As promised, here’s a glimpse into Rick and Shirley Griffin’s private garden in Jackson, Mississippi. Professionally, Rick works with whatever style his client prefers, but confesses to a “natural inclination to the funky”, which he allows full rein in his private garden. At work or at play, he bubbles with natural enthusiasm and creativity.
He uses lots of reclaimed material that he finds around the state and repurposes, such as his cedar tree stair rails. Parts of the garden are terraced, and edged with wine bottles “to slow down the water”.
He and Shirley built their front wall in the English style, using rounded stone rather than uniform bricks – “ it didn’t need to look perfect”. Some walkways are made from broken concrete; the driveway is designed so that “if the leaves fall on it, it looks OK”.
The railings around the raised porch are made from rebar – “I like rebar – I cut it up, then drive over it with a truck to rough it up a bit”. They’ve allowed the limbs of a vine to wrap powerfully around it and added some bottles to make it a little bit funkier.
As he says, “a back yard is a carnival”. Rick claims their outdoor furniture is chosen for comfort, but it looks pretty stylish to me.
He points out that a garden can have many different environments. When he realised that one sheltered area of his garden is almost 10 degrees warmer, he planted palm trees there. Muscadines grow on an arbour made from – you guessed it – dead cedar trees, creating a small area of shade. Flag irises just appeared in the fountain and seem to thrive there – “it had never been cleaned and seed must have fallen in the silt”.
He works with whatever materials he fancies in his private garden, including the odd throw rug of artificial turf. It may shock garden purists, but the dog loves it (the dog found them, much like the irises, by turning up one day in their garden and deciding to make it his home).
Rick’s a blues guitar player – no, only joking: I’ve always wanted to say that – Rick’s an artist. The house is full of paintings and the garden is decorated with well-placed garden art, including over 50 birdhouses. Many are prized Christmas presents from his business partner who custom makes them. The birds they attract create theatre in the garden, and catch flies.
Containers allow the couple to pack in even more plants, including a large metal horse trough and a tractor-sized tyre planter, spray painted copper. Rick uses a thick, commercial paint made for roofing. While we’re on the subject of paint, there are not many cities in the world where you can order an unofficial paint colour by name. Go in any paint store in Jackson Mississippi and ask for Rick Griffin Green and you’ll see what I mean. Rick describes it as being more of a true blue: “you need a cool colour for the south”.
Although he’s very much a collector, design elements are repeated throughout the garden, creating cohesion. Always one to ring change, he’s using a soft yellow (or green?) paint for the metal furniture in the main part of the garden. I loved the way the colour worked with the foliage of the plants, drawing the eye, providing contrast, but with synergy.
Looking out over the garden from the porch steps, you’ll see a glimpse of the fake gate and mirror, placed to create good feng shui when his daughter told him he needed to create an entrance from the East. You may have seen this in my earlier sneak peek post.
Rick’s masterly use of borrowed views creates more space in a relatively small garden. The path from his yard gate apparently goes into his neighbour’s formal front garden with lawn, and symmetrical juniper trees. Gates and paths added around the fence give the illusion that the garden continues on into neighbouring gardens. One path seems to lead out over the stream into the land at the bottom of his garden; an arbour, into the garden on the right.
Of course, the first time you visit, you’re abruptly thwarted by the faux gates and suddenly realize it’s an illusion. From then on, you can just enjoy the view – and the joyful mischief of it all. It just doesn’t occur to the average person to do this. Give Rick a questioning look and he just smiles.
Tucked away in a corner, I found another great colour. If you’ve been to Kiftsgate, it’s very close to the one threaded through that classic garden. I know Rick will give a smile of recognition when he visits Kiftsgate for the first time later this summer.
He says he likes making gardens people will use, and it shows. I was invited to my first crawfish party there recently. I’ve been a little more open to experimenting with seafood since reading AranIslandGirl’s lyrical description of lobster bake – the crawfish were delicious and I’m sure she’d have approved.
Seven Rick Griffin garden design tips:
- Every garden should have two ingredients: fire and water.
- Keep experimenting: “I rearrange my garden once a year – just the same as my daughter rearranges her house.”
- Always be on the lookout for stuff you can use or adapt. You’ll find you can incorporate a lot, provided you soften it with plants.
- Create places where the eye can rest in a busy garden.
- Position a porch out in the open for better light and air circulation.
- Never cover the front windows – they’re the eyes of the house.
- Use circles and curved lines: “Nothing in my garden is straight. God made things round: man made them square.”
Griffin & Egger Landscape Architects
Tel: (001) 601 977 0073
I would normally link to his website but I can’t find one, so I thought I’d use it as an excuse to find out how easy it is to insert a google map to show the company address (I used the instructions here):
Rick and my own sweetheart are pretty much cut out of the same cloth. Today they are creating pop up parking space gardens as part of Fondren After Five. It’s sure to be funky, so get down there if you can. I’m thousands of miles away (sorrowful look), so I’m posting this as a way to say: hope y’all have a wonderful time!
Oh, and high fives to anyone who gets the ‘Rick’s a blues guitar player’ reference.