Garden Photo of the Day

A Garden Jay Made in North Carolina

Making a magical space

garden pond waterfall

We’re visiting with Jay Sifford today. We’ve visited his personal gardens in North Carolina before (Summer in Jay’s Garden), but today he’s sharing a garden he created for one of his garden design clients:

I have been working with this client for over four years. She came to me wanting a contemporary garden with an Asian feel, something that would complement her contemporary home. Phase 1 is shown here. It consists of a front yard garden, carved into a hillside in full sun. She wanted to have a garden near the street, a place where she could sit in the evenings with a glass of wine and greet neighbors as they walked by. The garden is full of color and texture, functioning as an exuberant and immersive platform upon which to live out the good life.

Highlights include a seating area with stone seating wall, stone steps that are interplanted to soften the hardscape, and an Asian-inspired dry creek bed that morphs into a real waterfall that empties into a small pond. “Magical” is the most common adjective we hear used to describe this special garden.

stone steps in the gardenA staggered installation of long stone steps was necessary. They are interplanted with low spreading and mounding plants to soften the look and to provide a cohesive colorful and textural garden. The street-side area is anchored by a contorted filbert (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’, Zones 4–8).

sloped garden bed full of colorful foliage plantsA close-up of one area shows ‘Golden Pacific’ shore juniper (Juniperus conferta ‘Golden Pacific’, Zones 6–9), blue dune lyme grass (Leymus arenarius ‘Blue Dune’, Zones 3–10), ‘Orange Rocket’ barberry (Berberis thunbergii ‘Orange Rocket’, Zones 4–8), Procumbens nana juniper (Juniperus procumbens ‘Nana’, Zones 4–9), and a thunderhead pine (Pinus thunbergii ‘Thunderhead’, Zones 5–8).

vertical stone pillar amongst shrubsVertical stone pillars play nicely with the vertical path lights to create an installation that pulls elements from the home’s architecture down into the garden, particularly the porch columns.

variegated iris plants in front of garden pondI love to plant Iris ensata ‘Variegata’ (Zones 4–9). I plant it for the foliage, not the blooms. Spiky is a “happy shape” that juxtaposes mounding and horizontally growing plants for an interesting composition.

stone steps leading to front yard seating areaHere is a wider view of the main portion of the front garden that shows the context. Using the large rectangular stone steppers did not visually cut the yard in half like a solid sidewalk would have done.

garden beds leading to garden pondOne of the most fascinating features of the garden is the Asian-inspired dry creek bed that turns into a running waterfall. The stones, meticulously stacked on edge, create the illusion of cascading flowing water.

garden pond waterfallThis photo shows the transition point between dry creek bed and “wet waterfall.” The engineering was a bit tricky but works well.

garden pond with conifer growing over itThe 2-foot-high waterfall plunges into a small but deep pond. This creates some wonderful ambient noise that adds to the tranquil feeling of the garden, even though it was exposed to the street.

rock garden with various low-growing plantsHere is a glimpse of phase 2 in the backyard. The client asked for a miniature mountain range that included a waterfall. I was a bit skeptical as I thought to myself: “This could either go really right or really wrong.” Fortunately, it went “really right.” The mountains are planted in a way that mimics green masses of trees, with ‘Blue Rug’ juniper (Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Rug’, Zones 6–7) to pick up the blue color of the Blue Ridge Mountains and dwarf mondo (Ophiopogon japonicus ‘Nanus’, Zones 6–11), along with black scallop ajuga (Ajuga reptans ‘Black Scallop’, Zones 3–10) to simulate shadows on the mountain side. Eventually this area will host a blackened cedar Japanese pavilion that will be cantilevered out over the large U-shaped pond.


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View Comments


  1. User avater
    treasuresmom 05/09/2022

    Love it all but really like the front garden as it goes down to the street.

  2. fromvirginia 05/09/2022

    Stunning. I love the texture and color from foliage, which guarantees year round interest. The engineering behind this is complex but the finished product makes it look natural. Thanks for sharing.

  3. User avater
    cynthia2020 05/09/2022

    Hi, Jay. So much skill and patience went into your design. I enjoyed learning about the challenges and the process of creating on this site.
    Glad to read of the tip about the Iris ensata... was reading about it a few days ago when trying to think of a solution for a site that floods and is close to drip line of a roof in zone 5.

  4. sheila_schultz 05/09/2022

    Jay, your artistry with natural materials has no equal. I only wish I could see this installation in person to visually take it in as a whole and touch the different elements. She is obviously a home owner that appreciates the unique beauty you can provide. Bravo!

  5. User avater
    simplesue 05/09/2022

    That garden is wonderful!
    Mission accomplished- I want to drop in for a glass of wine and visit, just to sit in this amazing garden!
    Great job, great design- perfection!

  6. btucker9675 05/09/2022

    You are truly a gifted garden designer and the homeowner seems like she must be fun to work with - very creative ideas. This is really a wonderful front garden and I look forward to seeing the back when completed!

  7. daviddd 08/12/2023

    Stunning. I love the texture and color from foliage, which guarantees year round interest.
    Cheers To Corporate headshot

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