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.



The Garden of Poetry and Prose - Decatur, Georgia


My garden is a cottage garden as befits the architecture and history of the turn-of-the-last century bungalow which is its center and its anchor. In the 23 years I've owned this property, the garden spaces have evolved into a series of rooms that relate to the house, and to each other.
  • The Front Garden
  • The Visitor's Garden
  • The Dry Wall and Folly
  • The Terrace
  • The Borders
  • The Temple Garden
  • The Oval
  • The Rose Arbor

When people see the variety of garden pictures I've created here, they think the garden must be five acres big. In truth, it is not even an acre. Visitors are overcome with the complexity, but truly it is a series of pictures that take every advantage of the space and the site.

It is a cottage garden, but one with roots in all of garden history. Its design structure is formal, with its roots in the Renaissance, one of the most influential periods of all history. Look at how the Italians laid out their gardens with patterns and integrated them into the agrarian landscape with their orangeries and outbuildings. Look at their inclusion of ruins and their interest in mythological characters, the themes they display in sculpture and their use of water. Being a student of all that, I have developed a garden that is a reflection of my passion. I have my temple. I have my folly. I have my orangerie which is my glass house. I have patterns in boxwood, patterns in stonework. I have views and overlooks and water.

The entire garden is perhaps 150' by 150', a small enough space for the eight garden rooms listed above, plus the connecting passageways and spaces and arbors that transition from one distinctive area to another. Each garden room is distinctive from the other by virtue of its architectural features, its use of plant material and architectural material. And yet they are compatible. The garden flows and moves.

The greatest obstacle in creating this garden was that in the beginning, I did not have knowledge in garden making. Knowledge is gained by doing and observing. And so I started observing and watching and looking at combinations and how big things got and what could be manipulated and how it could be manipulated. I was blessed with an incredible setting in which to learn, a property that gives me everything from full sun to shaded understory beneath an ancient Quercus alba. The challenge was to learn what would grow in each area. These past twenty years have been about choice - choice of plant material, choice of what you do with it and how you combine it with other plants, and how you combine each of these rooms into a total picture which stays together as a unit. The challenge is to look at the whole as if it were a painting or a puzzle, to go upstairs and peer out windows or down the street and look back, to look down on it, walk through it, and experience it completely.

This garden picture features the two magnificent trees on my property, my magnificent white oak, and in the background my native elm, and is infused with exotic plants like that Cedrus deodar 'Cashmere', ferns and cycads and bromeliads. It's all about layering plant materials, creating a palimpsest that is the layering of nature and this place, and the history of me and how I've evolved as a designer. Like any good designer, I'm constantly in evolution, and my garden is constantly changing. Anything you see in any of these photographs, don't expect to see it if you come tomorrow.

My garden work, and my life, is infused with and influenced by the seasons. These temples which grace the back of the fountain on my terrace are collected as though they were gathered in an ancient Greek village. Each temple is carved with the symbols of the season - fiddlehead ferns for spring, sunflowers for summer, corn for autumn, and oak leaves and acorns for the winter.

Tucked into my terrace wall is a niche housing an architectural remnant from an old church. Something I like to do, as an exercise in combining plant material as well as providing an excuse to wander the garden and really look at what Nature has provided, is to create vignettes with flowers and foliage of the season. These are all flowers in bloom in the month of December in my garden, the essence of a Southern winter.

The folly was created of rustic robinia and recycled tin from an original outbuilding built on the property in 1922. In the foreground, Cedrus deodar and a gingko in full fall color.

There is a walkway which that leads you to the part of the garden laid out in four garden rooms: the temple, the arbors, the oval, and the borders. It ends in a lower garden which is the newest addition to the property and is very much in process. You see another touch of the exotic, my hardy palm, Trachycarpus fortunei.

The temple garden is filled with plantings in terra cotta pots, paved with gravel for ease of upkeep, and crowned with an iron arbor. You might call it a temple to dining al fresco. The table base is a stone urn, commissioned for my own garden, and the forerunner of the magnificent stone urn that now serves as a focal point at the community of Serenbe.

The borders are probably the most photographed garden room on the property. They form a long axis with beds that feature roses and flowering shrubs, self-sowing annuals and some bedding in. And by bedding in I mean integrating annuals such as foxgloves and forget-me-nots and Sweet William so that they appear they came up by themselves, as opposed to "bedding out" which is what people do to put color in their garden in the summer.

A typical vignette from the borders has hydrangea to extend the season of bloom, and a bird feeder inspired by an old garden structure, which I saw and photographed and then designed this feeder to provide a tangible remembrance.

I have a cottage garden, but there is a great sense of formality created by the use of clipped box. The strong structure the boxwood provides allows my garden to show its elegant bones, even in the winter months.