A Garden Redesign for the Ages

A long overdue garden redesign brings the past to the present as it honors the historic roots of the home it surrounds.

A row of boxwoods divides the garden into two distinct spaces. The fountain side is formal with neatly-trimmed greenery. The area with the rose towers is more free-flowing thanks to an abundance of flowering perennials. Photo by Jean Allsopp

When Sara and Russell Ford purchased their 1926 Tudor almost 25 years ago, they had kids at home and a wish list that included a new kitchen and garden. But, as it usually happens, the children took priority and the home projects turned into “we’ll do it one-of-these-days.” Five years in, the couple managed to create a garden in the side yard, but the back of the house was left to grass and asphalt. Twenty more years in, they knew it was time to take action. “We waited until our kids were out of college before renovating,” Sara says. “Russ and I both believed that if we couldn’t do it right, it wasn’t worth doing.”

Working with designer Linda Beth Martin, the Fords started with a kitchen overhaul. As that project neared completion, they engaged landscape architect John Golightly Wilson for help with the rear view. “The kitchen addition has floor-to-ceiling doors that open to the outdoor space,” John says. “Those doors served as the catalyst to create our dream garden.”

Garden design illustration
The garden plan started with a conversation as well as John’s early hand sketches. He then turned those sketches into a combination of 3D modeling and computer-generated plans. From there, more ideas evolved, and the final plan unfolded.

With a few parameters from the Fords, John put colored pencil to paper and began sketching a plan—one that would evolve across conversations and shared ideas. “The Fords’ attention to detail—from planning to construction—was a huge part of the success of this garden,” John says. “I also relied on the skills of Fry Construction for the complicated fountain construction, as well as Green Again to install the landscape.” 

Garden elements helped define two distinct spaces while uniting them with each other and the home. “There’s a yin and yang happening between the two areas,” says Sara, who studied horticulture at Mississippi State University. “On the fountain side, the only color comes from the purple iris in the spring. Everything else is just green. However, the statue garden is mostly flowers. There’s more color, and the plants get a little wilder and spill out onto the paths.” 

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In both spaces, John and the Fords carefully considered materials that would fit in with the age of the home. For example, the fountain wall repeats the home’s chert rock foundation while hand-moulded bricks on the fountain and along the paths mimic the home’s exterior. 

Garden fountain
Photo by Jean Allsopp

Other elements hearken to traditional forms. A symmetrical series of obelisks guide the roses (Rosa Penelope) upward, an arched gate and opening provide garden portals, and a bronze sculpture depicting a girl with a bird in hand offers a modern take on classic garden statuary. 

The garden just finished its third growing season, and the Fords continue to enjoy watching it evolve and change with the seasons. Forgoing a regular maintenance service, they prefer to do the work themselves. “Russ and I are both gardeners so we spend a lot of time out there,” says Sara. “Russ painted the fence, gate, and obelisks. And we are always adding and editing. Right now, we’re taming the wild, late-summer look and finding options for fall interest.”

Blooming garden outside a brick home

“Residential landscape design should complement the personalities and lifestyles of our clients. We strive to create spaces that serve as timeless canvases for outdoor living.”

John Golightly Wilson

Get to Know John Golightly Wilson

Birmingham native and Clemson graduate John Golightly Wilson, has 25 years of experience in residential landscape architecture and garden design. From tidy courtyard gardens and exterior renovations to master designs for new construction and estates, Golightly Landscape Architecture provides comprehensive and site-specific plans designed to draw clients outside and into the garden.

Landscape architect:
Golightly Landscape Architecture General contractor: Fry Construction, Inc. Landscape contractor: Green Again, Inc. Masonry: Birmingham Stone Fountain: Fountains of Birmingham Brick: Old Carolina Brick Fountain bowl: Design by Golightly Landscape Architecture; carved by Tracery Stone Gate hardware: Brandino Brass Pots flanking fountain: Elegant Earth House renovation: Linda Beth Martin Interiors Path lights: Copper Moon

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