When Jill Evans found the 1920s English manor atop Red Mountain, she was immediately charmed. Sure the house needed restoration and updating, but its stately architecture looked like it had just been plucked from the European countryside.
Weathered and darkened by soot from decades of exposure, the stone exterior showed scars from wind and pollution from Sloss Furnace’s heydays. Terraced gardens and paths were overgrown, but inside, the home showed the imprint of a happy family who lived well and played well. For Jill and her husband, Gary Crowder, it was easy to imagine the life the house had enjoyed and the future they wanted to give it.
Jill and her husband spent three years restoring the home and outdoor garden rooms to their full glory. The process took skilled craftspeople and a lot of patience. Rooms—inside and out—were opened, reassigned, restored, and filled with period-appropriate furnishings and art. Completed, this labor of love reflects the couple’s dedication to authenticity.
Despite the manor’s grandeur, Jill’s favorite part of the property’s history was found not in the home itself, but on the ridge down below. Tucked under the home’s view of the city lay the most perfect playhouse designed for the daughters of the previous owners. “I loved the house, ” Jill says. “But what I loved most was the playhouse.” Though the playhouse is not original to the estate, the prior owners took great care to replicate the design of the main house by using a slate roof, stone exterior, and limestone accents such as the Quatrefoil above the arched, cottage-style Dutch door.
The playhouse’s charms bring to mind every little girl’s fantasy of finding an undiscovered getaway—much like the main character in Mandy by Julie Andrews or The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Just like the playhouses in storybooks, this is a place to imagine, dream, plan, and escape. It’s a place to play house, plant a garden, pick flowers, and lie in the grass and let the clouds go by. It’s a place for tea parties. It’s a place to be quiet.
The garden’s plantings allude to fairytale notions with a weeping willow, fruit trees, ivy trained to drape as garland, and a carefully tended climbing rose that is slowly making its way above the cottage’s door. Neat beds are filled with blooming perennials, hydrangeas, and shade-loving greenery.
While Jill keeps the garden and playhouse well-maintained, it’s still just a place for dreaming—for now. When it’s time, a new generation will find their way to this garden of small delights.
Photography by Jean Allsopp