Perfect Poise

Atlanta designer Beth Elsey nurtures an English-style garden, from fledgling to fabulous

It’s hard to believe that, when interior designer Beth Elsey and her husband built their home nine years ago, the garden was non-existent save for a demilune brick retaining wall, a pair of Yoshino cherry trees, a few magnolias and some American boxwood. But gardening was in Elsey’s blood, so to speak.

“My mother, an avid gardener herself, was a great source of inspiration,” she explains. “She had a beautiful garden which she created and planted entirely on her own, as well as a greenhouse and, later, a vegetable garden. From a very young age, I remember watching her enthusiasm as she would install a new grouping of plants shared from a friend’s garden or her sheer delight when the garden would be in full bloom.”

Elsey admits that, initially, she struggled with the odd shape of the lot, ultimately spending a few years trying to bring some semblance of order to the space while working toward some specific goals: She wanted the privacy of a cocoon, a beautiful view from every window, and a feeling that the garden was an extension of each interior room. “My sister-in-law, Gretchen Musser, is a landscape architect and helped me work out the overall concept,” Elsey says. From there, a curved brick walk lined with Korean boxwoods and granite cobblestones was installed from the side gate, which leads to a small parterre garden immediately behind the screened porch. Next were the rose arches to flank the entrance to the pea gravel path in the parterre, which was lined with cobblestones, and Korean boxwoods and American boxwoods at each corner. Each section within the parterre was filled with Nikko Blue hydrangeas and under-planted with Lily of the Valley, and obelisks were added to bring in another structural element.

“I have always loved the order and symmetry of an English garden,” Elsey says. “It has a calming effect for me, that mixture of structure and looseness, evergreen and seasonal. Even though it looks like it would require a lot of maintenance, once established, it is relatively easy to maintain.”

With the hardscape firmly in place, it was a chance encounter at a local nursery—where she ran into hometown friend and garden designer, John Cox—that led to the picture-perfect finishing touches. “From that fortuitous encounter, we began a wonderful collaboration on my garden, which also blossomed into a great friendship,” Elsey recalls. “We added fabulous Italian terra cotta containers filled with both seasonal and perennial plantings, adding dimension and structure in just the right scale. His vast knowledge and keen eye were instrumental in helping me bring the garden to its current state.

“I love the surprise of seeing the first blooms of flowering quince heralding spring, having mounds of gorgeous hydrangeas to clip for arrangements in early summer, the sasanqua laden with its pure white blooms in the fall and the juxtaposition of the velvet faces of blue pansies against the structure of boxwoods in the winter. I can honestly say my garden brings me tremendous pleasure every single day.”

Elizabeth Elsey, (404) 735-0840;