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