See a Beautiful Southern Spin on a Formal Garden Design
Free To Be
You’re not alone: Even rising gardening star Anthony Brewington doesn’t love working in his yard. To clarify, he is deeply enthusiastic about the finished product. “I like living in a garden and having parties in it,” he says. “I always read about people who love watching plants grow or working off stress in the yard. I don’t hate that part, necessarily, but that’s not me.”
Making it His Own
After working in Atlanta for renowned landscape designer Ryan Gainey, Brewington became a private gardener for a family in North Alabama and moved to nearby Leighton. Within five years, he had transformed his third-of-an-acre yard into a multifaceted treasure box of color and texture. It perfectly combines structure and wildness in a way that’s reminiscent of modern French gardens but still completely Southern.
Like his work, Brewington delivers style without pretension. For example, his water feature—“but I don’t like that phrase,” he says—is a shallow, recessed pond overrun by frogs. “I love frogs. I know that might sound strange, but at night, if you don’t startle them, they will pop out of the water, sit on the edge of the pond, and make noise. I enjoy hearing that sound.” Read on for more of Brewington’s candid gardening philosophies.
Make it Camera Ready
Some gardens can’t be captured in photographs. “I didn’t want mine to be that loose and romantic,” he says. “I wanted it to be well designed. It’s easier to create if you approach it like taking a picture.” Step one: Determine the main viewpoint. “I wanted to look from the street all the way back to my pavilion,” he says. That idea told him where to put the hedges and pyramids and led him to plant most of the annuals and perennials in the front yard.
“Not everything needs to have a great big flower on it,” Brewington says of his mostly green garden. “I love texture and foliage.”
Plan Before Planting
“The number one factor in garden design is how you intend to use it,” Brewington advises. “I love having people over, so I wanted the space to flow well.” Five seating areas are dotted throughout. Further, the height of the hedges obscures some elements, which later rewards wandering guests. The paths are made of crushed oyster shells (economical and also commonly used in chicken feed to strengthen eggshells). “It reflects so much light that it glows—especially when the moon is out, so I end up not needing as many light bulbs,” he says.
Consider Your schedule
There isn’t much blooming in this garden in spring. “That’s when I’m busy, so I’m not having people over,” Brewington says. Instead, he plants his perennials and annuals to bloom in fall, when he frequently entertains. During the rest of the year, all of those hedges provide “something to look at that’s not just dead ground,” he says.
Balance Yin and Yang
The geometric boxwoods in the side yard contrast with the less formally executed perennials and annuals in front. “Too much structure can look a little municipal,” he says. “You have to have a little wildness.” Even in the side yard, he likes playing opposites against one another. Delicate verbenas surround each stoic cypress pyramid. Loose-growing, purple elephant’s ear plants stand out against the rougher, duller texture of the arborvitae hedge.
“Pots introduce color into nooks and crannies where you don’t want to plant something in the ground,” Brewington explains. “You can move containers around and change them out.” He uses this approach with his window boxes. “They give me creativity in the spring because they don’t have to look the same every year,” he notes. That impermanence also helps lower
the stakes. “I’m not against trial and error,” he says.
Prioritize the Pretty
“Sometimes I have to sacrifice easy access for something that’s beautiful,” Brewington says, speaking of the ajuga that spreads purple foliage onto his pathway. “We have to tiptoe around the plant, but I can’t help it because I really like it and it just happens to be growing there.” Beauty trumps convenience in the design of his reading nook as well. “There’s barely enough room to get two chairs in that spot, but that is where the sunlight hits my garden all afternoon. I love sitting in the sun and reading, so the seating had to be placed there,” he says.
Brewington's Best Plants
He reflects on the specimens that keep him motivated to prune and pot
1. Crepe Myrtle
“Being a Southerner who loves crepe myrtles is not a very radical idea. I actually think they may have been written about too much, but then again, they really are just that pretty. I especially like the way crepe myrtles bloom, and I love their bark. I also admire the way the trees filter light and how they’re easy to grow,” Brewington says.
2. ‘Wintergreen’ Boxwood
“This selection makes the best hedge and is the ideal boxwood because it’s nearly indestructible. This fierce grower also doesn’t need much water once it’s established. It becomes an instant structure,” he notes.
3. ‘Mystic Spires Blue’ Salvia
“I should be president of a salvia society because of how much I love them. There are a lot of different selections—perennials and annuals. Sometimes I have to plant them each year, and sometimes they come back. Their colors are vivid, and they are always striking and a bit dramatic. These blooms stand out against all the green,” he says.
4. European Hornbeam
“The hornbeam hedge in the back behind the pavilion is one of my favorite features in the garden. It gives me living structure above eye level. It was the first thing I saw that really made me think, ‘Wow!’ I also respect the amount of time it takes to mature. My hornbeam hedge was planted seven years ago, and it continues to grow more complete each year,” he says.
5. Arizona Cypress
“I love a pyramid. I also like how the color and texture of these ‘Blue Ice’ Arizona cypresses contrast so well with the semi-glossy boxwoods,” Brewington says. “These cypresses grow extremely fast. They were this big in less than two years. I have to prune them six times a year, but it’s worth it because I appreciate the light gray-
blue color of their leaves.”
6. Rice Paper Plant
“This shrub is the easiest thing in the world to grow. It doesn’t bloom, but I enjoy its big foliage. It’s so dramatic. The very large, soft, powdery leaves help it to stand out from the cypresses and boxwoods,” Brewington explains.