Tucked away in Kings Grant, the backyard sitting behind the home of Ann and Bill Calloway faces a 15-acre conservation easement and can only be described as a refuge. Walking through the wrought-iron gate and entering the side yard with its curved gravel pathway lined with greenery, visitors feel as if they’ve been transported to a garden off East Bay Street in Charleston.
Ten years ago, when Ann and Bill moved to Columbia from Sumter, life slowed down. Bill retired from his law practice, and Ann went from teaching full-time to tutoring part-time at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School. With the new pace and inspiration from Michelle Obama’s gardening book — American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America — the couple began researching and making plans for their outdoor space.
Several years ago, they tackled the front yard, putting Zenith Zoysia grass in along with boxwoods, white crepe myrtle with a cinnamon trunk and a Japanese maple. Later employing the talented staff of a local landscape design company, Hay Hill Services, they started exploring options for the side yard. Lauren Davis of Hay Hill, a longtime family friend of the Calloways, worked with them from start to finish on their side and backyard projects.
“We’ve known Lauren since she was a little girl in Sumter, and we had a lot of fun coming up with the plan together,” Ann says. A 2003 graduate of Clemson University, Lauren studied landscape architecture. Her high school biology class, taught by a botany enthusiast, drew her to pursue landscape design as a career. After graduating from Clemson, she worked in commercial landscaping before joining the team at Hay Hill nine years ago.
At the start, Ann knew she wanted a pathway of some sort leading to the backyard. She met with Lauren to discuss her ideas and goals, asked a lot of questions and brainstormed potential designs.
“I couldn’t figure out what to do,” Ann recalls, adding that Lauren sent her to the Lace House to get inspiration from the garden there. “I wanted something earthy and natural, and we ended up with a curved path.” Moon lighting and boxwoods frame the narrow plantation mix path, enchanting Ann’s grandson Townsend, a 2 year old who often urges his grandparents to follow him on the “rocky road.”
The backyard, though small in size, was a mammoth task. According to Bill, grass refused to grow. “We tried twice to put grass in,” he says, adding that the failure was due to water collecting in the backyard. This opened them up to the option of introducing hardscape along with the landscape, which Lauren says creates another room — an extension of the house.
“We were wondering during the process how the design would turn out, whether the final product would fit,” Bill recalls. “And we’re very, very pleased.”
While transforming and beautifying the space, Hay Hill also solved the drainage issue. The first steps were moving the fence back and doing some leveling. Early on, the Calloways knew they wanted to have a fire pit, a small vegetable garden for Bill to tend, the Green Egg to cook meals for family gatherings and a water feature.
“We love fires; we love to roast oysters,” Ann says, adding that she preferred simple over ornate and took her time versus rushing into a particular design. “I like to look around and research and read online. I needed to live here a while and get a feel for it, to grow into it.”
In addition to studying the Lace House garden, she gleaned ideas at Blue Marlin in the Vista. She and Bill eat lunch there regularly, and she looked at their planters for inspiration. Lauren’s input was invaluable, too, as well as the high level of detail and craftsmanship employed by Hay Hill’s masons.
“The Hay Hill crew is amazing,” Ann says, describing the meticulous process of laying bricks for the fireplace, the wood boxes made of brick on either side and the bluestone terrace facing the fire. “They’re artists. The fireplace is a work of art.” The bluestone patio, she explains, also demanded great skill — like putting a giant puzzle together.
The space is peppered with potted windmill palms, yew trees adorned with stringed lights, dwarf gardenia, pittosporum, variegated holly fern, Confederate jasmine and variegated Algerian ivy, while creeping fig makes its way up the brick wall and Asiatic jasmine covers the ground. Lauren designed a small planting box for Bill’s garden where he tends cabbage and collards. For the water feature, Hay Hill converted a cast concrete pot into a fountain with a small bubbler. Water cascades over the rim and onto small rocks surrounding the pot.
“It’s a good way to get some white noise,” Lauren says, adding that the Calloways were able to meet their goals, keep things simple and achieve a classic design mirroring many of the charming gardens of downtown Charleston. “We managed to include everything they wanted without it looking busy.”
Completed in the summer of this past year, it’s become the default “outdoor room” for family gatherings. Bill prepares North Carolina-style barbecue — Boston butte, vinegar, crushed red pepper and salt — and the family lingers several hours outside to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“We’re very fortunate to have both of our adult children here in Columbia,” Bill says, reflecting on memories made since the summer. “If we have good weather, we have about six months out of the year we can spend out here.”
What’s more, maintaining this backyard haven is nearly effortless, according to Ann and Bill.
“You pull weeds, do some trimming, and you’re done,” Bill says, adding that they chose low-maintenance plants, not wanting the yard to be burdensome.
Ann says there are a few key ingredients for mapping out use of an outdoor space: research, time and work. “There are so many ways to do it,” she says, recalling the many hours she pored over magazines and websites. “Once you start, one thing leads to another.”
If you have an idea of a style you like, Lauren chimes in, it makes the process smoother and more enjoyable. “It helps if you have an idea of what you want. People will show us pictures and articles on the designs they like,” Lauren says.
One of Lauren’s winning ideas, mixing the bluestone and brick, has turned out to be Ann’s favorite feature of the new layout. And her overall assessment? “It’s perfect. It’s everything I imagined and more.”