At Home in Arkansas:
Your home, built in the late 1920s on a lot in the middle of the city, wasn’t always this outdoor-oriented. Did the garden or guesthouse exist?
When I bought it, the guesthouse was just a garage with a little upstairs apartment, and there was no garden. I needed a place to relax from my busy schedule and enjoy some privacy, and I love gardens.
AHIA: Where did you begin in the transformation?
RM: With the garden’s structure: the walkways and the basic plants. I gave it formal bones, using hawthorns and boxwoods that will remain structural even in winter. Then I added in the other plants, like hostas and ferns. Italians say 80 percent of a garden should be evergreens and water, while the English prefer more flowers. I sort of have an overgrown English garden with an Italian structure.
AHIA: It seems to be strategically divided into separate living spaces.
RM: Since there’s not room for much of a vista, I created perspective with a walkway that extends back to a 19th-century iron gate, and that pathway is intersected by another walkway with seating areas on both ends. Creating different sections visually makes it appear to have different rooms.
AHIA: Is there a rhyme or reason to your outdoor furnishings?
RM: When it comes to garden statuary and things, I want them to be either real or really interesting. The table is made from a piece of granite and an old piece of iron. There’s an old vintage iron chair. There are big olive jars filled with plants lying around. They’re all things that I love, for their scale or uniqueness. I don’t really have any sets. If I’m drawn to something, I make it work.
AHIA: How does your garden change seasonally?
RM: The color palette is based on sunlight, with softer colors and textures in the shade and brighter pinks, oranges and purples in the sun. In the spring there are daffodils and primroses, then it turns into irises and lilies, then the roses come along. And later, the summery blooms like Artemisia. I just rake and let the garden become what it wants to. It changes constantly.
AHIA: Did the garden influence the guesthouse in any way?
RM: The guesthouse was really an afterthought. I originally just planned on the upstairs guestroom, but every time I looked at the garage that was originally there, I thought, “I’m never going to use it.” So I fixed it up and replaced the driveway with an allee of butterfly bush.
AHIA: What were your main design goals?
RM: To clean it up and edit it out, keeping it really simple. If I have out-of-town guests, I give them a gate key so they can come and go as they please. But it’s really intended as a getaway for me. It’s so nice to go out there with my dogs, turn on the fire, pour a glass of wine and just relax.
AHIA: Like your garden, it has a charming European feel.
RM: I wanted it to resemble a French house, built with stone. There’s a wonderful cross-breeze that keeps it cool in the summer, which the stone downstairs enhances as well. I used a native Arkansas stone, and the fireplace mantle was brought in from the South of France. Upstairs, the headboard is actually a pair of doors from a French chateau.
AHIA: How did you develop your love of outdoor living?
RM: I fell in love with plants because of my grandmother. She worked her yard, and it was so charming. She was on a budget, but she did it and it was just wonderful. I visited her quite a bit when I was young, and she would pamper me, cooking me my favorite food and letting me help her pick flowers. I had free rein, learning about trees and nature from her.
AHIA: What has gardening taught you?
RM: Every year I learn something new. To be a good gardener, you have to be patient, and I’m not—I want instant gratification. Gardening has taught me a little bit of patience, but I’m still learning.
Design, furnishings Marshall Clements, Little Rock
Paint Benjamin Moore, locations statewide
Plants Cantrell Gardens Nursery, Hocott’s Garden Center, The Good Earth Garden Center, Little Rock
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At Home in Arkansas offers your first look inside the state's most inspiring homes in a range of styles. The magazine features monthly advice from the experts to help you plan your next remodel or redesign, entertain at home or find Arkansas' best kept secrets. It is your definitive guide to the state's finest homes and gardens, design professionals, fashion and entertaining essentials, and premier shops and showrooms.