Passalong Passion

As an interior designer, Jared Paul knows one of the most rewarding parts of any project is the thrill of the hunt—scouring favorite shops for that just-right piece of furniture and antique markets for that unusual find. So when spring rolls around, he carries that know-how outdoors, where he’s created a garden not based on some design formula but just plain fun. In the back yard of his East Lake bungalow, Paul experiments with everything from the nursery trade’s “newest and greatest” to yard art fashioned from junk he finds along roadsides. His favorite toys, though, are the plants passed along from grandparents and other relatives. “I enjoy going to the nursery and buying stuff,” he says, “but a lot of this was just inherited.”

When he bought the house 14 years ago, the deep back yard held nothing more than a few trees. “There literally was nothing here,” Paul says, “so I just started planting.” Sweeping flower beds gradually were stocked with old-fashioned hydrangeas, native ferns, buckeye, mock orange and Rose of Sharon. Over the years, he’s subdivided the garden, visually, into three rooms. Extending from the house is a wooden deck for entertaining and taking in the garden, then a small knot garden of English boxwoods surrounded by pea gravel paths and finally a lawn bordered by informal beds.

At one end of the deck, Paul designed a pergola draped with Carolina jessamine to provide privacy from neighbors. Instead of railing, low benches line the deck, affording better views of the garden. “I have a few parties out here every summer, so it’s been really great,” he says. A couple of steps down in the knot garden, however, is where he has the most fun. The garden may be formal in design, but Paul lightens it up with whimsical touches: Old tractor seats he bought on eBay with short lengths of telephone poles for bases. A collection of birdhouses that were gifts from his mom. A couple of tire planters flanking a park bench purchased for $10 in a yard sale. In other words, as a nearby sign says, “Martha Don’t Garden Here.”

Throughout the garden are all of his “experiments”—namely those passalong plants from friends and relatives, whether acquired from seed, cuttings or as transplants. “A lot of these plants came from my grandparents in Alabama,” Paul says, which makes them all the more special when they thrive, unfurling their flowers and foliage season after season.

“It’s been really fun gardening here, though it’s definitely a challenge,” he says, noting gaps in the garden where he’s lost plants to Georgia’s ongoing drought. “But if a plant dies, I don’t do it again. I just move on to something else.” As in decorating, the thrill in this hunt is the experiment.