Loretta Gillespie lives and writes in Moulton. A garden consultant, she and husband Danny own Gillespie Gardens, a private garden retreat available for weddings and other family functions.

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You Can Go Home Again
by Loretta Gillespie       #Garden Profile   #Hardscaping   #Landscaping

The "Wagon-Wheel" Garden

When Don and Sandy Logan turned over the keys of their Birmingham home to its new owners, saying good-bye to the gardens Sandy had nurtured, they moved to New York City, never dreaming that they would return to buy it again years later. But, that’s exactly what happened.

When Don retired they knew they wanted to live in Birmingham, so he asked Sandy to check and see if the house was available. At that time the house wasn’t on the market, but in an unbelieveable twist of fate, their former home became available.

The gardens had changed some since they had lived in the house and there was much to do in order to transform them into the dream gardens that Sandy envisioned.

Sandy wanted lots of blooming plants and shrubs, but there were the obstacles of the slope and shade. In some places there was just too much shade to provide the sunlight necessary to encourage blossoms to form. One thing she knew for sure, she wanted an English garden. She talked to some landscape designers and quickly realized that their definition of what an English garden should be was vastly different from her own.

Then she happened to read an article one day about a lady by the name of Mary Zahl, who specialized in designing English gardens. Sandy was able to make a connection with her and knew right away that she had found a gardening soul mate. Together, Sandy and Mary designed the English-style gardens that Sandy had always dreamed of.

The design they came up with is a delightful labyrinth of garden rooms that surround the house in a gentle progression from formal to playful, intimate to expansive, and spectacular to sensuous.

Let’s take a tour of these wonderfully designed gardens, shall we?


The Driveway

Climbing up from the street, we marvel at the mass plantings of autumn fern. Bright with spring’s new copper-colored growth, they line both sides of the curving drive up to the house.

A low stacked-stone wall curves around a grassy lawn in front of the motor court. Atop the wall beside the parking deck, under the graceful branches of a crapemyrtle, sits the watchful figure of an iron dog designed by Frank Fleming.


The “Wagon-Wheel” Garden

In front, a formal “wagon-wheel” garden is presided over by a charming statue which Sandy refers to as “The Lady in Waiting.”  

Its quadrants are filled with blooming plants in soft pastel colors, blue pansies, lavender and pink snapdragons, sweet William, parsley and silver lambs ears. Surrounding this garden, azaleas form a privacy hedge on three sides.


The Front Door

An iron balcony railing supports a vigorous ‘New Dawn’ rose about to burst into bloom. The pavers are outlined with verdant mondo grass. 


 The Side Garden

Creeping fig covers the wall surrounding this moss covered fountain. Oakleaf holly resides in pots.

A wooden gate leading to the side garden opens to reveal a captivating setting. Just slightly less formal in style, the space is narrow, running between the house and a sheltering stucco wall.

This lovely rectangular garden is filled with hardy ferns, Lenten roses, American and ‘Green Velvet’ boxwood and tea olives. The stucco wall, designed for privacy, lends itself to the charm of this area. Creeping fig covers much of the vertical space, and the branches of tea olives (Osmanthus) cast delicate shadows over the dining area.

A Mediterranean fountain in the center of the wall is flanked on either side by two pyramidal oakleaf hollies planted in oversized decorative pots. This focal point is carefully centered to form a lovely tableau when viewed from inside the house.

Beyond a lovely scrolled wrought iron door lays a gently curving path among ‘Snowflake’ hydrangeas, viburnum and nandinas. This brings us around to the backyard, overlooking a woodland bluff.


The Children’s Play Area

In a niche made especially for them, the Logan grandchildren can play to their hearts’ content. Pretending to be soldiers in a rustic fort, swinging on the attached gym set, or working on a pretend farm, complete with topiary figures of pigs and a horse.

Standing in a bed of liriope, the sphagnum-filled figure of the horse gazes out over the woods beyond. His coat is studded in a calico pattern with hens and chicks, sedums and hardy succulents.

This is taken standing in the front door, overlooking the Wagon Wheel Garden to the right.


The Pool Area

There are emerald arborvitaes here, planted between the window walls. A trumpet vine climbs up and over the cozy seating area, tucked into a nook on to one side. Furnished with comfortable, durable furniture, this gives the grown-ups a shady spot where they can chat while keeping an eye on the children at play in the pool.

The lovely leaves of a copper beech, a favorite of Sandy’s from her days of living in Connecticut, the topiary form of an Indian hawthorn and more are planted in this sunny oasis. Rosemary thrives in pots along the wall, soaking up the sun and giving off a sharp, spicy fragrance when its dusty-blue colored leaves are brushed in passing.

A medieval turret is the passage from this bright quarter of the property to the adjacent side of the house. Passing through its cool stone walls is a welcomed respite from the sun outside.


The English and Vegetable Garden

The chorus of colors in this English garden blend to create a symphony.

The door leads out a wooden gate to yet another enchanting garden scene, this one alive with a joyous riot of colorful blooms in rainbow shades. Stepping a few feet into the sunshine is like moving into the Land of Oz. Remember how the movie changes from black and white to color in Munchkin Land? Well, that’s the effect here on this sunny day,

Periwinkle blue pansies mingle among the tender leaves of baby lettuce.

Violas are paired with young strawberry plants just beginning to bear fruit. The violas will fade away as the strawberries take over in the English and Vegetable Garden at the Logan home.

The tall rustic wooden fence is a perfect backdrop for the wildflower and vegetable plantings. Here tall foxgloves, dainty snapdragons and the giant heads of lavender alliums nod a welcome. Kale planted in terra-cotta pots is under-planted with violas. Clematis and raspberry vines clamber up a topiary frame and an espaliered ‘Brown Turkey’ fig forms a pleasing pattern clinging to the side of the house across the way. Emerald arborvitaes are planted at intervals to add height and interest along the fence.

Among the flowers are fruits and vegetables. Strawberries peek around the pansies, parsley grows beside poppies and lemon-scented thyme fills in between the pavers.

Careful thought was given to the array of vegetables; there is spinach, broccoli, collards, and both flat and curly leaf parsley. Herbs such as dill, fennel, marjoram, thyme, garlic chives and rosemary are planted in rows, with more pansies and violas running amid their stems to blur the straight lines.

This combination of fruits, vegetables and flowers is both pleasant and practical. Designed so that one season flows seamlessly into another without leaving gaps in the garden, this also allows Sandy to pop out of the kitchen and snip parsley for a garnish, or Don to pluck a juicy, succulent fig for an afternoon snack.

Along this side of the house, is another distinctive garden. Its path laid out in a geometrical diamond pattern, it forms a wonderfully dynamic mosaic carpet bordered by plants on either side. Along the path, the foliage has been allowed to spill over the edges, softening the symmetrical lines and making this garden seem timeless.

Again emerald arborvitaes are used for a striking effect. The repetition in this succession of gardens is another of the design elements that make it work so well.

Sandy implemented these design techniques with the help of garden designer, Jane Menendez, who is also a Master Gardener in the Birmingham area, and Gary Webb, whose landscape service helps the Logans care for this expansive garden.


Brightly colored pansies lead visitors down this path laid out in a geometric pattern.

Woodland Garden

Atop a wall rests a stone bowl filled with rosemary, its fragrance lingering in the air as we leave this fascinating place. A final gate ushers us out of these amazing gardens, along the driveway to the woodland garden. The fence alongside the walk is overflowing with the abundant pink blooms of climbing roses, spilling cheerfully along its length.

Here the landscape changes to a more natural, very informal setting. There are yellow flame native azaleas, ‘Snowflake’ hydrangeas, Virginia sweetspire (Itea), winter daphne and a ginkgo tree that will be glorious in the fall.

A small terrace lies at the bottom of the slope. Here Sandy has provided a stone bench and chairs, ever thoughtful of visitors who might need to spend a moment just soaking up this tranquil atmosphere.

Roof iris form clusters of color along the mulched path leading to the rock lined creek. The largest trillium I have ever seen rests here among these native plants.

A small creek runs along the street beside the property. It has been lined with native sandstone rock. A rustic stone footbridge covers its span, a final surprise in a garden full of unique vistas.

This brings us full circle, back to where we began this garden odyssey. What an unusual and unexpected surprise the walls of this garden have revealed. We hope you enjoyed reading about this garden and will find some areas in your own garden to try out some of the lovely planting ideas shown here.


Additional Photos

Pansies peek between the chartreuse leaves of hosta in the Logan garden.

The path and plantings along the fence invite visitors to explore.

Encore azaleas and Lenten roses make a wonderful combination in the Logan garden.

A topiairy horse gazes over one of Birmingham's beautiful bluffs. Filled with peat moss, it is planted with five kinds of succulents.

A mass planting of Japanese painted fern rests at the base of a decorative pot in the side garden.

Freckled-faced foxgloves tower above parsley and other herbs in the English garden.

Lavender heads of allium nod to their foxglove neighbors at the base of a rustic wall in the English and Vegetable garden.

The lavender heads of this allium are the size of grapefruit.


Cool blues and purples are soothing to the eye as visitors stroll along this path, an occasional shot of vivid yellow highlights these beds.

Pansies and parsley make wonderful companions in this English garden.

It's all in the details of this stunning periwinkle blue roof iris.

Kale and violas make charming companions.

Detail of the topiary horse in the children's play area.


(Photos courtesy of Loretta Gillespie.  Story from Alabama Gardener Volume VIII Issue V.)


Posted: 03/02/11   RSS | Print


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