Garden Photo of the Day

Jay’s Garden in the Mountains

A new garden becomes a friend

Caradonna salvia

Today Jay Sifford, an award-winning landscape designer in North Carolina, is sharing his home garden.

For the past two years, I’ve been realizing a dream that I’ve had since childhood: a mountain home and garden. I fell in love with western North Carolina and bought property at 3,300 feet, just two hours from my weekday home in Charlotte. My mountain garden is Zone 6b; the Charlotte garden is Zone 8a. I call my mountain house and garden “Rhodwood,” named for the 500 or so mature rhododendrons on the property. I also have a stream with rapids out back. The house is a dogtrot—that is, two separate sides with a common roof and a breezeway in the middle. It is stained black, with a black metal roof. I felt that a black house would be a moody yet perfect backdrop for my garden.

The front yard had to be cleared for the septic field, so I took this as an opportunity to have my first-ever full-sun garden. I’ve designed them for others over the years but have never had one for myself. I had to be prudent in selecting plants with root systems that would be compatible with septic fields. I’m a city boy, so there was a huge learning curve!

Here are some photos of the front garden. It’s a stylized meadow, envisioned as a large canvas. I placed a seating area at the low point and had to build a berm along the road to keep water from running across the septic field. I love conifers, so I planted the perimeter of the garden with those. As I always tell my clients, I love trees that raise arthritis to an art form, so the funkier and more contorted they are, the more I love them. The conifers provide structure; the grasses and perennials provide kinetic movement, color, and texture, and they attract wildlife. I planted large masses in a distinct pattern, then “muddied” the lines a bit. Major players are 135 ‘Karley Rose’ pennisetum (Pennisetum orientale ‘Karley Rose’), 85 ‘Caradonna’ salvia (Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’, Zones 4–8), 110 ‘Zagreb’ coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata ‘Zagreb’, Zones 3–9), 50 mountain mint (Pycnanthemum sp.), 160 Liatris, 200 Camassia and 50 Rudbeckia. Minor players run the gamut.

Over the past year and a half, coinciding with the pandemic, my garden has grounded me and become a passion—and frankly, a very good friend.

garden path leading to front doorWhen building the front pathway I used an industrial grade gravel and inserted stone planks and boulders to create rhythm.

garden bed with lots of conifers and unique garden artOn axis with the entryway and the dogtrot, I have built a small island with blown-glass spears, a prostrate blue spruce, and ‘Black Scallop’ ajuga (Ajuga reptans ‘Black Scallop’, Zones 4–9). Since the house is black, I went heavy on dark foliage for continuity and drama.

yellow conifer in front of black houseView of the dark house with some of the conifers.

Caradonna salviaPurple spikes of ‘Caradonna’ salvia.

garden in front of long black houseA line of ‘Caradonna’ salvia marks the beginning of a huge mass of ‘Zagreb’ coreopsis. The coreopsis isn’t in bloom yet, but the delicate foliage is already beautiful.

trailing conifer tumbling over rocksA twisted, trailing conifer tumbles over rocks.

big masses of pants surrounded by conifersAnother view of the ‘Caradonna’ salvia and ‘Zagreb’ coreopsis working together beautifully.

Plants laid out and ready to be plantedPlants are laid out and ready to be planted as the new garden is established.

These steps lead down to the back garden, the shady counterpart of the front garden. The back space consists of a very steep slope, two natural bogs, hundreds of rhododendron, and a stream with rapids. I’ve carved out several seating areas, each with a different mood. The slope mandated carving out a set of switchback steps. This gave me the opportunity to plant a vibrant garden on the slope. Boulders and roots hold the garden in place. At the bottom of this switchback, we had to build a boardwalk to make the space walkable. At the far end of the boardwalk, an aluminum sculpture of a crouched swimmer greets you. I felt like the piece was appropriate, as he seems to me to be filled with anticipation and ready to dive into a sea of green shapes and textures. There’s also a smaller foot bridge that crosses the bog on the far end to access a pathway that runs parallel to the stream.

Japanese primulasI’ve always wanted to grow Japanese primulas (Primula japonica, Zones 4–7) but never could in my Charlotte garden. They are right at home at the edge of the bogs.


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View Comments


  1. margotnavarre 06/18/2021

    Thank you for sharing and enjoy the details of the well thought out garden mixing in nature to the scenery. I saw your garden in another publication and enjoyed every space you have designed. How are the dogs enjoying it? This in one of my favorite gardens from a gardener in the Pacific. Northwest.

    1. Jay_Sifford 06/18/2021

      Thanks so much. The dogs love it here. Truth be known, they just love riding in the car!

  2. User avater
    treasuresmom 06/18/2021

    It is all so beautiful. Amazing what you have done in that short amount of time.

  3. User avater
    user-7007816 06/18/2021

    It is amazing what you have accomplished so far. I really enjoy the "natural" feel that you have accomplished.

  4. User avater
    treasuresmom 06/18/2021

    To those who may be interested, here's a GPOD link to Jay's home in Charlotte.

  5. Cenepk10 06/18/2021

    Absolutely stunning…. I want to see part 2 of this masterpiece !!! Bravo !!!!!

  6. User avater
    bdowen 06/18/2021

    Stunning color contrasts with the yellow-greens and blue-violets, and then the black house. A beautiful enhancement of an amazing setting. Looking forward to seeing more of your work!

  7. sheila_schultz 06/18/2021

    Jay, your passion for beauty has truly come alive with your home and the gardens of Rhodwood. Every sweep of color and texture brings a visual comfort. Your dream is now your reality and I know it brings you a deep fulfillment. Kudos!

  8. Sunshine111 06/18/2021

    Nice job Jay!

  9. User avater
    simplesue 06/18/2021

    The salvia ‘Caradonna’ with the coreopsis ‘Zagreb’ is an amazing combination- any blooms that come along are just a bonus, because the foliage is stunning even without them!
    Such a paradise you've created, it's got everything- love what you did with the house, I saw your article in Southern Living, the modern earthy black is perfect.
    I found you on Pinterest and just now followed you!
    Ah I love a garden with a name, everyone should namer their gardens- Rhodwood is a cool name.
    Really enjoyed your garden!

  10. blondie3 06/18/2021

    WOW, fantastic, very beautiful, love the salvia…I love NC, happy for you to live where you want…the Rodedandrums would be a sight for the eyes

  11. blondie3 06/18/2021

    You have a very artistic eye, your garden is wonderful

  12. cheryl_c 06/18/2021

    Jay, it is so good to see what you've been up to for the past couple of years. As usual, your work is inspiring. Thanks for sharing.

  13. btucker9675 06/18/2021

    Love that gravel pathway with the narrow rectangular stones and the rocks - what a terrific idea! I am consumed by garden envy... every picture is lovely and the diver sculpture is so whimsical. Just terrific!

  14. Jay_Sifford 06/18/2021

    Thanks so much for the really nice comments. It makes me feel good to know that other people appreciate my passion.

  15. alicefleurkens 06/18/2021

    My only wish, is that you were closer so I could see it in person. Inspirational.

    1. Jay_Sifford 06/18/2021

      Thanks so much!

  16. Dee721 06/19/2021

    An absolutely fabulous garden. Are you Darrell's son?

    1. Jay_Sifford 06/20/2021

      Thank you. Yes, I am. Did you know him?

      1. Dee721 06/22/2021

        Read his columns all the time and his books. I live near Marilyn. You are very talented. I just love your gardens and all the work you put into them.

        1. Jay_Sifford 06/23/2021

          Thanks. Marilyn and Bob visited here several weeks ago. You live in a great gardening area!

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