Natural Selection

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Guided by a keen sense of artistry and practicality, garden designer Alex Smith transforms an empty panorama into a series of distinct but related outdoor spaces.
When garden designer Alex Smith was hired to overhaul the landscaping of a Buckhead estate in 2007, he encountered what was essentially “a large, blank space” at the back of the house, one that was rife with potential. Guided by a keen sense of artistry and practicality, Smith was enlisted to transform this empty panorama into a series of distinct yet related outdoor spaces, which included additions such as a swimming pool, a pair of pool pavilions and a series of intimate gardens.
“The hardscape is key to the design,” notes Smith. “It’s the bones to all of this.” Mindful of the home’s architecture, Smith and his team selected materials that were consistent with those of the main house. Take the pool pavilions, whose stone-clad surfaces mimic the color of the home’s brick exterior. Limestone, which prominently surrounds the pool, extends to the back of the house, where its incorporation into the revamped back terrace helps unify the landscape. Even the containers, strategically placed throughout the gardens, received careful consideration: Smith selected mostly cast limestone and Italian terra-cotta vessels to harmonize with the surrounding architecture.
When it came to the plant selection process, Smith took care to establish “a diversified plant palette that included evergreens, deciduous plants and herbaceous perennials,” which would flourish throughout the Southeast’s long growing season. “I was thinking of year-round interests and horticultural diversity, whether through texture, color, or scale,” he says. This variety of plants includes climbing roses, camellias and various cultivars of boxwood. The home’s height called for trees “that could stand up to the size of the house,” which prompted the addition of several specimen trees, including oaks and lacebark elms. Smith’s meticulous attention to the overall landscape even extended to the placement of the homeowner’s beloved peonies, which were planted at the back of a border to ensure that they wouldn’t waste precious garden space when not in bloom.
Smith says he considers his work a success when “it looks like it’s meant to be. That takes a lot of careful thought and deliberation.” In this case, the project’s triumph was a group effort that stemmed from careful upkeep; Smith and his team are quick to credit the homeowners for their diligent property maintenance. “Our business is to design, build and maintain,” he explains. “When our clients do all three, those are some of our best gardens.”