Choosing the right design team is always important, but the history of this Buckhead property made it especially so. The house, located on an 8.72-acre property inside the Perimeter, was designed in the mid-1960s by celebrated architect James Means for Thomas Martin and his wife, Peggy. The couple, with strong ties to Virginia, had toured the state’s Tidewater plantations, and was inspired by two of them—Carter’s Grove and Westover—for their own home.
Knowing how important the house, land and garden were to the Martins, the current owners wanted to build on that legacy when they purchased the estate in 2006. So they asked their interior designer, Ralph Harvard of New York City, to interview landscape firms to determine which ones might be a good fit.
Jeremy Smearman of Planters Inc. was one of those potential candidates contacted by Harvard—not knowing that the landscape designer had previously worked on the place. “He referenced the property but, at first, I didn’t recognize it by the address. As he kept talking, though, I realized what it was,” Smearman recalls. “I’d done a little work for the original owners so I was familiar with the property.”
Convinced that Smearman was well attuned to the home’s design inspiration, and that he’d treat the landscape in a similar fashion, Harvard recommended him for the job.
The first time Smearman met his new client, they walked the property for two hours, talking about the goal to preserve its architectural and landscape integrity. Still, says the landscape architect, “we had to reconcile the fact that the new owner had a very different lifestyle. The prior owners had used [the property] differently. This was a larger family, with younger children, that was more active. They wanted a pool, a cutting garden, bees and horses—to flush it out and take advantage of all the space. Our charge was to figure out how to do that.”
Working with Shane Griffin, the project landscape architect, Smearman first inventoried the property, evaluating the relative health of trees and shrubs. They found, due to age and periodic flooding, that a water oak allée down the length of the driveway was in a state of disrepair. Likewise, a 400-foot hedge on one side of the property was past its prime and needed to go.
“We had to make some tough calls,” he says. “Though our mission was to preserve and protect, the first thing we had to do was remove two prominent elements. Now there’s a tea olive hedge, and the water oak allée has been replaced with yarwood sycamore. It’s a better choice because the lone tree in the paddock is a sycamore and we knew [the species] would tolerate the conditions.”
Since taking on the project five years ago, Smearman and Griffin have carefully guided its evolution. Ever mindful of the home’s original plantation style, they keep balance as a forethought. When Norman Askins designed a dining conservatory on the left side of the house, for instance, the landscape architects balanced it with an impressive cutting garden on the right. And preservation has been practiced at every opportunity; the requested pool, for example, was designed so as not to disturb a huge sugar maple.
From tidying up the motor court with perimeter plantings to adding raised beds, an apple orchard and peripheral woodland plantings, the Planters team addressed every nook and cranny. Even the outbuildings have been repurposed, as a playhouse and chicken coop, and the desired bee program is well underway. “They’ve turned it more into a working farm,” says Smearman.
The legacy continues.
Landscape design by Planters Inc., (404) 261-6002; plantersgarden.com