Tour a Grandmother's Fairy-Tale Garden

An English-style garden with fairies, faces and other whimsical details delights a gardener and her granddaughters.

Bursts of Color

Bursts of Color

An English-style cottage garden in Atlanta.

Photo by: Photo by Angela West

Photo by Angela West

An English-style cottage garden in Atlanta.

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.

The Face in the Tree

Sculptures keep a watchful eye on Katie Sanstead’s Atlanta garden. This fiberglass sculpture, purchased by her daughter, is nestled in the crook of a water oak tree at one entrance. “When the sun shines through his eyes, his eyes light up,” she says.

Photo By: Photo by Angela West

Saving the Birdhouse

The garden’s five birdhouses also have cottage and English-style looks. This birdhouse was blown down by the wind, but it still serves as a feeder. If you look closely, you’ll see where a woodpecker left his mark trying to make the hole big enough to enter.

Photo By: Photo by Angela West

Unspoiled Paths

Slate stones found on this Atlanta property were moved to create paths for strolling through the lush woodland garden.

Photo By: Photo by Angela West

Natural Decor

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.

Photo By: Photo by Angela West

Fit for Tiny Creatures

When Katie Sanstead’s young granddaughters are visiting, they play with fairies that flit around to tiny houses in the woodland garden. The houses are set amid shade-tolerant plants.

Photo By: Photo by Angela West

Celtic Influences

The garden reflects Katie Sanstead’s Celtic heritage. An intricate piece of pottery was a birthday gift from her husband, Bob, who purchased it from an Atlanta-area nursery.

Photo By: Photo by Angela West

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.

Photo By: Photo by Angela West

Garden Protector

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.

Photo By: Photo by Angela West

Bold Hue

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.

Photo By: Photo by Angela West

The Little Touches

The quirky collection of faces includes this carved creation, which is Katie Sanstead’s favorite. She’s mounted the small sculpture on a dogwood tree that grows up through the deck.

Photo By: Photo by Angela West

Arbor Crafted With Love

Katie and Bob Sanstead purchased their English cottage in 2009 and transformed the rundown yard into a woodland garden. Katie, a master gardener, took pictures of arbors she saw on a vacation to Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard, and Bob built one for her.

Photo By: Photo by Angela West

Wooded, Whimsical View

The deck is built around a dogwood tree, providing much-needed shade from the Georgia sun, and making a perfect spot for drinking coffee or dining outside. Each spring, Katie Sanstead says the dogwood creates an “umbrella of flowers.”

Photo By: Angela West

Deck Displays

On the back of the cottage, Katie Sanstead displays her collection of face sculptures, some with Celtic and English styles. The pieces were picked up on trips to France, Ireland, Germany, England and Scotland, and one face, made out of redwood, is from California’s Muir Woods.

Photo By: Photo by Angela West

Keeping Watch

A carved face—one of many in the garden—is perfectly positioned near the base of the metal spiral staircase to the deck. “I think he’s really funny because he’s watching you go up the stairs,” Katie Sanstead says.

Photo By: Photo by Angela West

Sculptural Touches

Carved and sculpted faces add to the sense of fantasy and whimsy in the garden and on the deck. Some have Celtic and English influences, purchased on overseas trips, and others are made by artists, including Christine Sibley.

Photo By: Photo by Angela West

Woodland 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.

Photo By: Photo by Angela West

Flight of Fantasy

A spirited fairy—who looks as if she would give Tinker Bell a fight—stands alone on one side of the house, greeting people as they park on the cobblestone driveway. The metal sculpture is a favorite of Katie Sanstead’s granddaughters.

Photo By: Photo by Angela West

Butterfly 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.

Photo By: Photo by Angela West

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.

Photo By: Photo by Angela West

The Bottle Tree

For her own take on the bottle tree—believed to keep out evil spirits—Katie Sanstead used an old hat rack. The jewel-toned bottles are from countries around the world, such as Germany. “When I find a neat bottle … I save it,” she says.

Photo By: Photo by Angela West

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.

Photo By: Photo by Angela West

Quaint Character

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.

Photo By: Photo by Angela West

Kid-Friendly Spaces

The homeowners' granddaughters have their personalized chairs at the table in the garden playhouse, which also holds holiday and floral decorations. The girls take the fairies around the yard, making up adventures along the way.

Photo By: Photo by Angela West

Garden Poetry

Garden statuary in this Atlanta garden includes a floral-themed poem by garden designer Ryan Gainey, known internationally for his work. Around the statuary, is 'Praying Hands' hosta, one of the more rare plants in this English-style garden.

Photo By: Photo by Angela West

Circle of Life

Whimsical objects can be found throughout Katie Sanstead's woodland garden in metro Atlanta.

Photo By: Photo by Angela West

Next Up

Take a Virtual Tour of Charleston's Historic Gardens

Stroll down Chareston, S.C.'s historic streets and take in the views of some of the most beautiful private gardens in the world—all without leaving your home.

Garden Tour: A Shade Garden in Atlanta

Tour this charming personal garden that makes great use of a sloped and shady backyard.

Road Trip: The Atlanta Botanical Garden

Anyone stopping in the city would be strongly advised to check out this local treasure.

Asheville, North Carolina, Is a Garden Mecca

These hills are alive with farm to table cuisine and a thriving garden culture.

Southeast Meditation Garden

Here's a landscape plan for a peaceful, private garden sanctuary that shines throughout the seasons.

A Southeast Sensory Garden Plan

Choose these plants and flowers to create a garden founded on the senses.

Florida Meditation Garden Plan

Create a little bit of heaven in your backyard: In this landscape design, bamboo panels and native plants create a private garden retreat.

A Florida Sensory Garden Plan

Use this guide to create a stimulating, sensory garden.

Landscaping Ideas: Take a Chicago Garden Tour

Find design ideas and inspiration in this personal garden.

A Florida Fruit Garden Plan

Kumquats, figs, key limes, blueberries and navel oranges are just some of the fruits you'll harvest in this beautifully landscaped garden retreat.