Secret Garden: A Spectacular Northside Yard

Various styles blend together to create a unique and harmonious experience in Carmel.

Few people are privy to this, but Carmel is home to one of the most spectacular gardens in the area. The backyard, which spans close to three acres, is a compilation of several different garden types—structured French, traditional English Country, Italian Renaissance, and naturalistic. Each style has its own distinct charm.

The owner’s vision for her dream yard gradually took shape over the years, gaining momentum with every trip she took to Italy and the English countryside—she’s been to each country at least five times. In between visits, she pored over European gardening magazines.
“I love the gardens in England and Italy,” she says. “And that’s what I wanted to accomplish here. My garden’s probably more English than Italian, but the statues and columns give it more of an Italian flair.”

Twelve years ago, after she retired and she and her husband moved to their current home, the owner was finally able to orchestrate the space that reflected her unique vision and passion for European-style gardens. Within a year, most of the pieces of this amazing yard were in place.

“You won’t see a garden like this anywhere in Indiana,” says Lowell Rolsky, president of Pro Care Horticultural Services, who consulted on the project, designed the landscape, and performed some of the installation. “It has views that are individual spaces in and of themselves, and they all flow together to become a very interesting and very welcoming backyard.”

The property's creek is one of several water elements.
The property’s creek is one of several water elements.

Uniting the landscape & hardscape

This garden has something for everyone wrapped into one pleasing package. Boxwood hedges and an impressive custom-built brick-and-limestone fountain define the quadrants in the structured rose garden. Formal areas give way to more-casual kitchen gardens where rosemary, basil, tomatoes, and strawberries intermingle with a variety of sun-loving perennials. An extensive wisteria arbor, with an ornate Haddonstone bench tucked into it, leads into a shade garden. The far edge drops off into a wooded ravine and features pines, shade plants, and a double pond that ends in a waterfall.

The owner’s must-haves included walkways; multiple fountains, so the soothing sound of water can be heard throughout; and Haddonstone urns and benches imported from England.

Well-defined paths make it easy to meander from one area to another, and statues of Roman gods and goddesses and limestone Doric columns are sprinkled throughout. Other hardscape items— such as an iron gazebo supported by Corinthian columns and centered above a Haddonstone cherub fountain and an 18th-century twig-patterned concrete bridge, imported from a garden in London—dot the landscape and delight the eyes.

“All the ornamental pieces in the yard give you something else to look at—something else to say ‘wow’ to,” Rolsky says.

When it came to plantings, the homeowner’s goal was to have something blooming at all times. Crabtrees, irises, and peonies are among the harbingers of spring. In the summer, roses, black-eyed Susans, and verbena take center stage. Anemones, asters, Rose of Sharon, and late-blooming hydrangeas add color to the fall landscape.

“In the winter, the boxwoods and the urns provide structure, and it’s actually quite beautiful,” the owner says.

Being surrounded by such striking beauty makes visitors hard-pressed to name their most-admired spot. That’s not a problem for the homeowner, though.

“My favorite is the formal area with the fountain and the roses,” she says. “I love to sit out there on the patio in the evening, just relaxing and reading the newspaper. Nobody knows I have this back here. It’s my secret garden.”

The dining area offers a prime view of the grounds.
The dining area offers a prime view of the grounds.

Back to her roots

Growing up on a farm in Northern Indiana made the homeowner no stranger to hard work. And to accomplish something of this magnitude took more than just a little TLC. She threw herself into the work, even clearing out the ravine, digging out the creek, and placing the large rocks in the bottom of it herself. Now she devotes three “really hard weeks” each spring and fall to whip it into shape.

“After that, I work at my own pace,” she says, spending an entire day or just a few hours, depending on her schedule. Most days, when the weather accommodates, she’s out in the garden.”

People don’t understand how peaceful and fulfilling gardening is,” she says, adding that she’s not a master gardener, although many people assume she is.

Rolsky understands the allure of the soil.

“Her willingness and desire to be out there on a daily basis to make sure she maintains the garden she wants is what’s always been special about that garden,” he says. “She has a passion for making something that is unique—that inspires us and challenges us to be on top of our game.”

The homeowner inherited her love of gardening from her grandmother, an accomplished horticulturist known for her beautiful roses. The garden contains red-and-yellow daylilies and pinkish-purple perennial verbena that once bloomed in her grandmother’s garden.

“Those are near and dear to my heart because they were hers, and they’re about 80 years old,” she says. “Whenever we moved, I took them with me. It’s like I transplanted my grandma everywhere.”

While the homeowner does virtually all of the garden work herself, Rolsky helps with special projects, such as converting a bronze statue she purchased at R. Beauchamp Antiques into a fountain that is the centerpiece of the front yard. The pond of the water feature is automatically refilled as needed through the irrigation system that Pro Care maintains. Two years ago, Rolsky converted the backyard patio area into an outdoor kitchen.

“We also like to bring something to the table that she’s never seen or experienced and that she and her guests can appreciate,” he says. Some of the more unusual plantings Rolsky has introduced are variegated cypresses and leucodermis pines, which add unusual textures to the garden, and roses such as Oh So Easy, a dwarf variety with paprika-colored blooms.

The home's outdoor-living spaces provide all the convenience of the indoors: comfy seating, shade, and kitchen equipment.
The home’s outdoor-living spaces provide all the convenience of the indoors: comfy seating, shade, and kitchen equipment.

A feast for the eyes and the palate

From May through October, the homeowners enjoy sharing their fantastic backyard setting with friends and family, hosting everything from casual cookouts to formal sit-down dinners. For more elaborate meals, guests are seated at tables in the garden areas, and if they’re lucky, they’ll catch a glimpse of statues decked out with a whimsical touch—Athena is often adorned with a string of pearls or a tiara. On these occasions, the outdoor kitchen can be used as a prep area or a space to serve appetizers or desserts. For smaller, more laidback gatherings, guests can dine on the patio.

Rolsky added onto the original brick patio, matching the existing brick of the English Country Tudor home. He also supplied new limestone along the patio to ensure that everything flowed together and looked like it had always been there.

The homeowners wanted a full slate of high-quality amenities to maximize the use of the space—a grill, side burners, warming and storage drawers, a refrigerator, a sink, an ice chest, and bins for condiments. All are by Twin Eagles and purchased through Pro Care.

“The outdoor-kitchen area is one of her husband’s favorite spots because he enjoys cooking out,” Rolsky says. “It’s his dream come true.”

But her dream space is the entire backyard.

“When we had it basically all done, I was amazed that I had done this and that it was really mine,” she says. “I still think that some days.”



This article appeared in IM Home, a 2015 special publication.