The Garden State

The celebrated 18-century English landscaper Lancelot Brown earned his nickname, “Capability,” for often proclaiming his clients’ estates capable of great improvement. But we shan’t get too willy-nilly when it comes to landscape betterment. According to Deborah Silver of Deborah Silver & Co., amending any existing landscape can be a bit precarious. For Silver, one of the biggest challenges in renovating a garden isn’t just making it better, but making it seem as though it’s always been there.

Silver’s design strategy for reworking this Birmingham home’s landscape was to conquer the long walkway in the rear yard and its parallel expanse of boxwoods that seemed to visually abrogate the rest of the yard. Her first course of action was to open the space by flipping the boxwoods perpendicular to the walkway, diverting attention from the stone path and focusing it on the garden. By shifting the structural boxwoods, she created three distinct garden areas that could be enjoyed equally from inside the house — a matter of paramount importance to the homeowner, whose busy schedule often keeps her from being in the garden.

With the addition of informal flowering plants such as thyme, armerias, perennial geraniums, and creeping phlox, the landscape takes on an aged and natural look, with the walkway appearing subsequent to the greenery and not vice versa. The successful merging of old and new elements creates a garden that does indeed seem like it’s always existed, but with a certain deliberateness that’s less a testament to capable land, and more a testament to Silver’s capable hands.

The gardens are laid out perpendicular to the existing walk from the dining terrace to the sun porch, giving the impression that the walk was laid through an existing garden. Custom-made galvanized-steel window boxes filled with Persian Queen geraniums and trailing verbena provide foreground interest from inside the porch.