North Carolina Woodland Reverie
In Charlotte, North Carolina, a self-taught gardener (who watched a lot of gardening shows on television!) turned a hilly, "unbuildable" property into a dreamy woodland landscape, complete with waterfalls and several ponds.
Jay Sifford's garden in Charlotte, North Carolina, spans approximately 1/4 acre. Sifford, who runs his own aquarium business, bought the property 12 years ago. He took what was considered an impossible lot—hilly and filled with rotting railroad ties—and landscaped it into a dreamy woodland garden, complete with three ponds, all connected by streams, and punctuated with waterfalls.
How would you describe the style of your garden?
I would describe the style of my garden as predominately woodland, with a contemporary note coming from original art placed strategically throughout the garden.
The back deck in the summer surrounded with coleus.
What are some notable or unusual qualities about your garden?
I am best known around town for my water garden/koi pond. It looks quite natural now, thanks to the moss I transplanted from the woods and to the many autumn fern spores that have found good homes in the leaf litter and moss.
A Marcia Donahue sculpture of pitcher plants in the water garden.
Can you tell us a little bit about the history of your garden?
The property was considered an "unbuildable lot" that resembles mountain property (unusual in this city), with large granite boulders and a small creek.
The front garden with peonies, irises, and alliums in April of this year.
What were your challenges when designing your garden?
My major challenges revolved around the topography of the lot (hilly, with an impressive slope to the front of the property), erosion, deer, and a plethora of trees, many with shallow root systems. I did not even own a wheelbarrel until a couple of months ago because it would have been futile to try to use one in this garden.
A view of the front garden.
What changes have you made recently to your garden?
Within the last year I have removed the entire lawn in an effort to be truer to the spirit of the land and to conserve water.
What did your garden look like before you started working on it?
When I moved here, I found nothing in the yard but mud, rotten railroad ties, and liriope. I even had to build steps to the front door as there weren't any!
The front steps, with a perennial border, in April of this year.
Did you work with a landscape architect on your garden?
No, I designed the garden myself and built most of it by myself, with the most notable exception being the koi pond. I started out knowing very little, but faithfully watched weekend garden shows on television.
On a related note, I had so many people ask for my ideas and advice with regard to their gardens that I started a second business this year, doing garden designs for other people.
Astilbe in bloom.
Do you have any particular color or plant theme in your garden?
You can see different plant phases I've been through over the last several years: There was the daylily year, the oriental lily year, the hosta year, the coleus year, the ligularia year, and the fern year. This year is the year of blue and yellow needled conifers, which will grow well here in part shade.
A privacy screen I made out of concrete backerboard on a frame.
How do you think the garden reflects you and your house?
Nestled in the city, the garden is on its way to becoming a mountain woodland garden, staying true to the boulders, ferns, mosses, and trees, and speaking to the architectural style of the house. The topography of the land is an inspiration, a blessing, and a challenge.
The view outside my front door.
Anything else about your garden?
I'm surrounded by all the plants I love.
A close-up of an orchid primrose.