Beautiful backyard garden
Not every couple is as compatible gardening together as 2022's Reader Garden Award Winners, Jim and Carole Poole. Their charming Georgia backyard garden is the perfect combination of horticulture and art. With carefully placed trees and shrubs, well-thought-out beds and hardscaping and meticulous care, it’s a beautiful reflection of the couple’s talents. Watch our Talk & Tour video interview above and read more about this couple’s creative efforts and see the great-looking results below.
A true team effort
The couple met as teenagers at a conference for Alabama state 4-H winners. Jim was a horticultural champion, and Carole’s singing trio won the talent competition. He’s the horticulturist, determining the layout of the backyard, designing the hardscaping projects and choosing the structure plants. Watercolor artist Carole helps take care of the plants, weighs in on color and texture combinations and puts together the containers every year.
Every inch of this roughly 70×80-foot backyard is composed and gardened, and there are beautiful views from almost anywhere you stand or sit. Get a sense for how it all works together in the overhead view that Carole painted below. Carole is a watercolor artist who specializes in homes and gardens. To see her work, on Instagram, follow @carolepoolegallery or look for her shop on Etsy.
How the garden started
When they retired to this house nearly 11 years ago, Jim drew up a plan for the garden right away. The existing Burford holly (Ilex cornuta ‘Burfordii’) hedge was only about 4 feet tall, and he knew he wanted to keep the four flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) trees growing in the backyard, so he designed the island beds and borders around them. He took out a few other “trash trees” and their roots — a big job — and then got to work building and planting. First up: the white fence that created a backdrop for the curving borders flowing around the property’s perimeter. Then he put in a ‘Little Gem’ Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora), crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia indica), several azaleas (Rhododendron hybrids) and Indian hawthorn (Rhapiolepis indica) to create a backbone for more plants that would come later.
Regular backyard garden maintenance
Although there was a lot of work in the first few years, now that the garden is established, they’ve settled into a manageable routine. A couple of times a year, they tackle major pruning, but then it’s just the annual planting and what Jim calls “tinkering:” deadheading, lawn care and clipping. These are things they can do as little or as much as they want to.
When the weather allows, Carole has her morning coffee on the patio. She sometimes notices one little stray branch that she’d like to clip, “and next thing you know I have a bucket full. I started keeping my garden shoes on the patio because I kept ruining my others!”
All-year beauty in this backyard garden
It’s obvious that Jim and Carole enjoy spending time in their backyard: The meticulously cared-for lawn and boxwood hedges and tidy edging frame a garden that’s been planned so there’s something colorful almost any week you visit year round.
Seasonal garden show-offs
In spring, several varieties of azaleas (including their favorite, ‘George L. Tabor’) splash color across the garden, the tulips are blooming and it seems something new is popping up every day. Toward the end of spring, the arbor above is covered with the first flush of pink ‘New Dawn’ climbing rose blooms. Jim climbs a ladder in late winter and cuts each stem back by a couple of feet to rejuvenate it for the year. If they deadhead after each flush of blooms, it’ll often bloom three or four times. Big sweeps of red and white Drift® roses and about 60 red, pink and white Knock Out® roses add color to the beds in late spring as well.
Backyard garden in bloom
Early summer brings blooms on their 20 hydrangeas of various types. This year, they put in nearly 40 dahlias, and Jim is a big fan: “They are very proud of themselves. The wonderful thing about them is they don’t bloom for only three or four days. They just don’t stop!”
Carole says she loves July: “It’s when Jim does his magic. The garden is so lush and green, the Sunpatiens® impatiens are up to my knees and the roses are blooming a second time. It’s all so healthy before August gets dry.”
Fall finds the annuals still putting on their show alongside the changing leaves of the many trees and shrubs. And winter is when you can enjoy the woody plants that Jim planned from the beginning: the crape myrtles’ beautiful bark, many plants’ evergreen leaves or needles, and the camellia flowers. In later years, the couple has added low hedges of Baby Gem™ Japanese boxwood (Buxus microphylla var. japonica) that frame several of the beds, and mounding ‘Green Velvet’ and ‘Green Mountain’ boxwoods (Buxus hybrids) add shape throughout the garden as well.
Pruning is key
Gardening in Georgia is not without its challenges. Although they do get hot stretches in summer and an occasional ice storm or temperature drop that threatens plants, Jim says that their climate is relatively mild. In fact, “Things want to grow. For me, the biggest challenge is pruning because things get too big!”
So to keep shrubs in scale with their surroundings and help them develop attractive habits and bloom better, he prunes many of the shrubs every year, and sometimes a couple of times a year. In late winter or early spring, he tackles the holly hedge, roses and any other evergreens. Early spring bloomers, such as camellias and azaleas, get their annual haircut after they bloom.
While the overall composition and design in this backyard might catch your eye first, the longer you spend there, the more details you notice.
Adding charm with garden containers
Containers are the icing on the cake of this beautiful garden. Carole composes several containers to add long-lasting color to the seating areas and other spots in the garden. Jim says, “Carole is the artist and the florist.” Some of her favorites are coleus because of their long-lasting foliage color and Sunpatiens impatiens. “You can put one of those in a pot, and you’re done!” She also likes to mix them in with whatever strikes her fancy when she’s shopping for containers. You can see one of these compositions above.
Carole doesn’t get to have all the fun with containers, though. Last fall Jim secretly tucked several tulip bulbs into the planters that Carole had put together with pansies for winter color. She was bewildered for a moment in February when they started poking through the pansies: “I was sitting on the patio with my morning coffee and thought, ‘What is in that pot?’ Then I realized that Jim must have put the tulip bulbs in there. What a surprise!”
Get creative with upcycled art
The long wire planter above is one of their latest container projects. They hung the decorative wrought-iron wall hanging a few years ago to back up what they originally planned as a camellia garden. But when they changed course and planted perennials there, she decided to repurpose a simple wire basket from the house as a planter under it. Then she topped the arrangement with another decorative wrought-iron piece.
Hidden potting bench
Every garden needs a work area. This one is hiding in plain sight. The two custom trellises above make the perfect backdrop for more of Carole’s pretty containers. The container plantings in front of these architectural screens change every year, but the fragrant yellow late-winter flowers of the Carolina yellow jessamine vine (Gelsemium sempervirens) growing on it are a constant every winter. But slip behind them and you’ll find a potting bench and tool storage cleverly hidden!