“If you think about it, it really all began in the garden, ” says local garden designer Kelly Hulsey. “It was ‘The Great Artist’ who created the flowers that go from tiny buds to open blooms, the leaves that change into brilliant colors, the Japanese maples that drop their leaves to create patterned red carpets.” With this statement, it’s clear that for Kelly, designing gardens is not just a job—it’s a way of life.
“Even when I’m not working, I must be in the garden, ” she explains. “Whether I am walking the property, sitting on a stone wall, or resting on a terrace while conversations linger, I am constantly allowing the garden to teach me.”
Kelly’s quest for knowledge is ongoing. She has visited and studied some of the world’s most famous gardens in the English countryside. And it’s through this immersion in the garden culture of England that she has made some observations that are key to her design philosophy. “Gardening is alive and well in England, ” she says. “In fact, most people there garden. The gardens are bold and colorful, and sometimes messy. They are both extravagant and modest. But regardless of the style, they all have one thing in common—the human element.”
Generally speaking, it is this element that Kelly sees often missing in gardens in the U.S. “Here, gardening seems to be a lost art at times, ” she continues. “As a business owner, mother, and wife in this fast-paced society, I understand this. Gardening requires attention to detail, patience, and a basic horticultural knowledge.”
According to Kelly, however, anyone with an interest in gardening can learn something from the gardeners just across the pond. “The gardeners I met in England did not have any fancy tricks up their sleeves, ” she says. “Their knowledge was not learned in a classroom. Each one had a simple title—gardener.”
It is that pared-down mindset that Kelly has taken to heart in the past few years, as evidenced in this Birmingham garden. “There is no formula here, ” she says. “I simply used a smaller variety of plants but in more abundance. And I created a beautiful backdrop with Confederate jasmine along the walls.”
Kelly also pays little attention to rules of odd numbers of plantings or certain groupings. “I like to weave the different plants into one another so that you cannot always tell where one grouping ends and another begins. The result is a haphazard inside order that I find so friendly.”
TOP LEFT Kelly mixed pansies and beaconsfield viola to create a more natural texture toward the front of the bed. TOP RIGHT Confederate jasmine covers the walls of the garden. “It has a small, subtle bloom that is fragrant and profuse, ” explains Kelly. ABOVE Kelly adds volume to the front and middle of the planting with curly-leaf parsley. She placed Liberty white snapdragons in the middle and back of the beds. “The white is very white and complements the blues well, ” she says.
Photography by Howard Lee Puckett