An Outdoor Oasis

Men laying new hardwood flooring

To say Brookhaven resident Jim Lewis is passionate about gardening is an understatement; and to call his garden extraordinary simply doesnt do it justice. It was one of the highlights of last years Atlanta Botanical Garden Gardens for Connoisseurs Tour, and Lewis was honored last year with a 2003 Golden Trowel award from Garden Design magazine. He also has been featured on televisions Landscape Central and Lynette Jennings Design, and even the industrys heavy hitters like The Home Depot and Lowes regularly use Lewis garden for their photo shoots.

But its not the recognition thats kept him planting and re-planting every weekend since he bought the 1940s house nearly 13 years ago. He spotted the house on Peachtree Dunwoody Road on his route to and from his job in software and technology sales, and something about it charmed him. The house was real plain. It was ugly and unkept, but it caught my eye, he says. He decided to buy it without having seen the inside or the backyard.

Lewis dubbed the house The Holiday, for his childhood home on Holiday Drive in Nashville. And the name fits, because visitors to the ornate garden retreat feel like theyve been whisked away from the everyday world.

Originally, I started gardening as a form of relaxation and as a hobby, but as I got into it, it started expanding more and more, Lewis says. But the one reason I do it is because I love to entertain and really love watching friends and family relax in the garden. Lewis frequently entertains small groups of friends and co-workers and throws at least two large parties each year.

Relaxing is one thing guests cant help but do in Lewis garden, but it certainly isnt the only thing they enjoy. Lewis has designed the garden to include activities of all kinds, and to emulate the traditional interior spaces in a home. Ive always been interested in interior design and furnishings, he says. I just decided to take the ideas from inside and move them outside. I really wanted to create something new and unique.

Included in the garden on Lewis 1-acre lot is a full-size shuffleboard court, three patios, a stone barbecue pit, a stream that flows into a koi pond, as well as a rustic stone hot tub and spa, and a black-bottom plunge pool. Lewis even installed a cabana in the back of the garden with a restroom for guests who are enjoying the pool and hot tub.

He also built a hammock house from two large oak trees that had to be removed because of disease. The house is complete with a copper roof, ceiling fan and rain machineyes, rain machine. I extended the irrigation system to the hammock house, Lewis explains, and at any time I can turn on the switch and get the sound and effect of rain while Im sitting in the hammock. It is most peoples favorite part of the garden.

Lewis created the walls of his outdoor home with more than 15 varieties of vines, and long walkways of Pennsylvania Blue Stone, pea gravel and soldier bricks guide him through the oasis. Theres even a large granite patio Lewis calls the ballroom, that includes five granite columns and an iron chandelier. Lewis has also incorporated other interesting iron and metal architectural elements that he has picked up along the years. On weekends I might go junking, or landfill hunting, he says. I do a lot of junking, and Im known as the catalog king because a lot of the stuff I buy I get from catalogs.

But its not the manmade elements that Lewis loves most about his gardenits the ones Mother Nature created that really inspired the entire project. When I bought the house the yard was grown over with ivy and it was heavily treed. I cleared the yard down to the dirt and started from scratch, he says. I decided to come up with a garden design, but I learned the hard way. If it died, I dug it up and started again.

Lewis original idea was to have a more formal, English garden close to the house, leaving the back of the garden natural. Since then, hes planted 20 varieties of ferns; more than 75,000 individual dwarf mondos; 100 different vines20 of which climb; six varieties of Japanese maple; numerous varieties of moss, ferns and other evergreens; several different grasses; and even cacti and bamboo.

Ive gone with a primarily green palette, Lewis says. I like a lot of evergreen. I do have a lot of perennials and annual colors, but not as much as other gardeners.

So, what in the world drives a man to spend so much time and energy in his garden? Hes in the garden every weekend implementing new ideas hes envisioned, not pulling weedshe made sure of that. I really tried to go with plants that require little maintenance so I dont have to do much weeding, he says.

Although Lewis has spent countless hours crafting his property into a unique garden hideaway, he says he has not done it all alone. Krigman Landscape Group, Gomez Landscaping Company and Sweeney Gardens Inc. have done extensive work on lawn care and plant installation, as well as helping develop many of the features throughout the garden.

Lewis says he gains his satisfaction from creating a space that is so special to him and to others. I have friends who will drop by just to have lunch in my backyard, he says. Having a place right outside my backdoor to find peace, solitude and sanity is very nice.

Lewis says he thinks his garden has turned out so well because of his creativityand, sometimes, his lack of experience. I went into it pretty uneducated. If I saw something I liked, Id try it, he says. For the most part, about 80 percent of what I tried worked.

And you better believe what didnt work was quickly replaced with something that did. After all, Lewis sees his garden as an investment. I probably wont get back nearly what I have paid for this garden, he says. But its worth it. You have to look at it like self-satisfaction. I have a lot of pride in it and I really do get a return on my investment, even if its not financial.

Allison Cianci contributed to this feature.

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