Grand Scheme

Rolling hills and gracious wooded neighborhoods still reflect the vision of Warren H. Manning, the master planner of the original Mountain Brook subdivision created in 1929. With Manning’s time-honored principals in mind, this project began with a goal of preserving the natural beauty of the existing lot while relating the design to the newly-renovated Georgian home.

For Mountain Brook homeowners Karen and Michael Luce, the decision to expand and remodel their Georgian home took an approach that would transform not only the interior spaces, but also the exterior grounds. Landscape architect John Wilson of Golightly Landscape Architecture worked closely with architect James Carter to create a seamless transition between the renovated interiors and the new outside surroundings.

The gate, part of an earlier renovation, welcomes visitors into the backyard with graceful lines that echo the English feel of the gardens and the Georgian architecture of the home.

At one time, the yard had provided the perfect setting for family Easter egg hunts and informal dinners on the narrow stone terrace. But as toddlers became teenagers, the shady, steeply sloped backyard no longer seemed to fit the lifestyle needs of the Luce family.

- Sponsors -

The site created several challenges—the most immediate being the extreme slope. John resolved this issue with a series of terraces shaped as ellipses extending from the home’s axis. Steps and areas of lawn lead down to the pool—all designed with minimal site disturbance.

Another challenge was to preserve as much of the existing mature plantings as possible, which included more than  2, 000 square feet of mature American boxwoods (some over 6 feet tall), and 15-foot-tall camellias planted almost 80 years ago by the founder of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens Camellia Garden, a one-time owner of the Luces’ property. A 25-foot Green Leaf Japanese Maple was successfully relocated from one side of the property to the other—one of John’s proudest accomplishments.

A major component of the project was the addition of the swimming pool. Karen envisioned one that blended into the lawn, with clean lines that would complement the overall design. The result is a rectangular pool positioned farther from the house with an open-air pavillion at one end.

With the project complete, Karen knows the new landscape design is a perfect fit. “It was hard to picture it as I watched parts of my yard being torn up, ” she says. “But the new design is better than ever.”

ABOVE Originally a lawn, this shady niche features a boxwood parterre with a small fountain surrounded by Selma brown pea gravel. Seasonal plantings of annuals, such as caladiums and impatiens in Karen’s favorite colors of white, lavender, purple, and pale pink, are added each spring.

ABOVE I am very happy with the pool but I think Bentley, our yellow lab, enjoys it more than anyone else!” — Karen Luce

ABOVE Flanked on all sides by a 2-foot border of 3-inch blue stone coping and a lush carpet of zoysia, the pool seems to barely interrupt the landscape. Existing pines and mature camellias, along with the addition of hollies and magnolias, provide a lush evergreen backdrop for the space, as well as needed privacy. 


ABOVE LEFT Nestled into Lace Bark Elms and boxwoods, the pool’s open-air pavilion, designed by architect James Carter, reflects the formal style of the Georgian home’s exterior with its clean lines and very few features so as not to detract from the elegant appeal of the overall project. The inviting deep blue of the rectangular pool was achieved by using a darker shade of plaster.

ABOVE RIGHT The Luce garden won a ‘Merit Award’ for design from the Alabama Chapter of the ASLA (American Society of Landscape Architects) in 2013. The view looking up captures the feel of the graduated terraces that lead from the house down to the pool.

Meet Landscape Designer 
John Golightly Wilson

A Birmingham native, John Wilson graduated from Clemson University with a Bachelor’s of Landscape Architecture. Prior to opening Golightly Landscape Architecture (GLA) in 2004, John worked for award-winning firms in Georgia, Connecticut,  and Washington, D.C. GLA’s focus is residential landscape architecture and garden design. The firm’s philosophy is that gardens and green spaces should build on the existing landscape and ecosystem, complementing the architecture while providing a seamless transition between the interior and exterior spaces.


Landscape architect: John Golightly Wilson: Golightly Landscape Architecture, 205.212.8048 •; Architect: James F. Carter: James F. Carter, Inc 205.871.7873 •; Landscape contractor: Pratt Brown: Pratt Brown Landscapes Inc. 205.951.3384; General contractor: Francis A. Bryant & Sons Inc. 205.802.7722 •; Stone masons: William & Carrigan Stone Masons, 205.323.0031 •

text by Sally L. Herring • photography by Jean Allsopp

Get the best of Birmingham delivered to your inbox

Stunning local homes, inspiring before & after projects, southern-style recipes, entertaining ideas and more!