Sadly Mr. Ryan Gainey passed away on July 29, 2016.
He will be honored at the Atlanta History Center on 8/31/2016 at 6:30 pm.
Click Here for More Details.



A Hilltop Garden - Knoxville, Tennessee


The property sits on acreage overlooking the Tennessee River and the foothills of the Appalachian mountains, the apotheosis of a bucolic landscape. The borrowed landscape is one of indigenous trees, including deciduous and evergreens.

My client and I are in our third year of collaboration on the property. We created a loggia garden, a formal space, with a garden pavilion on axis to the entrance from the motor court. The clipped boxwood balls and soothing green palette create a restful, almost ceremonial, atmosphere. Four large trimmed hollies are surrounded by clipped golden boxwood, and in those beds are the only color which appears in this garden.

Then we added a pergola where I created the sort of juxtaposition for which I am known, a rustic pergola full of vines and herbaceous plants, juxtaposed with the formal lawn.

I had sent my clients to Europe to view the gardens at Hestercombe, the brilliant work of plantswoman and designer Gertrude Jekyll and architect Sir Edwin Lutyens. That pergola became the inspiration for the one at Hilltop Garden, including the clairvoyette, the stacked stone columns, the rustic beams, and the stone path. The pergola has spring seasonal color with all shades of purple tulips mixed with lady's mantle, followed by late spring-blooming herbaceous plants like foxgloves and hesperis. It's planted with yellow-blooming roses, Reve d'Or, and native purple wisteria, and clematis in shades of lavender and purple.

The full effect of all this purple and gold is enhanced with Aster carolinianus, a climbing aster which tends to want to grow almost as a ground cover. I trained them up the columns so each column is completely enclosed with lavender flowers to go along with the fall color scheme, something I had never seen done.
This is so important, understanding the use of plant material as an element in design.

Our next garden project was to develop a garden on the outside of the pergola with the view overlooking the rivers and the Appalachian foothills. Stone retaining walls and step embrace a late-blooming garden that pulls one out to the fall color seen across the horizon. Plantings include Chrysanthemum x morifolium 'Ryan's Yellow', mixed with Salvia leucantha, Solidago 'Fireworks', and Aster oblongifolius 'Rachel Jackson'.

A note about these plants. Goodness Grows here in Georgia lists Chrysanthemum x morifolium 'Ryan's Yellow' as "another of Ryan Gainey's valuable discoveries". This is an old single-flowering chrysanthemum, probably once forced in the days when forced chrysanthemums didn't mean big helmets of flowers available any day of the year at your local grocery store. They were hothouse plants which got planted out into somebody's yard, and which still exist in a lot of old gardens. All I did was put it back out into full view.

Aster oblongifolius 'Rachel Jackson' is a special selection from the garden of Rachel Jackson at the Hermitage in Tennessee. I found this plant when visiting there about 30 years ago. The garden there is one of the earliest Southern gardens to be preserved, and in wandering the grounds and keeping my eyes open, I thought, "What is this?" It was the latest blooming aster I'd ever seen, with beautiful bluish-purple flowers and a habit of naturally tumbling. I lingered behind the group I was with. There was a wizened old man propping himself up on a hoe nearby. When everybody moved out of eye and ear sight, I said, "Can I have some of that?" He replied, "There ain't nobody here but us," and that's how I got mine. And again, now it's back in the trade and available to all.

Expanding the pergola garden allowed us to expand the garden out into the landscape with an aerial hedge on a stick, modeled after the one at Dumbarton Oaks even to the use of plant material, Carpinus caroliniana. The hedge serves as a colonnade, complementing the shape of the walls. The retaining wall was faced with stucco to match the walls of the house, and has been planted with climbing hydrangeas for beautiful fall color, and a combination of Hydrangea paniculata 'Limelight', Hydrangea quercifolia, and Hydrangea arborescens 'Ryan Gainey'. When you promenade through this arcade, taking in the views and the vista, and with all those white-flowering hydrangeas at your feet, you will have the illusion that you're walking on the top of clouds as you overlook the borrowed landscape of the Tennessee river.

In completing this garden we added a focal point. I decided it would be a great opportunity to combine patterns, and so I installed a hexagonal carved limestone font, inside a hexagonal clipped hedge, but with an interior round hedge to echo the round pattern of stone on which the font sits. Again, rather than have the font sit in an exposed basin of water, I chose to have the water flow out of the font onto a pattern of stone and filter through before recirculating. The interior of the round portion of the clipped hedge is planted in forget-me-nots and pink flowered lily-flowered tulips, and in the space between the round and the hexagonal hedges are planted Rosa 'White Pet' and Digatalis purpurea alba.