Natural Beauty (2010)

Residential designer Robert Norris tends to his passion in his Brookwood garden.

In a word, Robert Norris describes his Brookwood garden as “serene.” But this private sanctuary is so much more than a place to pause and reflect amid lush vegetation. It’s another creative outlet for this busy residential designer—he is a partner in the firm Spitzmiller & Norris—and it’s a natural extension of his living space. And, perhaps most of all, it’s a constant reminder of his family “roots.”

“I had a ‘fairytale’ grandmother—she ironed sheets, was a great cook and had flowers everywhere,” says Norris. “And my father took after her; he grew beautiful begonias, roses and hostas, which are still some of my favorites today. From the age of 5, I had a huge fascination with the garden. Watching my first seed sprout was miraculous, and I got more involved each year. My mother was a good gardener, too, so when I lost my father at 16, I talked to her about plants.”

Those lessons learned during his formative years have undeniably served Norris well, evidenced by the grandeur of his garden today. He bought the house in 1993 but—demonstrating great patience for someone with his passion—didn’t start working on the garden until 1999, when he renovated the residence. And, he admits, there was work to be done. “The front yard had a huge magnolia dead-center with the front door, and you couldn’t get anything to grow under it. The back had a huge wooden deck, Hackberry trees and no privacy plantings around the property.”

Thus, Norris started with a clean slate, wanting to put his personal stamp on the landscape. “I wanted the garden to be cottage-style and I put a pool in at the same time,” he says. “The sound of water is very tranquil. Overall, I wanted the garden to feel natural but still have a sense of structure, so I incorporated boxwoods and evergreens. My goal was to have it look established and nestled, so you couldn’t tell how long it had been there.”

It’s hard not to notice that container gardens are prevalent throughout and that, too, is by design. “I lived in an apartment while I was in architecture school and, after that, I rented a house, so I did container gardens. And my passion for them grew stronger and stronger,” Norris explains. “I knew I couldn’t renovate here right away so I continued with containers; they add interest, warmth and imply symmetry to a garden. Plus, with the right plants, they’re low maintenance. They can even work with our drought conditions.”

The breathtaking beauty of this garden makes it hard to believe there are ever missteps, but Norris readily admits there are—and he’s just fine with that. “Since it’s a hobby, I’ve certainly made my mistakes,” he says, “but, like a child, some things you just have to learn on your own—what works best where, the art of pruning, how to adapt to drought conditions. In a way, the garden has trained me. As the garden ages, it pushes me out of the box; I’ve learned so much about textures and layers.”

But for Norris, the appeal of his garden goes far beyond its visual and aromatic lure. “Being in the garden is a very spiritual thing for me,” he says. “During the hardest times of my life, I can put my hands in the garden and it touches my soul. It’s very therapeutic because I’m entranced, not thinking of anything but the garden and nature itself.”

HOUSE, POOL AND GARDEN DESIGN Robert Norris, Spitzmiller & Norris Inc., 5825 Glenridge Dr., Building 1, Suite 206, Atlanta 30328. (404) 843-3874; BUILDER OF POOL Superior Pools Inc., 5335 New Peachtree Rd. Chamblee 30341. (770)458-6499; TERRA COTTA POTS Hill Street Warehouse, 357 Collier Rd. NW, Atlanta 30318. (404) 352-5001; STAINLESS AND BLACK GARDEN CHAISE Tropitone, through Logan Gardens, 351 Peachtree Hills Ave. NE, Suite 506. (404) 231-4808; WOODEN BENCH, CHAIRS AND ROUND TABLE Henry Hall through Logan Gardens UMBRELLA Santa Barbara Umbrellas, through Logan Gardens WOODEN BENCH WITH STAINLESS STEEL LEGS Logan Gardens WOOD SLAT AND METAL FURNITURE Smith & Hawken WOOD TABLE Smith & Hawken CAST STONE URN Haddonstone Eastwell Urn A260, through Logan Gardens LOCUST HANDRAILS Fabricated by Buzz Stone, (404) 351-5859 SELECT LARGE SPECIMEN TREES Installed by Ellis Landesign, 2711 Piedmont Rd. NE, Atlanta 30305. (404) 261-8488 STONE ENTRANCE WITH GATE Designed by Robert Norris, Spitzmiller & Norris Inc. STONE WORK Carlos Rodriguez, (770) 986-4449 FRONT ENTRY GATE Designed by Robert Norris, Spitzmiller & Norris Inc. SIDE SOLID GATE Designed by Robert Norris, Spitzmiller & Norris Inc. BUILDER OF GATES Atlanta Entry Door, 326 Bell Park Dr., Woodstock 30188. (770) 591-7998; IRRIGATION Guy Kelley, GHK Irrigation, 1185 Belmont Ave. SE, Smyrna, 30080. (770) 432-6480