Rarely are rooms found in the out-of-doors, but in Pat and Gerald Smith’s Shandon home, tailored indoor living spaces fluidly extend to orderly “rooms” in the garden, neatly organized into compartments with straight lines.
“I have always been a ‘neat-nick!’” laughs Pat.
The home’s unique garden design was inspired by the breezeway connecting the back porch to the garage in back of the house. The breezeway and the garage’s stucco wall became a strong frame for a small courtyard featuring a fountain on one side and a simple squared plot on the other. The look is similar to something that Hay Hill had done for the Smiths at their previous home on Wheat Street. In fulfilling their desire to repeat this pattern, they once again consulted Elizabeth Rice, landscape artist with Hay Hill, for advice in the landscape design.
The breezeway in construction
Elizabeth created the design for the new space and, along with Hay Hill, implemented it as the house was being built. When the home was finished in March 2008, she had achieved the main goal of having the garden be visible from the back porches. “The back garden is definitely an extension of the house, and they just flow so easily between each other,” Pat says. “We love being able to see it from the bedroom and the great room.”
The hardscape materials used in the garden are limited to stone and gravel, repeating the elements of the house. Elizabeth says that it was an important decision to not use brick, and the tumbled stone edging was a vital design selection. “The axial path cutting through the center of the garden is also very important,” she adds. “It offers symmetry and balance to the overall design.”
Landscape artist Elizabeth Rice spaced the columns of the breezeway equi-distant from the pathway to give balance to the yard.
The fountain, designed and installed by Jeffery Hall, adds strength to the design. It is surrounded by a squared boxwood hedge, which is then surrounded by a pebbled pathway. Elizabeth says that simple evergreen plants like the boxwood hedge give order and anchor any adornment behind them.
Elizabeth wrote specific instructions on the building plans for the yard, spacing the columns along the garage wall and the columns of the breezeway equi-distant from the pathway to give balance. It was important for Elizabeth that this garden be to perfect scale and proportion with the house, and that all the components work together harmoniously — from the choice of stone hardscape to the texture and shades of green in the plants to the other floral colors.
“Elizabeth Rice doesn’t let you make mistakes in your garden plan,” says Pat. “In her very diplomatic and genteel Southern way, she steers you in the right direction even with the small details.”
In fact, according to Pat, Elizabeth Rice and Hay Hill did everything perfectly — from the mechanical foundations of precise measuring and planning for drainage, down to the color of the pebbles for the walkway.
“The courtyard is my favorite part of the garden,” reflects Pat, “especially when the fountain is lit up at night. I enjoy sitting on the back porch at any time of day, listening to the fountain bubble and watching the birds bathe and drink from it.”
Also contributing to the beauty of the courtyard is the old Japanese concept of “borrowed scenery.” A beautiful large oak tree in their neighbor’s yard serves as the perfect backdrop, completing the picture and adding a dramatic finish.
Pat’s favorite plant is a Limelight Hydrangea, which she says is excellent for cutting and arranging. She also enjoys the Pieris, a mountainous green plant with yellow detail dangling off the ends of the leaves. Wild ginger and begonias are sprinkled throughout the front yard, and a granite pagoda takes a position of importance. Ivy and dwarf gardenias add a nice contrast to the potted Japanese maple that is under-planted in summer with red begonias.
“It was important to me to have an evergreen garden with lots of variety,” says Pat. “I like something to be blooming throughout the year so that the garden is ever changing and always looks interesting. For example, the purple sasanqua camellia bush blooms around Thanksgiving each year, and the japonica pink camellias bloom after Christmas. The white azaleas burst forth in the spring, and the Lenten Rose is usually still in bloom for Easter.”
Pat’s garden is always evolving to better fit with its scenery and environment. When some major branches were removed from their neighbor’s tree next door, the plants in the back garden had to be adjusted for the additional sunlight; happily, that increased sunlight allowed for the addition of three smaller trees. She has brought in larger containers with a variety of plants and continues to add more layers.
“I like to start with good bones and then work around that structure with the embellishments,” notes Pat. Tony Melton of South Scape has assisted her both in maintaining the garden and in enriching the ornamentation of the garden, such as the Moncho ferns hanging on the front porch and the Kimberly Queen ferns in stone containers by the front door.
For Pat, working in the garden is a source of relaxation. It is the perfect way to spend time outside and unwind. It also serves a useful aesthetic purpose, as she uses all of her plants for flower arranging.
“Nothing is low maintenance in the South because of the long growing season, so you are really going to have to weed if you have anything other than Astroturf or cement in your back yard. Thankfully, I love weeding!” laughs Pat.
The hardest part for her is understanding the temperaments of plants — what will do well in specific areas. “It is unwise to buy something that you love and think will look perfect in a specific spot in your garden without knowing much about the plant because it could easily not work. You must match your expectations with what is feasible in your specific garden. The best advice is to pay attention to the pros,” Pat says.
And what do the pros suggest? Elizabeth says, “Gardens don’t just happen. They take love and attention, and of course, they begin with a good design.”