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An English Garden in Alabama
A series of garden rooms serves as an Alabama couple’s passport to old-world beauty—in their own backyard
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Vacation never ends in Jeanne and Mike Clarke’s backyard. Swing open the stately wooden gate and hear the soft crunch of pea gravel beneath your feet as you brush past billowing clouds of hydrangea blooms on the way to a sink-in-soft lounge chair on the patio.
“It’s so cozy and inviting I feel like I’ve left the country,” Jeanne says. But even though her alfresco escape feels like an English garden, it’s actually in the Birmingham on this side of the sea—in Alabama.
A prodigious wood gate adds to the mood of a secret garden with hydrangea-filled beds waiting to be discovered along the winding paths.
Photography: Jean Allsopp
Produced by Cathy Still McGowin
Landscape architect: JK Terry & Co.
Landscape design: Donaldson Landscape & Design
“I wanted an old-world look—like you stepped back in time—but with today’s comfort,” Jeanne says. “We love English gardens, and we wanted that feel of boxwoods and espalier without any fuss.”
An elevated spa and columns crafted of fieldstone break up a long wall that screens the pool. Planters echo the pattern of espalier, while a lion’s-head fountain and wrought-iron lanterns further the classic vibe.
Trellis Pattern Wall
Ideas she gleaned during travels in Europe inspired a reimagining of her small backyard. “It was really bad when we bought the house,” she says, “just grass and a concrete wall.” Bringing down that eyesore wall—visually, at least—became the first order of business.
Alabama fieldstone was used to construct a series of pillars against the existing wall, bringing depth and texture to the space. Between the pillars, trellises of espalier cloak the concrete with diamonds of lush green. Fieldstone also was used to construct an elevated spa fed by a regal lion’s-head fountain. Overflow from the spa falls gently into a new pool outlined in bluestone.
Neatly clipped arborvitae and boxwood, classic geometric lines, and beautiful symmetry give this backyard oasis its distinctly traditional look.
Lounging in Style
Bluestone pavers form a perch for lounge chairs at one end of the water, while a checkerboard of stone and grass alongside the pool leads to the covered patio.
Here, soaring cedar timbers complement an equally impressive fieldstone fireplace, built by local stonemason and carpenter Stan Williams using techniques handed down from his grandfather. A plush sofa and chairs team with two swings to form a gathering area, served by an outdoor kitchen. Living room-worthy draperies can be closed to keep out the sun.
Luxuriously cushioned Lane Venture woven furniture pieces cozy up to a vintage factory cart-turned-coffee table that Jeanne found at the Scott Antique Markets in Atlanta.
“The grandchildren love it,” Jeanne says. “We’re out here year-round, grilling, watching movies or football games, or just relaxing.”
Jeanne cleverly cut the legs off old chairs to transform them into swings that delight the grandkids.
Outdoor Dining Area
The Clarkes also entertain often, and having the well-appointed outdoor gathering area makes it easy to host a crowd. Traffic flows smoothly from the indoor dining room to the patio and other outdoor rooms, including an intimate eating area tucked beneath shady magnolia trees in a pea-graveled nook.
“Creating several separate rooms within the yard really seems to expand the space we have,” Jeanne says. “It makes a small yard feel much bigger.”
Jeanne created a series of outdoor rooms, including this dining spot, each filled with texture from stone, wood, and plants—all complemented by soft fabrics on furnishings.
Thanks to lush, layered plantings, each alfresco spot also feels serenely cocooned from the outside world. ‘Baby Gem’, ‘Wintergreen’, and ‘Green Velvet’ boxwood work with a line of ‘Emerald Green’ arborvitae to form the garden’s evergreen backbone. Cherry and holly trees add grace, furthered by masses of bloom-filled ‘Blushing Bride’ hydrangeas and ‘Gumpo’ azaleas.
Boxwood orbs in sculptural urns ground the garden in classicism.
Annuals in planters supply the final strokes of seasonal color—which resonates strongly with Jeanne, an artist who paints Impressionist-style works.
“As an artist, I’m very visual,” she says. “And this garden is a visual delight. It gives us a retreat that brings respite from the day. It’s a place where we always feel like we’re on a holiday.”
Artist and garden creator Jeanne Clarke with her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Daisy