Three years ago, when Ray Rubin and Jeff Shelton downsized and bought a century-old bungalow in Ansley Park, it came with plenty of hardscape—as in a walled parking pad out front, a crumbling brick patio in back, and a side driveway leading to a dilapidated detached garage. “This yard was nothing but concrete from front to back,” says Matthew Klyn, the garden designer who helped them perform, by all accounts, nothing short of a miracle.
The challenge wasn’t just tearing up the driveway. “I also asked Matt how we could make the house more inviting from both the front and the back,” Rubin says, “while also making a really small and narrow lot look and feel much larger than it is.”
The solution was to reorient the one-car garage to a back alleyway, eliminating the need for a side driveway and freeing up more land, and then to subdivide the property into garden “rooms.” “Everything here is now a pocket garden—one in front and three in the back,” Klyn says.
Getting to that point proved quite the journey. Klyn began by removing the brick wall enclosing the front yard, ripping up the parking pad, and redesigning the front steps. He then removed the side drive and replaced the garage’s original auto entrance with a residential door and two windows, making the side that faces the house appear like an inviting guest cottage rather than the utilitarian space it still is. In the backyard he installed a small lawn bordered by perennial flower beds; a new raised bluestone terrace took the place of the old brick patio, creating a welcoming spot for entertaining. Finally, Klyn created a third focal point at the back of the lot, with a stepping-stone path that leads to a tall, bright red urn made into a gurgling fountain.
Klyn packed the contemporary urban garden with lush shrubs and perennials that yield not only an ever-changing palette of seasonal color but also an interesting tapestry of textures. In the front, Japanese maples punctuate sweeping beds spilling over with hydrangeas, acanthus, hostas, ferns, and heuchera, while a low wall along the sidewalk, draped with two weeping cedars, embraces the space.
In place of the side drive, a stone pathway leads to the backyard, where the renovated garage now exudes charm. Bordering the small rectangular fescue lawn are boxwoods for year-round evergreen structure as flowering perennials like coreopsis, epimediums, and daisies come and go.
From the bluestone terrace, the view extends to a shade garden dominated by a Japanese black pine and oakleaf hydrangeas. The space is partially enclosed by one wall of the garage, where Klyn crafted a natural trellis from kalmia wood for training sasanqua camellias in espalier fashion—yet another space-saving technique.
“This is my idea of a cottage garden, one that is all about texture and making the most of small spaces,” Klyn says. “There is always something new happening here.”
This article originally appeared in our Summer 2016 issue of Atlanta Magazine’s HOME.