An Atlanta landscape designer finds kindred spirits with clients who share a passion for horses and the rolling nature of Virginia’s hunt country
Landscape designer Carson McElheney experienced a rare opportunity when approached by clients who not only shared the same passions but also wanted to be deeply involved in the project. Both McElheney and his wife have a foothold in the equestrian world, as did his clients, and all have an affinity for history and the beauty of Virginia’s hunt country set against the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains. “The clients and I looked at properties for a year and a half, and then we found this very private space with 4 acres in the heart of the city,” says McElheney. “We immediately realized that it was the perfect canvas to imprint with our vision.”
The secluded nature of the property allowed no glimpse of the house from street level, but it was graced with a lovely D. Stanley Dixon-designed home of fieldstone, a material prominent throughout the Virginia countryside. But the landscape required a refresh. “We gutted down to the bare bones, only leaving the canopy of mature trees that grace the approach to the house and the original driveway and pool [designed by Graham Pittman],” says McElheney. In reimagining the landscape through a hunt country lens, McElheney left no detail unconsidered—all the fencing, ironwork, latches and even the mailbox speak with a 17th-century Virginia accent. The handcrafted stone planters, fashioned with old materials, give them that much desired patina. And the plantings in the garden reflect an older century as well with an abundance of American boxwood, used to soften the motor court and other spaces, long-blooming ‘Setsugekka’ camellias, Lenten roses and ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea. “The gardens look wonderful throughout the seasons,” says McElheney. “It was very intentional that there would always be points of interest during every month of the year. For example, when the camellias are in bloom, they climb up the face of an espaliered fig vine and a millstone draws the eye to the plantings around it.”
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the project for both McElheney and his clients was the creation of a generous cutting garden off the back of the house and a bountiful kitchen garden nearby. “Cutting gardens are not always a priority for some, but this couple engages in hands-on gardening, so we put great energy into making it special,” he says. The result contains many beauties such as peonies, larkspur, ‘Café au Lait’ dahlias, ‘Mystic Spires Blue’ salvia and ‘Cécile Brünner’ climbing roses. The kitchen garden’s bounty includes English herbs, tomatoes, shishito peppers and more. With a project so near and dear to McElheney’s heart, he is quick when disclosing his favorite aspects: “It’s the success and variety of the materials used and the phenomenal views from the inside looking out.” Views of another time and place perhaps, but firmly rooted in the here and now.
LANDSCAPE DESIGN Carson McElheney, Carson McElheney Landscape Architecture & Design, (404) 467-1690; carsonmcelheney.com
ARCHITECT D. Stanley Dixon, D. Stanley Dixon Architect, (404) 574-1430; dsdixonarchitect.com