This transformed Peachtree Park backyard is the envy of the neighbors

Anne and Todd Knutson transformed their flat, somewhat narrow space into a formal garden
Peachtree Park garden
Knutson raises herbs, vegetables, and berries in organic raised beds, easily accessed from the central lawn.

Photograph by John E. McDonald

For Anne Knutson, the highest praise arrived in a snarky blog post loaded with backhanded compliments. Her next-door neighbor, designer Sherry Hart, took mock aim at Knutson in her popular blog, Design Indulgence, after Knutson invited her to stop by and see the results of the prolonged landscaping activity Hart had been hearing through the bushes. “You did this just to see the look on my face?” Hart grumbled in her post “Pea Green with Envy.”

“This” is a flat, deep, and somewhat narrow backyard that Knutson and her husband, Todd, transformed into a formal garden. The view from stone steps leading down into the garden has no doubt left other visitors gaping at the Knutsons’ oasis of grace and beauty, too.

Peachtree Park garden
Photograph by John E. McDonald
Peachtree Park garden
Despite their garden’s formal structure, the Knutsons chose fairly low-maintenance plants like hydrangeas and hostas. The strong geometric design echoes their taste in art.

Photograph by John E. McDonald

The garden features a boxwood-bordered central grassy strip that allows easy access to planting beds on either side. For these beds, Anne and Todd chose mostly low-maintenance plants, such as hydrangeas, that would survive Atlanta’s summers without looking unsightly but still provide showy blooms to cut and bring indoors. Anne is particularly fond of her dwarf conifers, a dwarf birch tree, and the checkerboard of stepping stones outside French doors leading to a bedroom. She grows tomatoes and other organic vegetables in raised beds, loves her basil and other herbs, has planted berries in numerous spaces, and plans to give peonies another try.

Getting to this point was what Anne calls an 18-year process. The Knutsons moved into their circa-1940s home in Peachtree Park in 1997 after leaving Pittsburgh, where they had installed a small backyard garden. “We both thought, This is kind of cool. We’ll have more space to work with,” Anne says of their plan to re-create their Pittsburgh garden on a larger scale in Atlanta. “But look at me,” she says, showing a photo of herself holding a shovel and looking annoyed during that early effort. “I was not happy!”

Even though the Knutsons enjoy being outdoors and consider gardening a labor of love, the new space was bigger than they could handle. They finally decided to hire a professional landscape architect, which led them to Graham Pittman. He brought their vision to life with a strong geometric design. “We love English boxwoods,” Anne says, “and Graham created a cozy, comfortable feel with some formal English garden elements.”

Peachtree Park garden
Photograph by John E. McDonald
Peachtree Park garden
A fountain gurgles pleasantly near a seating area on a stone patio.

Photograph by John E. McDonald

She especially appreciated Pittman’s recommendation to use artificial turf for the grass strip. It’s the only way, he told her, to keep the grass from getting muddy after rains and to prevent pet damage.

Anne says Spencer Tunnell, another landscape architect she consulted early on, gave her another key piece of advice: Put three landings at the front of the house. Southerners, she recalls Tunnell saying, take a long time to say goodbye.

That’s especially true after visiting this garden. It’s a place visitors don’t want to leave.

Pro resources
Landscape design: E. Graham Pittman & Associates, 770-480-9814

This article originally appeared in our Spring 2016 issue of Atlanta Magazine’s HOME.