Leslie Pender has a penchant for historical homes and gardens—most notably her own. The Heights home she shares with her husband, Jim, has previously graced the pages of At Home in Arkansas, prompting us to wonder what was behind the iron gates of her garden. Pender took us on a tour to share how both the past and the present play a role in her beloved outdoor space.
Hit refresh on your terrace or backyard area with three ideas for furnishings, accessories, and plantings
The “Wildwood” lounge chair, end table, and high-back porch rocker from Lloyd Flanders. Burton Pools & Spas, burtonpools.com; Congo Fireplace & Patio, congofp.com; Family Leisure, familyleisure.com/Little-Rock; Ken Rash’s Arkansas, kenrashsoutdoorfurniture.com
In the midst of a bustling Little Rock neighborhood, a lush terraced landscape offers a retreat for family and friends alike.
When a young Little Rock family set out to update the outdoor living area of their Hillcrest-area home, they had three main goals in mind. For starters, they wanted to transform the home’s landscape into functional and cozy outdoor living spaces they would be apt to use. Second, it was equally important these spaces flow together to create connected entertaining areas to accommodate large groups. And finally, with two middle-school-age children living under the roof, it had to be practical and allow for play.
With this clearly marked roadmap in mind, landscape designer Chris Olsen along with Garry Mertins, who designed the interiors of the family’s home, set out to make the dream a reality. Working with the natural charm of the English Tudor style home, Mertins designed a terraced plan, designating areas for entertaining, gathering and relaxing. Starting at the front door and carrying all the way to the home’s pool, each level spills over with a sense of inviting enchantment.
When it came to must-haves, the addition of a new fireplace and conversation space on the pool level was high on the owners’ wish list. Thanks in part to the cool color palette of the outdoor fabrics, which were selected by the owner with an eye for both function and fun, it has become a favorite space for guests. The footprint of the pool area was also updated. The design team expanded the stone surface around the pool to make the patio area more accessible and graceful, concentric stairs were employed to provide a smooth transition between the sunning area and the covered patio near the home’s back entrance. The impeccable craftsmanship of the stonemasons was integral to unifying the existing stone of the residence with the new areas to create a cohesive, uninterrupted look.
Outdoor draperies, made from weather-resistant fabric, enclose the new covered patio that provides a shady dining space overlooking the pool. The kitchen area includes a large grill with individual burners, meaning the owners can prepare entire meals while watching the kids swim or chatting with neighbors. To create simplicity when bringing all the essentials outdoors, a new entrance was added near the outdoor kitchen to connect the interior of the home to the patio. For the family, it’s as if they can simply walk out their back door and into their own private vacation resort. “Since the renovation we spend the majority of our free time outdoors,” says the homeowner.
It wasn’t just the home’s backyard that received a makeover. The Tudor’s entire existing front landscape was removed to make room for a cozy sitting area near the entry, and open up a large lawn space for the couple’s children to play. A grouping of ‘Green Giant’ arborvitae evergreens frames the sitting area near the entry, with boxwoods and lime-colored sweet flag grass enveloping the front.
In addition to the open lawn area, there is also a secret garden, which has become a favorite place for the kids to play as well. Two passageways, one from the pool and one from the side yard, lead into the garden which is surrounded with lush greenery. As the children grow, Olsen sees the secret garden transitioning into an adult space for informal gatherings or for reflection.
Large glazed containers dot the landscape and offer a place to add seasonal color year-round. Olsen emphasizes that using large containers is a key feature of his design approach, adding that when using planters as part of a landscape, the larger they are, the better. The containers here typically include an evergreen surrounded with fillers of the aforementioned seasonal blooms, including everything from petunias to tropical selections for summer.
Perennial coneflowers, garden phlox and rudbeckia provide a cottage feel to the gardens. The owners enjoy Olsen’s extensive use of evergreens to provide continuous interest no matter the season. With the evergreens as a base, it provides the opportunity to change the color themes with annuals from year to year without significant changes to the rest of the garden.
“It is important to keep the landscape a reflection of the soul of the home. You don’t want your home to look like everyone else’s house,” notes Olsen. “Take an idea and expand on it, and make it your own. Be stylish and be tasteful, but most importantly enjoy what you create.”
Contractor James Construction, Little Rock, (501) 663-6557
Landscape design and maintenance Chris Olsen, Botanica Gardens, Little Rock, (501) 614-3000, botanicagardens.com, chrisholsen.com
Exterior and hardscape design Garry Mertins, Garry Mertins Design, Little Rock, (501) 376-6600, garrymertinsdesign.com
Masonry and stonework Joe Murdaugh Masonry, Sherwood, (501) 833-0891, murdaughmasonry.com
Planters Botanica Gardens, Little Rock, (501) 614-3000, botanicagardens.com
For Julie and Ben Pruet, escaping to the European countryside doesn’t require purchasing tickets or packing bags. Rather, the couple simply steps outside and wanders through their garden, making their way to the arched doors that lead to their Old World-inspired outdoor kitchen.
Travels through Europe influenced the couple to infuse their West Little Rock home with Tuscan ambience, a look that carried over to the home’s exterior and grounds. When Ben retired a few years ago, Julie cooked up the idea of a European-inspired outdoor kitchen as a mutually enjoyable addition. “The kitchen was my retirement gift to Ben,” says Julie, “a space where he could enjoy grilling, and I could share in the experience with him. We love being outdoors on the beautiful days here in Arkansas, and wanted to bring a little of our indoors outside.”
Blending the outdoor space with the style of their home was a priority, and Julie worked with builder Jack Hartsell, designer Kim Brockinton and decorative painter Andrew Bruckman to give the new area rustic appeal. “Even though this kitchen was basically for my husband’s use, I wanted it to be a space that would be visually pleasing for us and for entertaining as well,” she says. “Being an engineer by background, it is all about the functionality for Ben, but for me it was much more than stainless steel appliances and a prep area for cooking.” Julie ensured that each element in the kitchen, including the stone and Western cedar construction materials, Spanish cedar cabinets and island, bronze metal vent hood, copper light fixtures, textured and colored walls, along with aged shutters and arched doors, added to the overall Old World look she envisioned.
Since many rooms in the Pruets’ home offer views to the backyard, the couple designed the kitchen as a part of the overall outdoor space, yet located it where the cooking area would not be visible from indoors. “The side part of our yard was a perfect spot to create a wall with doors and shutters to make an intimate little kitchen,” says Julie. “It opens to the rest of the garden, yet is a separate and complete space on its own.”
In outfitting the area, the couple wanted the flexibility to cook on both charcoal and gas grills. “Ben enjoys using a charcoal grill for some foods, because it provides a more intense heat,” says Julie, “while, on the other hand, he enjoys using a gas grill for convenience and easier temperature control for many dishes.” In addition to the pair of grills, they added a gas double burner for sauces and sautéing, an ice caddy for cold drinks, plus an under-counter refrigerator nearby. A movable island was built specifically to fit the kitchen, and functions as both an eating and work area, as well as a space to store kitchen necessities.
“With our busy lifestyles, it’s become a space to relax and spend time creating meals together or with family and friends,” says Julie. “But it’s also become our destination for a morning cup of coffee or breakfast occasionally. It’s provided much more enjoyment for us than we ever anticipated.”
Contractor Jack Hartsell Construction, Little Rock, (501) 376-2871
Designer Kim Brockinton Interiors, Little Rock, (501) 661-7600
Decorative painting Bruckman Studios Limited, Little Rock, (877) 650-0304, bruckmanstudios.com
Landscape design Stafford Fine Gardening, Little Rock, (501) 350-8039
Landscape maintenance Botanica Gardens, Little Rock, (501) 614-3000, botanicagardens.com
Stonework Bennett Brothers, Little Rock, (501) 455-5040, bennettbrosstone.com
Appliances, barstools Antique Brick Outdoors, Little Rock, (501) 375-0060, antiquebrickoutdoors.com
Countertops, sink Inside Effects, Little Rock, (501) 954-8866, inside-effects.com
Vent hood Metal Works Inc., Little Rock, (501) 455-3700
At Home in Arkansas: Take us back to the beginning.
Chris Olsen: I built my house in 1996. The lot is a half-acre and it’s pie-shaped, only 40 feet wide in front and then 175 feet wide in back. My inclination would have been to have a more formal, sun-oriented perennial garden, but I couldn’t sacrifice the mature oaks, sycamores and dogwoods that were here. Working with them dictated a natural look and then I blended other styles, some traditional and tropical elements, in with them.
AHIA: Traditional, tropical and natural is quite a wide range. How did you decide on that mix?
CO: Growing up in Connecticut, I worked with my parents and grandmother in the garden, learning about plants and beginning my own garden. When my family moved to southern California, I worked in a local nursery and was wowed by the tropical plants. After that, I went to landscape design school, including a year in Oxford, England, and became interested in formal elements, such as clipped boxwood hedges and pathways with sight lines. When I eventually moved to Arkansas, where my family had relocated, I experimented with all these styles. There’s something I’ve loved about gardening in every place in which I’ve lived. All of those different styles flowed together here and seemed to work naturally on this plot of land.
AHIA: What was your starting point?
CO: Incorporating a swimming pool was a priority. If I can’t have the ocean, I wanted to at least create a retreat where I could have that California feeling. The pool area has a tropical look and Asian-inspired elements, and then the garden becomes more formal with clipped boxwoods and pathways, eventually transitioning to a natural, woodland Arkansas garden.
AHIA: The first description that comes to mind when I see your garden is that it is incredibly lush. How did you achieve that?
CO: Let’s just say that I’ve done more than my share of planting! I think a full garden appears the most natural, with plants alongside trees and groundcovers growing between stones. I’m not interested in seeing mulch—to me, that’s just a waste of space. Basically, Mother Nature doesn’t leave any dirt unplanted, and that’s the look I have in mind.
AHIA: Any tips on how you keep it looking so lovely?
CO: My garden is very much a collector’s garden, and each day I walk through and tend to things. If you believe in filling up every ounce of ground with plants, you have to keep every plant in its area and care for and prune it. A side benefit is that there’s always something interesting growing or blooming—when one plant isn’t at peak, another is. The garden is constantly in transition, and I embrace that. I consider it my playground.
Design, plants, furnishings, accessories Botanica Gardens, Little Rock