There are many rewarding aspects of being a garden designer. One of the first that comes to mind is seeing something that you’ve brought from your imagination and planted in the ground and then watched it grow over time. Another joy for me is to work on or around historic places, sites that are storied have some sort of legacy or they fit into the fabric of the historic landscape. There is often a soul to these places that are almost impossible to replicate.
Several years ago I had an opportunity to help a couple in Lexington Kentucky in the historic District of that beautiful city. Along with this tree, line Avenue was a series of houses built as early as 1790 through to the 1880s and early 20th centuries. Their house was a brick 1870s Italianate Revival house that they had beautifully and lovingly restored. But, they wanted to garden that was consistent with the style and scale of the house.
While the house was certainly beautiful and the couple delightful, the project wasn’t without its challenges. You see, this house was set on a very long and narrow lot. As a designer, it was clear to me that it was going to be key to take what might have otherwise been seen as an obstacle and turn it into something compelling … if not intriguing to the owners and visitors.
My approach was to create a series of garden rooms. It’s a hallmark of the work that we do with many gardens, including what I’ve done at Moss Mountain Farm. From the back of the two-story house upper balcony of this historic home, I wanted to see a parterre garden of boxwood. The design , I felt, needed to be expressed with pattern and and demonstrate an element of formality. This space was a nod to the formal architecture of the home. You see, a ‘garden should always bow to the house’ according to my great friend and garden designer Xa Tollemache. I couldn’t agree more.
This space, unfortunately, is juxtaposed to the motor court and garage. So it was essential that this be screened from the parterre garden of which I saw as an extension of the rooms of the house.
This was achieved by using a pleached Hornbeam hedge to separate visually the functional ( garage ) from the aesthetic (garden room). An arch in the pleached Hornbeam created an entrance to the garden from the motor court. Like most parterres, they are best seen and appreciated from upper levels. And, happily, the raised porches afforded the best views of the parterre and the garden rooms beyond.
Moving beyond this deeper into the garden visitors pass through a clipped yew hedge to separate the parterre from the next room designated for the swimming pool and its associated pool/guest house.
The final room at the back of the property was meant to be a bit of a surprise for visitors and it to was screened from the swimming pool area. Entering into the space you’re greeted by a large oval lawn bordered with azaleas, hosts, and fern and designed for entertaining. The perimeter of the lawn is punctuated with garden ornament. Early on in the project, we planted a dense southern magnolia screen across the back to provide privacy for this sanctuary.
Happily, this garden has matured beautifully over time and my clients, now friends, have followed the design intent of our original plans. Between the evergreen plantings that create the framework of the garden, there are spaces for what I refer to as areas of ‘intensive’ planting seasonal color in the way of tropicals, annuals perennials, and bulbs.
I couldn’t miss the opportunity to associate historically appropriate roses to this beautiful property. We chose six to seven varieties of heritage roses that would’ve been available and familiar to the residents of this house the day they moved in the 1870s. Among the roses include a few later varieties as well, such as ‘Awakening’ that beautifully pairs with Clematis’Mrs Cholmondeley’.
It’s a joy to engage in the art of gardening making, especially when the property lends itself to a series of rooms, each different, but all designed to respond to the architectural style of the house and the needs as desires of the residents.