Garden Tour: A Shade Garden in Atlanta

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

Floral Passage

A stone path helps define the hillside and gives a sense of taking an amble through the woods.

Photo by: Image courtesy of Ben Rollins

Image courtesy of Ben Rollins

A stone path helps define the hillside and gives a sense of taking an amble through the woods.

Atlanta homeowners Tom Fulkerson and Robert Dick's 1923 brick bungalow is tucked into an historic neighborhood on Atlanta's southside bursting with color at the peek of dogwood and azalea season. "This had been described as a woodland garden," says Fulkerson, leading guests on the winding path through the backyard.

The steep, shady backyard garden might be a frustration to some gardeners. But to these homeowners, it's a creative opportunity. As a little boy growing up in Kentucky, Fulkerson learned his gardening chops from an elderly neighbor, "she taught me everything I know about gardening," he says, like making sure you are digging holes that are big enough when planting, the necessity of dead heading and putting the right plant in the right place. The beautiful results of that apprenticeship are clear in this woodland paradise, brimming with birds and charming stone paths and a sense of escape as you amble through purple vinca, potted red begonias and groves of azaleas.

Native azaleas and more recent white and pink arrivals dot the hillside through which Fulkerson has carved a path with stone and pea gravel. "I like for each level to have a different focus," says Fulkerson. Clematis winds up to encircle the lattice railing on a small deck (severely damaged in a grill fire since these photos were taken) outfitted with a cafe table on one side for al fresco meals and an outdoor living room arrangement of chairs and coffee table on the other, perfect for entertaining. 

At the top of the hillside is a koi pond surrounded by yellow irises which dominates one plateau in this gently terraced yard. At the base of the hill is a downy carpet of pine straw that Fulkerson uses to amend the soil and create the sensation of an outdoor room. The yard itself is a blend of tradition and quirkiness including a glade of 'Knock Out' roses, a butterfly bush and snowball bush, all watched over by a terra-cotta figure dubbed "Zeus" who hangs on the brick wall that supports the home's driveway. At various times in the garden groves of orange daylilies, peonies and oakleaf hydrangeas are in bloom. The front of the house in this walkable neighborhood is punctuated by zinnias, pansies, lantana and a Japanese maple that adds a beautiful dose of color and interest to the yard. Fulkerson uses creeping fig on his front stair risers as "a great cover for ugly steps," a design technique he picked up from houses in Charleston and Savannah.

Fulkerson is out working in the garden almost every day. Tending the garden is a way of maintaining its beauty, but is also a way to unwind from the stresses of city life. "I could be out here every day doing something," says Fulkerson. "There's always weeding to be done," he laughs.