Todd Dorlon Looks Back at a Favorite Landscape Project

Landscape designer Todd Dorlon reflects on a favorite project and why it continues to endure.

Photography by Van Chaplin

The “Pineapple House,” located on Mountain Brook’s Surrey Road and aptly named because of its prominent finial above the entry, has appeared in Southern Living and on an untold number of social media pages. Thanks to the charming transformation by previous homeowners Ragan and Brad Cain with the help of the former design team of Bates Corkern Studio and landscape designer Todd Dorlon, the home has gained icon status.

One aspect of the project that hasn’t reached the internet—yet—is the backyard. Todd Dorlon shares how he transformed the rear garden into an equally pretty space that repeats materials used on the front of the home but exudes character and style all on its own.

Getting Started
The traditional Cape Cod-style house had plenty of charms, great proportions, and the potential to become a real show-stopper. All it needed was a fresh paint color, a few architectural revisions, and new landscaping to push it in the right direction. Focusing on the landscape, Todd says, “The goal was to create something classic and simple.” In the front, he replaced existing plants with a bevy of American boxwoods that work in harmony with the curve of both the drive and the stacked-stone wall. “Out back, the garden maintains some of the same formality and structure, but it has a much more relaxed, playful vibe,” he says.

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Making a Connection
“The rear courtyard was in rough shape,” says Todd. Most of the walls needed rebuilding, so he tweaked the original layout and made it slightly larger. He also opted for pierced brick to add interest in the section of wall between the two gates. “I love the look of old brick,” says the landscape architect. “Since the front patio flooring was Bessemer Gray, we repeated it in the courtyard walls.” The rear brick patio was replaced with bluestone. “Bluestone is my favorite, and its color plays much better than original red brick does with the gray walls,” he says.


Inside the Lines
Taking advantage of a border defined by an existing brick wall, Todd filled the space with perennials in varying shades of green and white. “The only two plants that we kept were the giant magnolia and the cherry tree,” he says. He framed the spaces with a Green Velvet Boxwood hedge and filled it with ‘Mine-No-Yuki’ White Doves Camellias, Lenten roses, hostas, Autumn ferns, and Dwarf Mondo grass.

For All Seasons
“Lenten Roses bloom in the late winter and have great foliage, so they are a nice filler plant, even when they are not in bloom,” Todd says. “Hostas bloom in summer, and the camellias bloom in the fall.” The potted dwarf Japanese maple just behind the bench and courtyard wall offers fall color and interest throughout most of the year. “Many times, I will carve out little pockets within these plants and along paths to mix in annuals such as impatiens and torenia in the spring or violas and snapdragons in the fall,” says Todd.

“Repetition in a garden is important. There needs to be a connection between the front and the back, but there also should be some differences to keep it interesting. Repeated materials include boxwoods, hollies, magnolias, and hydrangeas.”

—Todd Dorlon

Window Dressing

Todd designed the window box by filling it with lavender, cosmos, pentas, silver thyme, Creeping Jenny, coleus, and scaevola. “Right or wrong, I never follow the spacing instructions when it comes to planting flowers,” he says. “With shrubs and trees, I am very mindful of providing enough space for future growth, but when it comes to annuals, I don’t want to wait until the summer is half over before my containers and flower beds look full and lush. That’s why I always plant them close together.”

Focal Points
Containers, statuary, and artful design elements are key components of garden design. They can elevate the overall look and feel of a space and provide interest, as well as focal points around the garden. On the patio, one container features a boxwood underplanted with Creeping Jenny. Another planter hosts a Eugenia topiary underplanted with scaevola and Creeping Jenny. Eugenia will not survive winter in Birmingham, so it’s treated as an annual.

Outdoor Entertaining
“With access to three different rooms in the house, there is a great indoor/outdoor flow between the home and patio,” Todd says. To lure guests outside, a concrete outdoor dining table and teak chairs stand at the ready for any occasion. For everyday dressing, Todd centered the table with a container of Lemon Ball Sedum. “It’s a great option for areas that can’t be irrigated because it doesn’t require a ton of water,” he says.

A Textured Palette

Green-and-white gardens are timeless, but without variety, they can quickly become boring. “Different shades of green, as well as varying leaf sizes and textures, all play an important role in creating visual interest,” Todd says. “As a general rule, the majority of flowering trees and shrubs I choose have white blooms. This allows the seasonal plantings and perennials to really shine.” 

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