An entrancing storybook garden on Atlanta’s northern outskirts comes to life at the peak of spring.
Tucked away in a secluded neighborhood that is home to several multiacre horse farms, Carole and Jim McWilliams’ 5-acre Sandy Springs property features an elegant stone-clad cottage, a bubbling creek that runs to the Chattahoochee River and a garden extraordinary enough to star on countless garden tours over the decades.
For 10 years, Atlanta designer Jeff Jones has worked his magic on the McWilliamses’ interiors, while outside, an arcadian sanctuary has slowly taken shape. Since the McWilliamses moved in 24 years ago, Carole’s longtime collaborator and friend Tim Stoddard—a former Ryan Gainey protégé regarded by many as the South’s best-kept secret—has proved indispensable in the process. “He’s just amazing. I trust him totally,” says Carole, adding that, when she and her husband purchased it, the house had nothing but gravel road and forest surrounding it. It wasn’t long before a bluestone walkway to the front door—and pea-gravel paths for meandering the grounds—made an appearance.
Gardening classes soon followed, as did a pivotal acquaintance with rosarian Anna Davis, and before long Carole was a certified master gardener. She took her pastime seriously, even meeting Rosemary Verey during a tour in England.
“It could be called an obsession; but Jim says it’s just a hobby if it doesn’t require a doctor,” Carole says with a laugh. Though not a gardener himself, her husband of 50 years loves to accompany her on travels across the country and abroad, where they pick up the many diverse birdhouses that have helped earn their garden certification as a wildlife habitat by the Audubon Society and the National Wildlife Federation.
Container gardening is another passion for Carole, who makes frequent use of her greenhouse (which is peppered with succulents, agaves and other tropical plants) and her jaunty cedar-shake potting shed. To surround these structures, Stoddard established a sound hardscape with woodland arbors as punctuation points throughout the verdant acreage. Lake Rabun-based artisan Buz Stone handcrafted nearly all of these rustic components—including gates, rails and swings—from curvaceous locust wood. In concert with a white picket fence near the front door, they help accent an array of rhododendrons, native azaleas, hostas, camellias and sprouting spring bulbs.
There are hydrangeas of every hue, plus boxwoods that start at the courtyard garden and continue along to the property’s pièce de résistance, an enchanting rose containment. It’s an overflowing haven for the garden’s approximately 120 total varieties, including a number of rare antique and remarkable heirloom roses you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.
“When the roses come out, I’ll order 7, 8, 9, 10 . . .” Carole admits. “I always find a place for them.”