Villa Oasis

Bill Musso and Bryan Cooke create the ultimate garden getaway at their Italian-style manse in Druid Hills.

Sometimes you have to look for inspiration and, sometimes, you have to listen for it. As it turns out, Bill Musso and Bryan Cooke did both in creating a garden to complement their grand Italian-style villa in Druid Hills.

During the planning stages, says Cooke, “we went to the Carlos Museum to hear a lecture about ancient Roman architecture. [The lecturer] put up some slides and our first thought was ‘wow, that so mimics our house—or our house mimics that!’ There were similar characteristics, such as the central axis from the front door to the back door all the way through the garden. And the main rooms having views into the garden; he talked a lot about how the garden was an extension of the house.”

Before they could create the garden they envisioned, Musso and Cooke had to take it down to nearly its bare bones. In fact, their first step was to call in a landscape demolitionist. But once that work was done, the homeowners immediately took steps to create a formal garden befitting their c. 1925 residence.

There was, for instance, originally a curving sidewalk between the back door and the steps leading to the upper courtyard. “We thought it would be much nicer to get back to that straight axis from the front door to the back door, up through the arch that leads to the pool area,” Cooke explains.

In the lower courtyard, boxwoods border individual areas. “The boxwood hedges have been somewhat of a challenge,” admits Musso. “We started out with dwarf English boxwoods, not realizing that they’re very prone to disease and drought. And, of course, the first two years after they were planted were our worst two years in terms of drought. The originals only still exist in one spot; the rest have been replaced with Korean boxwoods, which grow faster and are much more drought- and heat-tolerant.”

“We like the formality of the boxwoods; it’s kind of a framed-and-contained approach,” Cooke adds. “You can put almost anything inside the gardens as long as it’s nicely framed and contained. That’s the Bill part—the framed-and-contained. My approach is more ‘oh, let’s experiment and see what lives!’ ”

Experiment or not, it’s laid out beautifully. The vistas from the main rooms of the house are dramatic, including lush ferns and boxwoods, Calla lilies and hydrangeas, soaring palms and crape myrtles, classic statuary and fountains—with creeping fig and clematis defining the courtyard walls.

“The thing that gives me the greatest joy is Bryan’s pride in what he has created,” says Musso. “At the end of a stressful day of work, he walks around looking to see what is new, what needs help, or he takes time to admire a bloom or texture combination.”

And there’s a lot to admire. Here, creativity is in full bloom.