In The Garden
A Dilworth couple transforms a neglected lawn into a picturesque, all-seasons garden
When Liz and Jimmy Foster bought their Dilworth home in 1996, they knew it was a rescue mission. Owned by the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra as a showcase home in the 1980s, it still looked great—from a distance. Structurally, though, it was badly in need of repair. Regular maintenance and upkeep had been overlooked in favor of cosmetic touch-ups.
“It looked like a haunted house,” says Liz.
It took at least nine months to get the home move-in ready. Finally, the Fosters could turn their attention to the lawn. Over the years it had been trampled, pitted, overrun, and neglected as designers had installed—and then removed—plants and hardscapes. By the time the couple took over, it was an expanse of weeds and broken-up concrete and was completely barren except for a few beautiful, large oak trees.
Liz, a retired interior designer and retail executive, and Jimmy, who works part-time as a physician at OrthoCarolina, were excited about the challenge—and the space’s potential. “I’d always been into doing yard work,” says Jimmy. The pair felt that in spite of its sad state, the grounds, like the house, could be made into something beautiful and robust.
Since then, the Fosters have worked hard to achieve their ultimate vision for the gardens that encircle their home. Drawing from her interior design background, Liz worked with Brian Zimmerman of Zimmerman-Lindberg Landscape to create a plan for the garden and install hardscapes, approaching each section of the yard as its own unique space.
Liz’s design skills are evident in the flow of the garden path, which effortlessly leads you through the grounds—but obviously required careful planning and execution. Beginning with the small herb garden just outside the kitchen door—which in the spring and summer bursts with herbs including dill, oregano, thyme, and mint—each space is beautiful.
The pool was the first outdoor project.
“Gardens are like homes,” she says. “There are rooms. They have a purpose, and they need to make sense.”
The herb garden borders the pool to the left of the home, shielded from onlookers by the formal, front gardens and a large shade garden. “The pool is really a family area. When we’re out there we feel very private,” says Liz. “You hear the waterfall; you can see the yard. It’s almost like a vacation space.”
Leaving the pool, you cross under a gate covered in potato vine and enter the first of two linked formal English gardens. Filled with David Austin roses in the summer and peonies—transplanted from the Fosters’ former home in Lynchburg, Virginia—in the spring, it’s a haven for bees, birds, and bloom-loving humans. Ferns and other greenery add texture and color along the borders, and in the center, a flower-shaped water feature designed by Liz displays water lilies in bloom.
The front formal garden offers more roses, a bed of wildly blooming lilies, and the gazebo where the Fosters’ youngest daughter was married. It’s one of Jimmy’s favorite spaces in the garden, and you can find him here most mornings and evenings. “That’s where I end up wandering,” he says. It’s also one of the spaces that has required the most work, with Jimmy digging out truckloads of clay—he estimates that he’s removed more than 20 truckloads from the entire lot—to make the soil more palatable to the plants.
The front garden “room” yields to a forest-like winding path lined with viburnum, japonica, azalea, rhododendron, and hydrangea. This portion of the garden, shaded by a large oak tree, is peaceful and quiet. From here, crossing a wide swath of lawn reveals another shade garden, with a dainty path leading to the neighbor’s house. Here, hostas and other shade-loving plants thrive, surrounded by a small fountain and Asian lantern. As you circle back toward the house, English roses line the parking pad, which leads to a third formal garden, the rose parterre.
Bursting with color and fragrance, the space was originally home to an enormous but sick oak tree that needed to be removed. Once the tree came out, the formerly shady spot became a sunny one—perfect for rows of rosebushes, including Just Joey, Moonshine, Mr. Lincoln, St. Patrick, Daybreaker, and many more. The slate walkways, repurposed from the landing and stairs in front of the home, are a perfect fit. The Fosters have always loved Charleston—they own a beach house on nearby Sullivan’s Island—and consider the parterre their homage. “Symmetry is important,” says Liz. “I really love everything to be balanced.”
Tucked into the back of the parterre is an elaborate fairy garden—a special treat for the Fosters’ 21 grandchildren, and for Liz, who loves miniatures. She overlooks the petite garden from her home office; it’s her favorite feature of the entire space.
“Every room you look out and you see beautiful garden. And I love that,” she says.