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