One-of-a-kind finds and clever plantings give this Appalachian sanctuary remarkable style.
When Stephanie and Bill Reeves happened upon a purple smoke tree espalier in a neighbor's garden, they were utterly enamored and immediately set about finding the feature's designer.
"We wove "Princess Diana" scarlet clematis through the foliage of a smoke tree to form an espalier," Atlanta-based landscape designer Alex Smith explains. The Reeveses found the result, a rich combination of purple jewel tones and vivid greens, impossible to forget. So the couple asked Smith to create the garden at Thistlewaite, their mountain retreat in Highlands, North Carolina—and to include a few of the smoke tree espaliers in the design.
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Three outdoor rooms compose the garden: the entry, the courtyard, and the rock garden. "The house is designed so every room has a view of a garden," Bill Reeves says. An avid gardener himself, Reeves knew that he wanted a space with visual impact as well as function, a place that he and his family could enjoy year-round. Each of the outdoor rooms has its own personality, but the transitions between them are seamless.
The Tree That Started It All
"Here, we formed an espalier out of purple smoke trees and "Princess Diana" scarlet clematis. You can manipulate anything by pruning, so we trained them and pinned them against the walls to be treated as espaliers (or wall shrubs)," Smith says.
Let Guests Linger
Landscape designer Alex Smith created a curved path for the entry garden so guests can spend time experiencing the picturesque space. "Unlike the border that runs to the right of the path, the plantings along the side of the house are streamlined to accentuate the home's architectural details," Smith says.
The First Room of the House
Because visitors come in through the courtyard, the Reeveses consider this garden to be the first room in their home. Guests enter the courtyard by following the entry garden's winding pathway and passing through the gatehouse, which was designed by architect Norman D. Askins. "The courtyard is at treetop level because we built a 22-foot retaining wall to form the garden. In Highlands, there aren't many flat spaces on which to build, so we had to create one," Reeves says. This is where Smith implemented the most stylized designs, including the parterre. Because it is completely man-made, Smith says, "We had total control in the confined courtyard space. From either direction, the gatehouse frames two distinctive trees: a beautiful Chinese dogwood when you look out from the courtyard and a golden honey locust when you look into it.”
"We acquired the iron urns while traveling. I plant the containers every year in early spring because the winters in Highlands are so cold and succulents will survive here but not thrive. By late fall, they are spectacular," Reeves says.
Showing Off Treasures
The Reeveses collect garden statuary, and their beloved pieces inspired several elements in the landscape design. Situated atop the gatehouse is a stone thistle, a nod to the area's Scottish Highlands influences. A statue called Posterity presides over the parterre's intricate scrollwork. Smith designed this parterre in an elaborate scroll pattern made from low-maintenance dwarf mondo grass and chartreuse creeping Jenny. "The exposure wouldn't allow it to be done completely in boxwoods, so I chose this combination. The dark green and chartreuse create a sharp contrast. It requires some tending—two or three prunings a season," Smith says. Architectural features and garden elements commingle with the plantings to create a space that is both beautiful and livable.
Work with Mother Nature
The home's rock garden is also called the "seep garden" because the area is very wet. "The natural rock wall resulted from blasting stone to build the house. Water constantly seeps through the rock. It's a slow drip, meaning that whatever is planted there has to be tolerant of water," Reeves says. "We liked how rustic and rugged looking the area was, so we decided to incorporate a lot of native plant material, like ferns and moss, on that side of the house," Smith says. The native plantings are purposely not too manicured.