drowning out any surrounding sounds but for the chirping of the birds and the laughter of the children. The fountain in front of the piazzas offers a refreshing place to stop and pause.
The centerpiece of the fountain was imported from England and consists of a young child riding a dolphin into the waves. The water cascades down the dolphin’s spout into a large shell that overflows into a basin. “The child on the fountain represents a sense of magic and joy; meanwhile, the water connotes peace and tranquility,” says Mary Kirk. “All are feelings we want our outdoor space to evoke.” Mary Kirk and Jonathan finish each day on the porch unwinding to the peaceful trickle of the fountain and the splendor of the surrounding flowers. The large row of gardenias provides a picture-perfect canvas for the fountain, while Knock Out roses and pale blue hydrangeas add more beauty to the space.
Jonathan’s childhood home encompassed lovely azaleas and camellias. His late mother would often clip fresh pink camellias and place them in bud vases throughout the home. Camellias represent adoration and, with his mother’s passing, Jonathan felt it only fitting to incorporate several camellias into the gardens as a tribute to both his mother and his father.
After the meticulous work on the front gardens, the Andersons began transforming the backyard. The outdoor terrace was initially in their five-year plan, but, like so many things, COVID-19 accelerated it. Having to stay at home and longing to take in the fresh air of the outdoors, the Andersons found their long-term plan quickly became a must-do. “We began spending so much time outside — with the children climbing the trees and throwing the football,” says Mary Kirk. “Because of the pandemic, we had the time and energy and a lot of free hands to help us make the transformation happen.”
After a garden tour of Charleston — a regular hobby of the Andersons — Mary Kirk was inspired to design the courtyard with a sense of intimacy, while encompassing her husband’s love for the culinary arts and outdoor entertaining. Mary Kirk and Jonathan can often be found taking tours of gardens and homes throughout Charleston and Aiken, where Jonathan practices medicine. “We seek out home and garden tours for inspiration,” says Mary Kirk. “We take pictures of the features we love and bring back that vision and new ideas to incorporate into our own personal space.”
The terrace is lined with white drift roses and sasanqua camellias that overlook the traditional tiered brownstone fountain. Blue stone was chosen for the floor of the terrace to complement the home’s exterior blue doors and hydrangeas scattered throughout. “The new terrace has become our go-to spot for family gatherings, as it includes a complete outdoor kitchen with an al fresco dining area,” says Mary Kirk. “It and the outdoor kitchen have been our greatest accomplishment, as it allows us to simultaneously entertain while Jonathan prepares intricate, delicious meals, and we visit with our family and friends.”
The outdoor cooking space would make the most established chef envious. The Big Green Egg outdoor grill and cooker is a mainstay and often-used piece when entertaining. A natural gas burner series ensures the Andersons can create a meal from start to finish without setting a foot inside. Ample counter space gives plenty of room for prepping the meal.
“Being able to fry foods in the outdoor kitchen keeps all the fragrances of whatever creations we are serving outside,” says Mary Kirk with a laugh. “It also helps to keep my house neat and tidy. We had a shrimp boil recently and were able to smoke the sausage and the corn on the Big Green Egg, barbecue the shrimp on the built-in grill, and boil the potatoes on the burners. It was fabulous!” The patio features plenty of dining space, thanks to a beautiful wrought-iron table. Comfortable rocking chairs provide the ideal means of relaxing and taking in the incredible views.
And while dining under the stars is a family favorite, the interior kitchen is the central hub of the Andersons’ home. “As the saying goes, ‘No matter where I serve my guests, it seems they like my kitchen best.’” Mary Kirk loves all shades of pink, which symbolizes kindness and playfulness. While she wanted to create a tranquil space, she made sure she added pops of color throughout, including the bright, cheerful pink of the breakfast table chairs.
After dinner, Mary Kirk and Jonathan retire upstairs to their new master quarters. When they updated the design for their home, they wanted to have a spacious area to retreat in the evenings. They expanded the original master bedroom by consolidating a fourth bedroom and bath to encompass the new space. The master enclave includes a sitting room, which features a new gas fireplace with custom-made bookshelves. An elaborate marble bathroom and large dressing room are impeccably detailed with custom cabinetry throughout. “The most fascinating surprise in our master is a Sub-Zero refrigerator/freezer that is hidden within the cabinetry,” Mary Kirk says. The master opens onto the private second floor piazza, where Mary Kirk and Jonathan enjoy coffee or drinks overlooking the English fountain and beautiful exterior below.
A white crepe myrtle to the left of the terrace produces large, bountiful blooms in late summer. The final planting of the courtyard was 66 petite boxwoods around the circumference, in essence creating an exquisite outdoor room. Gas lanterns provide the finishing touch with three on the back terrace and two on the front piazza.
These create an ambiance akin to dining al fresco in an upscale Charleston restaurant. In fact, that is where Mary Kirk first garnered the inspiration, so much so that she ordered custom lanterns for her space from Lantern and Scroll in Charleston. The flickering flames give life and movement to the space, making them even more inviting — if that’s even possible.
Mary Kirk added authentic Charleston-style shutters to the exterior, taking the house to the next level and giving it that true Southern feel. And while the grounds may look like a finished, perfectly coifed space, the area is always evolving. The newest features include a bird feeder and bird bath, more tranquil elements that invite the beautiful song of the area’s birds. To be sure, the Andersons’ outdoor living space is therapeutic.
“I am outside most every morning,” says Mary Kirk, “whether it’s pulling up the smallest weed that is sticking out of the pine straw or simply resting and taking in the serenity of our surroundings. Jonathan and I cherish all things beautiful, specifically God’s creation of the outdoors with the large fragrant blooms and seasonal changing colors of the leaves in their trees and shrubbery. It’s truly like therapy for me.”