A South of the Plaza Garden Combines Earth, Air, Fire, and Water

Photos by Aaron Leimkuehler

Driving by the Tudor Revival home just south of the Plaza, you’d never guess that the garden behind it was so, well, fabulous.

And that’s just how the couple living there designed it.

From the driveway, “Once you pass through the garden gate, it’s a totally different world,” says the husband, an architect in Kansas City.

It took three years, along with the reimagining of the home’s interior, to create a garden of no t just one space, but a series of rooms.

French doors flanked with sidelights lead out to the sheltered open-air sitting area.
Custom-designed wrought-iron gates swing open to the bluestone path that leads through the garden.

“We took inspiration from our travels to Italy,” says the wife. They were also intrigued by Amangiri, a modernist desert resort in western Utah with a spare aesthetic and framed views from each room.

The garden design also honors the couple’s differences—he is more of an extrovert, she an introvert—so there are public and more private spaces. Lighting and music were also incorporated into the plan.

“We wanted to combine the four elements. And garden rooms for different moods. I’m a Gemini, after all,” she laughs.

“We have a spot near the house where we take our laptops and phones in the morning or have a glass of wine after work,” she continues. “A dining area for when we entertain. Fire bowls for chilly evenings. A hut that swings. And a Colorado ‘room’ with a spa tub.”

Breakfasts and after-work glasses of wine are enjoyed in the small sitting area just off the kitchen.

With help from architect Judi Bauer, designer Patrick Kappelmann, plantsman Kristopher Dabner of The Greensman, and Rebecca Ederer at Beco Flowers, the garden gradually took shape. Clean lines, natural plantings, and geometric planes create a remote hideaway minutes from downtown.

All four elements—earth, air, fire, and water—are at play here. As are the couple’s three dogs—Lady B, Ginger, and Cher.

The eldest of the couple’s trio of dogs, Lady B, relaxes in one of her favorite spaces, the hanging pod.

A hardscape of bluestone and limestone meanders up, down, and through the garden, past geometric beds bordered with boxwood that feature seasonal plantings—spring tulips and alliums, summer annuals in purples and orange, autumn flowering kale. Smoldering upright garden incense sticks waft a lovely fragrance and keep the mosquitoes at bay. The sound of water bubbles up from a fountain that the husband gave the wife 20 years ago.

When you walk out the back door, you first pass a series of tubs planted with nasturtiums, scented geraniums, and herbs of all kinds—a growing laboratory for her. A hedge of hornbeams hides the everyday world of driveway and garage on one side; a forest of columnar oaks obscures the neighboring house on the other. This unusual oak variety has leaves the color of eucalyptus that stay green on the tree until March, when the leaves drop as new ones bud out.

A low stone wall encircles the large metal fire bowl and the all-weather Dedon woven chairs

The first seating area with a nearby custom fire bowl by Ernsdorf Design—a place to begin and end the day—is surrounded by flowering pots. The couple found the weathered brass sconces that they installed upside-down for better light. Another fixture was found on Craigslist. Hydrangea and holly created green walls that enclose this garden room.

Down a short flight of steps, you pass the fountain and keep walking down to the dining area. Here, a Holly Hunt dining table and chairs await the clink of wine glasses and murmur of guests.

Two vintage metal armchairs face the jetted spa.

In other seating areas, woven chairs and an ottoman by Dedon look organic. And in the far corner hangs what looks like a hut woven from that same material—“It looks like a teardrop,” says the husband. It’s the NestRest by Dedon, a hanging pod “that is fun to crawl into,” he says.

Walking up the east side of the garden you come to a secluded area, which the wife calls “the Colorado room.” Evergreens and aspen trees offer privacy, as does wisteria climbing up a pergola. But the main draw is the jetted step-down spa pool, fragrant with botanical, all-natural bath salts. The canopy overhead can open up on a starry night or shelter you from the rain. A flow of water from a custom bronze goat’s head, created by Kansas City sculptor Mary Lynn Swafford, pours into the pool. Nearby, a pair of vintage metal armchairs from Mantiques in New York City offers a place to towel off after relaxing in the scented water.

A rustic goat sculpture appears to be munching on boxwood.

Circling back, you come to the sitting area off the family room in the back of the house that opens up completely to the garden.

“We always look forward to coming home to the peace and tranquility of this garden,” she says. m

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