Tour a Grandmother's Fairy-Tale Garden
An English-style garden with fairies, faces and other whimsical details delights a gardener and her granddaughters.
Atlanta Master Gardener Katie Sanstead designed a fairy-tale garden for her two young granddaughters, who stroll the paths and create adventures for their winged figurines. Sanstead has thoughtfully created a space with children in mind who can let their imaginations run wild in the English-style garden and storybook-like shed. For a grandmother deeply invested in gardening, the opportunity for the next generation to learn about nature and gardening is an added bonus.
“I’m teaching them how to garden,” says Sanstead. “I wanted to teach them about plants and about nature, and about the cycles of life and the seasons. I want them to know the names of the trees and I’m teaching them — by sight and by sound — the birds.”
Her vision for the Atlanta-area property was big and challenging. When she and her husband, Bob, purchased the 1940s English cottage in Marietta, there was a chain-link fence surrounding the home and garden and a total of two plants. The heavy tree cover — some of the pecan and oak trees were believed to be planted more than 100 years ago — dictated that it be a woodland garden, which fit with the fantasy theme.
This “granite altar” was already in the yard and now serves as a spot for containers and a bar when entertaining. Katie Sanstead uses shades of green and textures, including mondo grass and liriope that were in the back of the lot. “You’re trying to create interest, but you want one plant to compliment another plant. You want them to work together in harmony, just like in decorating,” she says.
Bursts of Color
As soon as this Atlanta cottage, with whitewashed brick, came on the market, Katie Sanstead told her husband she wanted to buy it and have the outdoor landscape match the English design. They added the cobblestone driveway, which is bordered by annuals and flowering shrubs such as deutzia, clematis, 'Georgia Blue' speedwell, 'Black and Blue' salvia, cranesbill and forsythia.
A statute of St. Fiacre – the patron saint of gardeners – holds a prominent spot in the front of the English cottage. Behind the home, the garden has smaller sculptures of St. Fiacre and St. Francis, the patron saint of nature. “You need all the help you can get,” Katie Sanstead says.
Located on a busy street, the cottage catches the attention of drivers and passersby with the blue door. The color is based on the hue of 'Grace Ward' lithodora, and it also matches the door of the potting shed/playhouse behind the home. A lion head doorknocker represents the English influence that is consistent with the style of the cottage and garden.
The garden’s design, including a fountain in the center and a fire pit in one corner, was created by Katie Sanstead, an Atlanta retired interior designer. A circular gravel driveway runs through the garden, with granite used for the border. The fountain’s lion head motif fits with the English look of the garden.
A tiny bench in the butterfly garden—one of just two places where the yard gets sun—is for her granddaughters, who have their own garden tools. This area is a pollinator garden, with periwinkle, pentas, lantana, peony, phlox and Joe Pye weed attracting hummingbirds, butterflies and bees.
Prepared for Gardening
This potting shed was in bad shape, but Bob Sanstead added beadboard for character, painted and installed electricity so Katie Sanstead and her granddaughters can continue to work or play there as the sun sets. The building also serves as a studio for Katie, who makes nature-inspired wreaths and floral arrangements and has easy access to holiday decorations.
New Life for Old Shed
In creating a garden for her granddaughters, Katie Sanstead made the existing shed a focal point with new paint and blue French doors (that echo the color on the main home's front door), which replaced solid metal doors in an uninspiring green. Around the garden, birdhouses are on stands crafted by her husband, Bob, who also added beadboard and electricity to the shed-turned-playhouse.
When dreaming up ideas for her English-style garden, Katie Sanstead collected pictures of small bridges. To deal with a wet section of the lot, her husband Bob dug a swell to drain the water, and they added an arched slate bridge. He also built the latticework for the Clematis armandii growing on the side of the shed/playhouse. The garden is accessorized with items reflecting her Celtic heritage, such as a cross and a Celtic circle just beyond the bridge.