Secret Garden

Landscape designer Alex Smith transforms a Dunwoody garden into a probate haven.

Alex Smith has always been drawn to the outdoors. And always been creative, for that matter. So it’s not surprising, really, that those two attributes have led to a successful career in garden design.

Looking back, it may have all been preordained. “My father was into gardening, and I enjoyed visiting nurseries with my dad and mom—and grandmother,” he says. “I didn’t start college knowing I wanted a career in the field, but I did work for a landscaping company during summer breaks.”

Though he ultimately enrolled at the Art Institute of Atlanta (transferring from the University of Georgia) to pursue a degree in Landscape Design, Smith’s defining ‘aha’ moment didn’t come until he heard a class lecture on garden design by Atlanta’s own Ryan Gainey. Listening to the seasoned expert while taking in pictures of impressive projects, Smith realized that he truly had a passion for the profession.

After graduating, and a short stint working at a local nursery, Smith returned to his inspirational roots by joining Gainey’s staff. “I worked for him 8½ years, and I learned a lot—traveling extensively throughout the Southeast and even working in England,” he says.

Smith also recalls that Gainey generously allowed him to do some moonlighting, allowing him to work on personal projects—for himself and others—on the weekends. It was during that time that an interior designer from Macon (Smith’s hometown) recommended him to the owner of this Dunwoody garden.

“We did a small perennial garden and have since developed a strong relationship over the years,” Smith says. “The pool renovation was one of the last things we did. We’d wanted to do it for several years, and it really transformed the garden design. We renovated the pool terrace as well as the interior finishes of the pool, and we implemented a smart planting plan. Plus, we took a shell fountain from Italy and incorporated it as an important feature.”

Part of the beauty, from Smith’s perspective, is that his client has complete confidence in him. He wasn’t, for instance, handed a list of ‘must-haves.’

“She trusts me,” says Smith appreciatively. “She knows where I’m heading and gives me carte blanche.”

Still, for this project, the garden designer took his visual presentation to the extreme. “Her pool was dated and I’d wanted her to renovate it for quite some time, so badly that I went beyond the renderings that we often do for our projects. I actually had an artist paint the pool garden as if it was already renovated and gifted my client with it,” he confides.

That combination of design savvy and client trust once again proved incomparable. “When you’re in the garden, it doesn’t feel like you’re in a residential setting,” Smith says. “It’s more like a private haven.”

GARDEN DESIGN Alex Smith, Alex Smith Garden Design Ltd., 5392 Peachtree Rd., Chamblee 30341. (770) 455-8878; POOL DESIGN Superior Pools & Maintenance Inc., 5339 New Peachtree Rd., Chamblee 30341. (770) 458-6499; STONE MASONRY Historic Stone & Construction Inc., 2190 Misty Lane SE, Smyrna 30080. (404) 259-3372