Practical & Poetic

A pretty garden in Brookside is designed for an active family—and as a soothing retreat

The green and white garden at Sissinghurst Castle in the south of England has long been considered a classic, and for good reason. In the 1930s, author and diplomat Harold Nicolson designed the architecture of the garden rooms. His wife, poet Vita Sackville-West, filled them with lush green and gray plants that blossomed white. Today, the effect is still equal parts practical and poetic.

Pam Meyer channeled that same duality for her home in Brookside. She loves French gardens, which also feature that Sissinghurst dynamic between discipline and wild abandon. When the Meyer family—Pam, her husband, Joe, and their two sons—moved to their two-story home on a broad and leafy street in 2011, they wanted a cleaner, more cohesive look. They painted the red brick a creamy French gray and then did the shutters and doors in a pale French blue. The effect was immediately calming and soothing. And it called for a similar approach in the front and back yards.

The Meyers called on garden designer Kristopher Dabner of The Greensman. The previous owners did what a lot of us do—planted without a plan. “The resulting landscape was a hodgepodge—frenetic,” says Dabner. The Meyers wanted an outdoor space for entertaining, a pool for the kids, an outdoor kitchen and plenty of opportunities for Meyer to exercise her green thumb.

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Clipped and Manicured, Loose and Free

In the front yard, Dabner used boxwood, Annabelle hydrangea and variegated hosta to provide a uniform but interesting wall of green. On the border with the neighbor, Meyer used plants that love the shade: lady’s mantle, impatiens and cleome. “The side yard is experimental for me,” she admits. “I try something new each year.”

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With the hardscape of Belgard pavers and the pool already in place, the backyard took shape under Dabner’s expert hand. He bordered the property with hornbeams for privacy, then under-planted them with hydrangea and boxwood, and liriope to soften the edges. White flowering New Dawn roses and rose of Sharon shrubs are meant to glow on a moonlit night. Along the driveway, a wall of espaliered apple trees is under-planted with tough-as-nails catmint.

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Then it was time for Meyer to add flourishes. She searched estate sales, flea markets and thrift stores for unique objects that could be used as planters. If she liked the shape of an object but not the color, she painted it with Annie Sloan’s milk-based paint. Meyer stuck to the plan of green, gray and white plants in ever-changing arrangements. And the result is a sophisticated, classic, evergreen, easy-living space for the family.

From the screened-in porch at the back of the house, you pass through a doorway flanked by white rose of Sharon bushes to a seating area and the outdoor kitchen. The comfy cushioned sofa and chairs are accented by pots of French lavender, ferns, woolly thyme and upright white verbena, all within the fresh color scheme.

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In the outdoor kitchen area, a fire feature with pale-blue glass rocks is unobtrusive in summer, but provides a streamlined “fire pit” experience when the nights get chilly. A reinforced fiberglass concrete planter holds rosemary and white alyssum.

Beyond, in a tiny side garden parterre, boxwood encircles a distressed metal armillary sphere from Van Liew’s, where Meyer found many of the garden ornaments.

The pergola, on one side of the pool, offers a sophisticated space for outdoor dinner parties. A chandelier with battery-operated candles and a string of Italian lights make it magical. An old college dresser, now painted, serves as a buffet while inexpensive mirrors capture the light. The garden gate, an architectural salvage piece on the wall, takes Meyer back to her family’s farm in Rosalie, Nebraska, population 200. On the other end of the pergola, a concrete pier table also features an inexpensive mirror. Meyer used vintage laundry washtubs as planters, full of white petunias, alyssum, thyme and Eugenia. “It’s so pretty out here at night,” she says.

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Around the pool and near the garage, Meyer has pots on wheels to move with the sun or just to create a different arrangement. “I’m always moving things around,” she says.

“I love being outside,” she says. “Especially in the morning and the evening, when the garden is its prettiest. It has been a labor of love. And I still love it.”


Photographed by Aaron Leimkuehler

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