Classical & Natural
A poolside landscape combines European elegance with the beauty of the Carolina woods.
Photographs by Mike Hammer
Styled by Jayde Wills
Finding a three-acre homesite in the SouthPark neighborhood is not an easy task. But that was just a warm-up for homeowners Tracy and Teresa Lee. Though they loved the wooded, private property they finally found, after purchasing the simple ranch house, they opted to tear down the existing structure and build an entirely new home, garage, and poolside living area while removing only one tree. “Our whole goal was to keep the property intact,” says Tracy of the custom home and property designed by Frank Smith. “We wanted something that was brand new but looked old,” Tracy continues.
The grounds have a refined European feel, balanced by the presence of familiar Carolina trees and shrubs. Although completed in 2006, the French baroque villa already seems ageless. This impression comes not only from the smooth façade of hard-coat cement, but from the mature trees and bushes scattered around the property. The setting is understated but shows great attention to detail. Evergreen-like European hornbeams are planted on either side of the house, while small patio styrax trees (a.k.a Japanese snowballs, with soft, pillowy blossoms similar to hydrangeas) flank the breezeway. Grass stretches smoothly to the roots of trees, rather than stopping at a mulch border. White oaks and longleaf pines stretch upward to the skies, while forty-year-old holly and camellia bushes add depth and proportion.
“We shaped the hollies to give them a sophisticated style,” says landscape designer Carole Joyner of Joyner-Benfield. Their irregular silhouettes have been sculpted into rounded, treelike forms. “They’re mature, but they’re elegant.”
Early on, the Lees made the decision to keep much of their property completely natural. Part of their goal was privacy, but aesthetics were also a major factor. “You can’t buy plants that large. They’d be out of scale,” explains Joyner. In some cases, workers relocated fully grown camellia bushes in order to save them. In other cases, they simply left the original plantings intact.
“When you’re back here, you don’t realize there’s another world around you,” says Tracy.
“My trees are my favorite thing in the whole world,” says Teresa. “You can hear the wind blow…it’s hard to re-create what nature has done. You can’t just go to Lowe’s and buy a thicket.”
Pool with a View
With Joyner’s help, the homeowners were able to create a smooth transition between natural areas filled with dogwood, walnut, and forsythia and the clean, symmetrical lines of the main house. Essential to that transition is the pool and patio. “That pool is a classic European countryside pool,” says Joyner. “It had to come out of the axis of the house.”
A guest’s first impression may well be its simplicity, but this outdoor living area, created with the help of Blue Haven Pools and Architectural Stone, is carefully designed. The cast-stone pool and patio serve as the backyard’s focal point. Six fountains, three on each side, can be activated and make arches into the pool, further emphasizing the symmetry of the main house. Flagstones seeded with dwarf mondo grass soften the transition between house and pool, providing variation from the hard, paved surfaces used elsewhere.
Joyner recalls that in the planning stages, the owners experimented frequently with the placement of the fireplace, furniture, and patio, trying to visualize different arrangements before they took shape. “They entertain a lot, so it was important that everything worked,” Joyner says.
As established as the landscape seems, more is yet to come. Future plans include a formal rose garden, a sunken perennial garden with boxwood borders, and a ten-foot transitional zone between forest and lawn filled with hydrangeas, dogwoods, and redbuds. It is difficult to envision new plantings in an environment that seems so settled and complete. But if the past is any indication of the future, they will look like they have been there for a long, long time.