Today, guest author Jennifer Johnston writes for StyleBlueprint and introduces us to one of Nashville’s treasures, landscape architect Tara Armistead. Photos, unless noted, are by Cathy Brown.
Landscape architect Tara Armistead may have one of the most enviable commutes in Nashville. Just a short ramble through her backyard cottage garden is her lofted, light-filled studio: a converted garage where the design ideas that wake her up in the night get translated into intricate drawings on her board.
Today, we offer a glimpse into some of the most naturally beautiful Nashville gardens where Tara weaves beauty, functionality and sustainability, including native plantings, into her design.
Sneak a peak into some of these delightful backyards featured today and you may come away with great ideas for plantings that are both attractive and low-maintenance.
“Natives are easier to maintain. They’ve already thrived in this environment without our help,” explains Tara. That means less TLC, especially that always troublesome task: watering.
Some of her favorite natives right now are Bottlebrush buckeye, American smoke tree, Virginia sweetspire, sedum and hydrangea.
Bottlebrush buckeye, or Aesculus parviflora, graces the far right side in this photo (above) of Caroline Stevens’ serene Belle Meade garden. Notice the winding stone pathway drawing the eye to a simple iron gate.
Here’s a closer view of Bottlebrush buckeye’s spectacular white blooms in Paul Moore’s garden. The smooth gray bark and multiple trunks provide beautiful structure in the wintertime. The buckeyes themselves are great to put in your pocket for good luck year ‘round. And neither buckeyes nor the next featured native, American smoke tree, will grow too large. They’re a great substitute for non-natives such as Crepe myrtle or Japanese maple.
Caroline Stevens’ garden also features this fabulous example (above) of an American smoke tree, or Cotinus obovatus. This very special tree (seen here in a pot surrounded by lime green native Edmee Gold honeysuckle, or Lonicera nitida ‘Briloni‘) has rounded leaves of almost translucent purple-green in the spring and summer. Even better, its puffy, feathery (and smoky) blooms keep performing all summer long when all the other plants have spent their party tricks. Not to be outdone in the fall, the leaves turn a spectacular orange. Notice the simple but beautiful sculpture on the wall echoing the lines of the branches.
The red leaves of Paul Moore’s Virginia sweetspire, or Itea virginiana, in the foreground provide a burst of color in this serene fall garden scape photographed by Moore. (Imagine yourself enjoying a morning cup of joe and a little birdsong on that bench.) In addition to the showy fall color, sweetspire blooms in spring, can live in wet or dry conditions, spreads elegantly – even on a slope – but is equally at home edging a border. Tara prefers to see it in groupings rather than as a standalone planting. Her favorite cultivars are Merlot or Henry’s Garnet.
Many gardeners are familiar with the light green leaves and pale pink flowers of the commonly used sedum, Autumn Joy. But there are myriad varieties that make great border plants in sunny areas or happily grow between stepping stones on a pathway. A native cultivar called Sedum rupestre “Angelina” (is there a Brad too?) provides a great splash of lime green color on a walkway in this Melrose area garden. Also try native Sedum ternatum, with a white flower, and Sedum pulchellum, featuring a showy pink flower.
These Annabelle hydrangeas tumble together against the wooden fence in Cary and Scott Rayson’s stunning Belmont garden. Annabelle can take full sun or shade but won’t do well without regular watering. It will repay you, though, with repeat blooms, and the cut flowers will last a long time, even when dried. Another great go-to in this family is the Oak Leaf hydrangea.
Tara’s never-ending quest for hardy native plantings continues in her own yard, where she is testing some low-growing varieties of Sweetbay magnolia recently discovered on the Cumberland Plateau.
Never one to stay cooped up very long, as soon as we finished chatting about native plants, she hurried outside in her sandals and skirt to dig a hole for her newest garden accessory – a fig tree to honor the memory of her mother.
Tara began her career as Vanderbilt’s first landscape architect, helping to establish the campus as an arboretum. Some of her favorite urban projects are pocket parks, courtyard gardens and natural play areas. If you’ve ever wondered about the funky bison topiaries at the corner of Tyne Boulevard and Hillsboro Road, those are Tara’s creations, too. For more photos of Bison Meadows and other work, check out Tara’s web site at www.taralandarch.com.