Story: Diane Carroll |
Jeanne Spencer’s roots are evident in her Little Rock garden, where the Arkansas native’s love of the South shows in the magnolias, crepe myrtles, azaleas, camellias and hydrangeas amassed in the landscape.
Inspired by her favorite courtyards in Charleston, Savannah and New Orleans, Jeanne and her husband Dan began transforming their backyard into what she calls “a Southern-style city garden” nearly 16 years ago, when the couple returned to their hometown after two decades spent in Dallas. Located in the Prospect Terrace area of Little Rock’s Heights neighborhood, the lot was “a blank canvas, with some tall trees but not much else,” says Jeanne. “It’s a city lot, and the first challenge was how to turn a small space into an inviting garden.”
In her quest to gain gardening insight, Jeanne became a master gardener and established deep ties with the statewide gardening community—joining multiple garden clubs, the Central Arkansas Horticultural Society, the Ouachita Hosta & Shade Plant Society, and eventually serving as the president of the Little Rock Council of Garden Clubs as well as chairing the board of the Arkansas Flower and Garden Show. As her knowledge of regional plants and styles grew, her garden began to take shape as well.
“Most of the major Southern cities have beautiful gardens tucked into small lots, and they have the element of mystery, since it’s a surprise to find them behind an urban house,” says Jeanne. “Those gardens guided me in what we created here.”
She began by establishing a dining terrace in the back portion of the lot, leveling the soil and adding a table and chairs as a destination. She built a pond nearby, for the soothing sight and sound of water while dining or relaxing, and surrounded the area with camellias, azaleas, gardenias and other Southern favorites. As a transition between the house and terrace, Jeanne created a brick courtyard and aligned it with one of her home’s main windows to create intriguing views. At the courtyard’s center, she added a quatrefoil-shaped garden with antique statuary as a focal point. “It became a center of interest, connecting the various sections of the garden without interrupting the site lines from the living room,” she adds.
Between the courtyard and dining terrace, Jeanne placed a custom-made arbor and trained climbing ‘Cecile Brunner’ roses to grow on it. Pathways were established to lead from the house and through the landscape, including one that wraps around from the front yard and meanders through trees and shrubs before revealing the courtyard. “That added the element of mystery, with the extent of the garden slowly being revealed,” says Jeanne. An adjacent garage was refurbished to include a screened porch, adding a mosquito-free way to enjoy the garden during the summer months.
Planted around the structures and along the pathways are Jeanne’s regional favorites, including dozens of varieties of hostas, ferns and ivy, which thrive in the shade. “A Southern city garden should be filled with plants that are suited to our area, and because our garden fits our climate, there’s something interesting to look at every day,” she says. “No matter the season, the views from our windows are enjoyed year round.”