Stepping Out

When an interior designer applies her decorating principles to an outdoor space, the result is a thoughtfully-planned garden that rivals even her most beautiful indoor creations.

Photography by Jean Allsopp

Doris Haver Wilson has spent the last 40-plus years as an interior designer. Seeing fashion trends come and go—and come and go again—she has always been drawn to more of a transitional style, mixing together traditional elements with edgier, contemporary pieces. “I don’t like anything boring and stiff,” she says. “There’s no fun in that.”

That same approach carries over into her garden design as well. What started as a side hobby years ago has turned into a passion that rivals her love of interior design. 

Doris’s first garden encompassed a small area that bordered the family’s pool and included a mix of flowers, vegetables, and herbs. That garden resulted in a bounty that not only provided plenty of summertime meals but also helped inspire her son, Will, to eventually become a restauranteur who focuses on fresh food. (Will is the founder of everyone’s favorite taqueria, Taco Mama.) And it was that tiny outdoor space that also propelled Doris’s gardening interests for years to come. 

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When Doris and her husband, Jim, moved into their Mountain Brook home, she knew it wasn’t complete until she had converted the overgrown backyard into a carefully crafted garden that was heavy on design and light on maintenance. “I think we achieved the design part, but

I did not really succeed on low maintenance,” she says with a laugh.

Doris approached the garden design much like she would any indoor project. Laying the groundwork for transitional spaces that would highlight traditional elements in both formal and country English gardens, she incorporated boxwood and hedges, inviting entrys, meandering pathways, retaining walls, roses, hedges, an expansive lawn, and an oh-so-charming potting shed.

Working with some existing parameters, Doris opened up the home’s brick courtyard to the rest of the garden by shortening a tall wall that formerly blocked its view. Boxwoods now frame the edges while fig ivy covers the home’s exterior walls. A fountain adds a soothing melody to the border garden that includes Knock Out roses, Lamb’s ear, daisies, hydrangeas, English roses, lilies, phlox, and more. 

Just past the courtyard, a set of iron gates beckons guests to a grassy terrace. As a favorite entertaining space, the terrace includes a casual outdoor dining table and chairs shaded by a crisp black-and-white umbrella. 

Stepping down from the lawn, flagstone stairs access the lower garden with its pea gravel pathway that wraps around an oversized urn and leads to the garden shed. Here, rounded boxwoods mingle with a mix of flowers, including plumbago, hydrangeas, lilies, climbing roses, and herbs. “I love to spend time here watching the world go by,” Doris says. “It’s my happy place.”

Indoors & Out: A design background isn’t required to create a beautiful outdoor space. Here, Doris shares her advice on how to create a picture-worthy garden.

Start with a Plan
Does your garden have more sun or shade? Do you prefer a natural or structured look? Look at your space as a whole, then divide it into areas that suit your plants’ needs and personal style. 

Focus In
Sheds, containers, fountains, statuary, seating areas, walls, pathways, and hedges add structure and visual interest. Use these fixtures to create focal points and destinations within your garden. 

Mix it Up
Think vegetables, perennials, annuals, and evergreens. “Variety not only adds diverse color and texture but also ensures that there’s something blooming year-round,” Doris says.

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