Courtyard Sanctuary

Little details that would be lost in large venues become jewels in the crown of a small garden. Working with only 3, 000 square feet, Max Garcia and David Swindal, created a series of walled gardens that rival those found in historic Charleston. Of the many challenges this project presented, the narrow footprint of the property required careful planning to maximize the limited space, while at the same time creating the secluded retreat the owners envisioned. The home’s expansive windows created yet another challenge: how to create a view where there is none?

David says, “Judy indulged me completely. My talent is thinking up whims for a garden. Max’s talent is turning those visions into reality.” Calling himself a landscape artist, David says he doesn’t find solutions by drawing out plans on a grid or following strict rules—he leaves that to Max. So, as David dreamed, Max transformed the fantastical descriptions into a workable plan. The result gave way to David’s vision and Max’s skill.


ABOVE The dining room and master bedroom open onto the main courtyard, providing what Judy describes as their “oasis.”

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BELOW The planting bed adjacent to the house is anchored with a fragrant tea olive tree. An early 19th-century urn from Turkey, rosemary, lambs ear, dwarf lemon trees and climbing confederate jasmine also provide year round interest. Perennials such as purple coneflower, brown-eyed susan, Guatemalan elephant ear, and hosta recede during the cooler months.

Max’s craftsmanship produced hand-cobbled stonework, an arbor, and raised beds that work to create structure and a feeling of spaciousness. David’s affinity for garden antiquities and artful treasures can be seen throughout the outdoor rooms. The sound of water bubbling from two fountains provides a soothing backdrop and helps to erase any sounds from the neighborhood that might suggest you aren’t in a country villa. Antique honey pots, olive jars, urns, and treasured keepsakes are carefully placed throughout the series of rooms, with no space left unadorned or unused. Ensconced with stone planters and niches, the ten-foot walls take on the timeless old world feel that Judy had imagined.


  The view through the wrought iron gate, (looking toward the fountain garden, pictured right) is as enchanting as any secret garden that could be found tucked away in Charleston or Savannah. Lush green color is provided by smilax over the arch, a variety of ferns and Boston ivy, impatiens, violas, hosta and Moon Light caladiums fill-in with pops of color, creating a path that is as much a special destination as a gateway.

For plantings, great attention was given to creating texture and a sensory experience. Tea olive trees, climbing roses, gardenias, citrus trees, jasmine, and pungent herbs create sensory enjoyment for virtually every season of the year. A variety of ferns, vines, ground cover, and herbaceous plants provide textures that are interesting to look at and irresistible to the touch.

David’s best advice is to begin with tall foundation plants.  “In order to get a natural look that is pleasing to the eye, play around with the placement of perennials and annuals. Judy and I just moved things here and there until we were happy with the results. Sometimes it took us several tries before finding the perfect spot, but, as Judy says, once you achieve harmony,   ‘It is healing to the soul.’”

Check out Judy’s endeavor: She promises it will be rich with thoughtful reflections, garden wisdom, and practical gardening advice.


landscape artists, installation and garden antiquities:  MAXIMINO GARCIA AND DAVID SWINDAL, GARTENFEST, LLC Birmingham, AL • 205.414.6740 • [email protected] urn on front loggia: TSITALIA IMPORTS  Birmingham, AL • outdoor fabric: SUNBRELLA, KING COTTON DECORATOR FABRICS Birmingham, AL • 205.322.5878 • interior designer: KITTY ROCHESTER Birmingham, AL • 205.322.5878 • [email protected] faux finish on olive jar: LISA OPELIELINSKI 205.229.3066 • [email protected]

Text by Sally Herring • Photography by Jean Allsopp

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