Beautiful Balance

Landscape designer Carson McElheney overhauls a Buckhead cottage garden with classic sensibilities

“Have you ever visited a garden for the first time and traveled down a path or rounded a corner, and with each step, there is a growing sensation of what awaits you?” asks landscape designer Carson McElheney.

Homes with intimate courtyard areas, such as this Buckhead cottage, with a recent renovation by architect D. Stanley Dixon, allow McElheney to develop beautifully detailed spaces. His clean, classic approach to landscape design focuses on garden elements that aren’t overworked or distracting to the eye. “Not only does it have to marry the architecture and complement it, but it’s really important to combine what it looks like from inside the house,” says McElheney, who launched his Atlanta firm in 2011. “That’s really true in any garden, but especially when you have these small spaces that have such a direct relationship with the architecture.”

Previously, the Buckhead garden was a “hodgepodge of plant material” and an assortment of colors covering a half-acre, but the homeowner loved clean lines and tailored plots. McElheney defined private courtyard patches with foundation plantings of boxwoods and hydrangeas, swaths of fescue lawn, a secret garden path and a white perennial entry garden with flowering plants that are a bit looser and whimsical.

 The property’s old oak trees are majestic, even if they present a challenge in terms of successfully creating a planting design. “What makes our spaces successful is knowing how plants live and grow and develop and mature over time,” he says.

 Throughout the garden, ‘Green Mountain’ boxwood and pachysandra add layers and frame the architecture against rich green backdrops of English laurel. The palette focuses on different hues of green and white, with a subtle introduction of pastel blues. “I think we were very successful creating that sense of anticipation in such small garden spaces and the surprises that await when you enter each garden room,” McElheney says.

LANDSCAPE DESIGN Carson McElheney, Carson McElheney Landscape Architecture & Design, (404) 467-1690; ARCHITECT D. Stanley Dixon, D. Stanley Dixon Architect, Inc., (404) 574-1430;