When Elizabeth and Joe Rice moved into their house in 2006, Elizabeth felt lucky to inherit a landscape that had been designed years earlier by one of her favorite landscape architects, George Betsill. A landscape architect with Hay Hill Services, Elizabeth fully appreciates a sound structure and organized framework.
“To me,” says Elizabeth, “the most important part of any garden is the structure and backbone that holds it together. Good drainage, spatial definition and hardscape, like walls, pools decks, and patios must be attended to make the plants and flowers most appealing. All parts of the garden need to work together to form a cohesive whole.”
Elizabeth did, however, have some ideas for restructuring the components of the front and back yard. With the help of Hay Hill, a few existing drainage issues were fixed and a new front walk along with a redo of the fountain and added symmetry in the front lawn area were all completed.
“My main contribution in the garden as a whole was just pruning, thinning and shaping areas that had become overgrown. In the front, however, I re-graded, made the flanking beds symmetrical and installed a formal path with columns and lighting. The walk out to the street is now one of my very favorite parts. The columns by the street match the columns of the courtyard, and the brick edging along the street, which I copied from Hugh Dargan, is a detail that really sets it apart. The devil is in the details with landscaping and gardening, like the molding or nice furniture in a house.”
Elizabeth also redesigned the courtyard fountain and pool — she wanted to make it special, so she replaced jagged irregular flag stone with the detailing of two-inch thick bluestone. She had it laid without mortar joints and cut the bluestone to fit the circle around the fountain. The courtyard blends together beautifully as a whole, adding depth to the front entrance and creating a nice open space.
Sometimes, however, design decisions can be dictated by unavoidably difficult choices. Two huge, 40-year-old Yoshino cherry trees graced the front yard when the Rices moved in, and it was with regret that Elizabeth recognized that they had to be replaced.
“They were in decline, and keeping them simply didn’t make sense,” says Elizabeth. “Branches were dying and falling; it is hard to cut down established trees but when it is time, it is for the better. Cherry trees and dogwoods just don’t have a lifespan like an oak tree.”
Elizabeth had to convince Joe of taking them out and planting new ones, which she alleges took some verbal finagling. They also had to address the issue of the pine trees in the front.
“A lot of people in the South hate pines, but I actually like them,” she says. “We live, after all, in a neighborhood that is in the middle of a pine forest. We took out one of the two in the front yard to create more space, but I wanted to keep at least one. I planted Confederate Jasmine as a ground cover around it, and it has done extremely well even though it’s usually planted as a vine.”
While the Rices decided to keep the landscape of their home simple and more formal, Elizabeth did layout a section of the garden on one side of the house to be open ended — what she calls her “play garden.” Robi Peach put a meandering pathway through the area so she could plant to her heart’s content. The path is a combination of old bricks, bluestone and leftovers. It was laid in granite fines and now moss covers many sections, which adds to its charm.
“If you like to garden, you need an area where you can play and just stick things,” says Elizabeth. “Being a plant enthusiast, it is always fun to try new things. Taking a plant home, putting it in the garden and watching it grow is interesting and fun. The old adage, ‘You don’t know a plant until you grow it,’ is true. I love to buy plants as do most gardeners. Sometimes people buy plants and walk around the garden and think ‘Where am I going to put this?’ Having an area like this is not going to mess up the symmetry of the garden, but you need to be careful as beds can become chaotic.”
Elizabeth also added a brick wall with an iron gate to the far side of the house. Billy Davis of Davis Ornamental Ironworks fabricated the gate. Elizabeth adapted the design from a gate at Brookgreen Gardens — a garden haven that Elizabeth visits every time she goes to the beach.
One element that Elizabeth relishes about her garden and that greeted her upon arrival is a small garden shed that architecturally matches the house. It adds structure and definition to the garden. “It was wonderful to have a brick garden house that was already on the property,” says Elizabeth. “It is nice to have structures in the garden that don’t come straight out of a home improvement store and that repeat architectural details of the house — the pitch of the roof, the shape of the windows and other architectural elements match it perfectly.”
Another component, however, that Elizabeth was not as enthusiastic about was the pool in the back yard. “I had never wanted a pool and thought I might regret buying a house with one. I called my sister and said, ‘Coleman, what on earth am I going to do with a pool?’ We have surprisingly enjoyed it — it has been a nice place to entertain or just drink a glass of wine together. It is the focal point from the terrace and in the landscape and the perfect place to relax after work and after gardening. And the grandchildren, of course, just love it.”
The raised terrace off the back of the house overlooks the pool and is indeed a peaceful haven. The lot behind the Rice’s property is deep and undeveloped and, although this home is situated in the middle of town, the back terrace feels like a mountain retreat.
“Maintaining a garden takes a fair amount of time,” says Elizabeth, “but if you are organized, stroll your garden on a regular basis and make good ‘to-do lists,’ you can keep a garden in order without working in it all the time. Most maintenance, even ‘cut and blow,’ is seasonal with what I call a window of opportunity. When time doesn’t allow you to maintain, you have to call in ‘outsiders’ to help get things done. I would like a full time gardener to come every day but who wouldn’t! I also wish my wonderful husband enjoyed working in the garden as much as he enjoys chasing a golf ball. Hay Hill has been a big help with pruning and maintenance as well as design installation. John Laken comes once a week and helps me with anything that needs to be done and is wonderful company.”
And her professional gardening advice? “Start with a plan and adjust elements as the landscape phases are installed. Plants do grow — the garden is never a static place. That is part of the challenge and what makes a garden interesting and fun.”