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Tom Oder


This transformed Peachtree Park backyard is the envy of the neighbors

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.

Ashe-Simpson Garden Center moving to new location to make way for new shopping center

Carole Simpson
Carole Simpson

Tom Oder

Ashe-Simpson Garden Center, a popular Chamblee destination for plant collectors and gardening enthusiasts, will be in a new home by the middle of October.

The current nursery, which owner Carole Simpson opened in 1998, is part of an 11.12-acre parcel that S. J. Collins Enterprises, a commercial real estate development firm in Fairburn, plans to develop. Closing on the sale of the property, located on Peachtree Boulevard across from Lowe’s, is scheduled for mid-August, Simpson said.

“I have 60 days to vacate after the sale,” Simpson said recently, adding that she has found nearby property where she hopes to relocate operations.

“I will be downsizing somewhat,” she said. While she plans to continue to emphasize her landscape business, which she said has kept her busy and has not slowed during the summer, the retail operation will become “more of a boutique specialty nursery.”

“We hope to have a grand opening by the end of November and look forward to welcoming our customers to our new location,” she said. Customers can look forward to a close-out sale before bulldozers begin clearing the current location.

S.J. Collins is actively working on the closing and can’t comment on an exact closing date, but plans to start demolition and clearing the land in September, said Jeff Garrison, a partner in the firm. Definite dates haven’t been set because the site is still under review by the city, said Adam Causey, economic development manager for the City of Chamblee. The tract is bordered by Peachtree Boulevard on the West and Peachtree Road on the East.

Whole Foods will be the anchor tenant, and Taqueria del Sol is one of many tenants that will be announced in coming months, Garrison said. The project, which will be called Peachtree Crossing, is scheduled to open in the spring of 2017, he added.

Grounds of new Falcons stadium will include edible gardens

Falcons stadium rendering
Falcons stadium rendering

Georgia World Congress Center

When the new Atlanta Falcons stadium opens for the 2017 NFL season, a group of volunteers will be churning up a different kind of yardage outside the venue than the football players rushing inside. These enthusiastic workers will be tending a  landscape feature that is gaining popularity at American sports arenas: edible gardens.

“We are still developing the concept for the gardens,” said Scott Jenkins, general manager of the new stadium that is rising on the Westside. “We are getting close to finalizing the design, but it will have an area of raised beds and then edible plants in a few other locations around the site. The raised beds will be at the southwest corner of the stadium, and other edibles will be planted along Northside Drive,” he said.

Blueberries will be among the food crops, Jenkins recently told the Environmental Policy and Sustainability Committee of the Metro Atlanta Chamber. Georgia is the country’s top-producing state for the antioxidant-rich fruit.

Other crops will include two varieties of figs and two apple varieties, said Lauren Standish, an associate and project manager for HGOR, an Atlanta planning and design firm providing landscape architecture design services for the project. “The urban ag area will be enclosed with 10-foot-high ornamental fence similar to the style located around the stadium,” Standish said. The gardens will be irrigated by storm water collected from a storm detention vault, she added.

The idea for the garden stemmed from a dual strategy to achieve the highest level of LEED certification from the U.S. Green Buildings Council and as a way to possibly benefit the Westside communities where the stadium is located, Jenkins said. Final decisions have not been made  on how the gardens will be managed or what will happen to the produce. However, Jenkins said the Westside “would be our target, whether it’s working with a local school on gardening and healthy food or providing food to a local food program.”

The Arthur M. Blank Foundation and the Captain Planet Foundation, an environmental stewardship group co-founded by  Ted Turner in 1991, have both been supportive of the initiative. In fact, Captain Planet has installed edible gardens in 140 schools in Atlanta and in Gwinnett, Cobb, DeKalb, and Fulton counties.

The Falcons’ decision to include edible gardens at their new facility is part of a trend in urban agriculture that is catching on in the sports world. As an example, Jenkins cited the The Tampa Bay Lightning of the NHL, which he said “are doing a fair amount of onsite growing.” Elena Cizmaric, director of corporate communications for the Blank Foundation, pointed out that there is a rooftop garden at the San Francisco 49ers Levi’s Stadium. The San Francisco Giants staked a claim to being the first pro franchise to bring urban agriculture to big league stadiums when it installed an edible garden beyond the outfield fence at AT&T Park in 2014.

Falcons’ fans need not worry, though, food options at the new stadium are unlikely to go vegan.

Ashe-Simpson Garden Center to close this summer

Carole Simpson
Carole Simpson

Tom Oder

This spring will mark the last time nursery owner Carole Simpson welcomes winter-weary gardeners to her Ashe-Simpson Garden Center on Peachtree Boulevard in Chamblee. The nursery, which Simpson opened in 1998, is part of a 11.12-acre parcel that S. J. Collins Enterprises, a commercial real estate development firm in Fairburn, plans to develop.

Simpson said she hasn’t been told when she must vacate, but thinks it could be sometime in the summer. As of now, she plans to offer a business-as-usual full inventory of plants for the spring gardening season.

After that, she’s not sure what direction her business will take, although she will likely downsize her retail operations. “I’m still sorting this out,” she said. “I’m looking for another location in the area, but I know I won’t have this kind of space. I’m hoping to find a house with maybe a little bit of land.” She does plan to keep her garden design business.

Simpson’s uncertain future is another sign that the retail plant business has become a difficult row to hoe for owners of private, independent garden centers in Atlanta. “This is a dying business,” Simpson said with a sigh.

Privately owned Habersham Gardens closed its retail nursery operations in 2014, keeping its landscape, maintenance, and irrigation business. Scott McMahan, owner of GardenHood in Grant Park, which could become the only remaining privately owned garden center inside the Perimeter, doesn’t relish the thought of possibly becoming the last man standing. “It is sad and a bit scary,” he said.

The site plan that S. J. Collins has submitted for the land where Ashe-Simpson is located calls for the garden center and several other businesses to be replaced with an organic grocery, a bank, and several restaurants, according to Adam Causey, Economic Development manager for the City of Chamblee. The tract is bordered by Peachtree Boulevard on the West and Peachtree Road on the East.

S.J. Collins has a contract to acquire the land but has not closed on the deal, according to Jeff Garrison, a partner in the firm. The goal is to start construction the latter part of the year, Garrison said. He characterized the plans for the site, which would be called Peachtree Crossing, as a lifestyle center that would include stores offering boutique retail and everyday essentials. The anchor tenant would be a Whole Foods, according to S. J. Collins.

Task force meets to plan hopeful return of Southeastern Flower Show

Southeastern Horticultural Society Executive Director Caroline Leake

If you’ve missed attending or exhibiting at the Southeastern Flower Show (SFS) the last several years and have been hoping it would come back, be patient a little while longer.

A task force comprised of ten of the 21 board members of the Southeastern Horticultural Society (SHS), which hosts the show, met Tuesday, March 3, to begin mapping a new future for the show. This was the first meeting of this type under the tenure of Caroline Leake, the still-new executive director of the society. Leake, who has been on the job five months and was charged with pulling the task force together, is committed to bringing the flower show back to the Atlanta and state gardening communities.

“The task force has a great interest in reinventing the show,” Leake said the day after that meeting. She was careful to use the word “reinventing” because, she cautioned, “the show as it was will probably never exist again. The economics of it are difficult.” Formerly, the grand flower show sprawled over 70,000 to 100,000 square feet. “The last several shows have lost money or just broken even.”

“This is not a phenomenon unique to Atlanta,” she quickly added about the business challenges of staging a large flower show. As a regional example of another show that has shifted formats, she noted that the well-attended Antiques and Garden Show of Nashville has clearly moved more toward antiques than gardening.

Because formal discussions are just beginning, Leake could only talk in general terms about what type of future she and the task force might invent for future SFS shows. Even generalities, though, ramp up Leake’s enthusiastic belief that an event such as a flower show—she has co-chaired the SFS artistic division twice—is vitally important to developing a sense of community in the city and region.

“The task force wants to go forward and plan what the next show will be,” she said. “We don’t know when that will be. We are closing in on where. We do know that education and urban agriculture will be a big part of it.

“I think where we are headed,” she said, “is a smaller, more concise version of a very juried and judged flower show.” A judged show is important in meeting the needs of the hard core flower show folks, she said. Those enthusiasts, she emphasized, have been the backbone of the artistic division of previous shows. They are all over the state of Georgia and want to participate in an Atlanta show, she said, adding that the Garden Club of Georgia is probably one of the strongest state gardening associations in the country.

She knows that garden club members are likely an older demographic and believes that urban agriculture will attract younger people, whom she sees as more interested in horticulture than flower design. Community agriculture has been a major SHS emphasis in recent years, and Leake believes that adding it to the show would also give people something of value to take back to their schools and communities.

She believes some other elements of the recent show format will remain, just scaled back. Among those, she believes, will be mass flower arrangements, the artistic division, and landscaped gardens. There will also be a vendor section; but this one will be curated, Leake said, emphasizing that the show will feature high quality and substance throughout all sections.

When will the next show happen? Leake can’t be sure, but said she hopes the task force will produce a show in the next year or two. To make it work, “we are going to need the love and support that comes from all of the garden clubs,” she said.

She added that the task force will also need corporate sponsorship and individual patronage to avoid the financial troubles of recent shows, the last of which was at the Cobb Galleria in 2013.

As the task force moves forward, Leake said that she would like for those who have attended and supported the show in the past to know that the core mission of the Southeastern Horticultural Society is centered around the love of gardening and that the Board is committed to the communication and education of that message to the community. “Our Atlanta community is wonderfully rich and diverse, and we want to reach anywhere and everywhere to those who want to come and join us,” she said.

Leake asks that people interested in sponsoring the next show contact her via email at info@sehort.org.

GardenHood brings rare Asian plants to Atlanta

Photograph by Amber Fouts

Scott McMahan can see China from Grant Park. And Vietnam, and a few other countries halfway around the world.

Rare plants from the rugged mountains and dense jungles of Asia come into focus each time McMahan walks among the benches at GardenHood, a retail garden center he owns in the historic intown neighborhood. The most unusual have been grown from seed McMahan and several fellow adventurous plantsmen collected in areas so remote they are accessible only with local guides. Even they, McMahan says, sometimes get lost.

McMahan, an Atlanta native, set his heart on opening a garden center specializing in rare plants when he was a nursery manager at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Visitors would ask him where they could buy plants like the ones they saw at the garden. There wasn’t such a place, so McMahan decided to build one, opening McMahan’s Nursery in Clermont, Georgia, twelve years ago and then GardenHood in 2009.

But don’t call him a plant collector.

“We collect seed,” McMahan emphasizes. “We don’t pillage the land or exploit the plants like plant collectors of 100 years ago.”

Annual trips are timed for the fall, when pollinated flowers have formed seedpods. Botanists by day, the plant hunters number and name their seeds by flashlight and firelight at night. The names of the mother plants are familiar: camellias, clematis, lilies, hydrangeas, ferns, magnolias. Flowers and foliage, though, are much different from varieties Atlanta gardeners typically see.

The sweet spot for these treasures is elevations between 7,000 and 12,000 feet, because habitats below 6,000 feet are subtropical or tropical. Plants there would not survive Atlanta’s winters.

But many of these Asian specimens can adapt to Atlanta’s climate. “Every seed-collected GardenHood plant is trial-tested for Atlanta growing conditions,” McMahan says. “When I put it on my bench, I know it will grow here.”

Tests can take years. But speed to market is not the objective.

“Our primary goal is to preserve the germplasm of species that may never be seen outside of their habitats if the seed is not collected,” he says. GardenHood’s secondary aim is to educate the public. Both goals provide Atlanta gardeners with plants they can’t find anywhere else.

Ready to Plant
Scott McMahan’s favorite rare plants from his travels, available at GardenHood. All are seed-grown, except the fern, which is grown from plantlets.

Schefflera delavayi (left)
Evergreen shade tree, produces showy white flowers in fall. China, 2008, 2010

Woodwardia unigemmata  (middle)
Fronds can reach four feet, each producing a plantlet on the end. China, 2011

Lilium poilanei  (right)
Lily that grows to five feet and produces large, fragrant maroon flowers. Vietnam, 2007






This article originally appeared in our July 2014 issue under the headline “Seed Scout.”

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