Garden glory

Home + Garden

March 29, 2024

Exterior of Rod Blair and Melissa Kimberly-Blair's home

A narrow, sloping lot in Myers Park is transformed into a lively, layered garden that’s a wildlife haven and an owner’s retreat.

by Cathy Martin | photographs by Dustin and Susie Peck

There’s much to love about living in Southern California, where a Mediterranean-style climate offers plenty of sunshine and low humidity. So when Rod Blair and Melissa Kimberly-Blair relocated from Los Angeles to Charlotte 10 years ago, some things — like our hot, humid summers and the boisterous mating sounds of cicadas — took a little getting used to.

For Rod, an avid gardener, moving to Charlotte also presented an opportunity to experiment with new plant varieties.

“He wanted a garden that felt immersive and a space where he could grow all the things he wasn’t able to grow before,” says landscape designer Jay Sifford, who was brought in to add layering and texture to the garden in a multiphase project spanning nearly a decade. 

The house, an infill project in Myers Park by homebuilder Saussy Burbank, is located on a narrow, pie-shaped parcel on two lots encompassing about a third of an acre. The couple initially worked with local landscape architect J’Nell Bryson to install the hardscaping — including the brick walls, terrace and fountain — and to select and plant most of the large backyard trees. 

Drawn to Sifford’s implementation of different shapes and textures in his landscaping projects, the couple reached out to him in 2015 to oversee the next phase of the design. “Jay’s design and style is right up our alley,” Melissa says, adding that Rod particularly admired his use of Japanese maples and conifers.

“One of our challenges was to make it feel more like a garden and not so much like a stark space with big brick walls,” Sifford says. Privacy was also a concern. “They’re kind of in a fish bowl, because the houses behind them are all two-story and they’re more elevated.” 

Bryson had planted a row of fast-growing conifers across the back of the lot, creating a strong foundation. “I took advantage of the large cryptomerias that [Bryson] had planted to give them a little bit of privacy, and then I added a lot of tricks of my own,” says Sifford. Shorter shrubs and low-lying perennials were planted to draw the eye downward and away from the surrounding homes while the larger trees matured.

In the sloping front yard, Sifford created another optical illusion to make the space feel larger with the addition of stone-like fiberglass spheres. “I varied the heights of them so that the ones closer to you would be larger, and the ones farther away would be smaller.”

From the beginning, creating a dog-friendly space was another top priority. When Sifford began the project, the couple had three active dogs, who had turned a grassy area in the backyard into a muddy mess. 

Left: Stone pillars mark the entry to a gravel path in the backyard. Middle: Stone pillars mark the entry to a gravel path in the backyard.

“We ended up taking out the turf and installing some pea gravel and bringing the beds in,” he says. While Melissa was skeptical at first, the dogs were unfazed and the resulting design brings balance to the garden, Sifford says. “The pea gravel actually functions as negative space,” with the gravel area forming a 12-foot-wide path among the heavily planted beds.

Ultimately, with Sifford’s guidance, the couple decided to replace the turf in the front yard as well. The designer added mass plantings of autumn ferns, azaleas, carex and more. It’s also a bird sanctuary. “Melissa wanted an area where she could feed birds, so we installed some bird feeders and essentially made a wider gravel path in the front with wider beds,” Sifford says.

Charlotte’s B&B Pools installed the pool in 2020.

With a solid foundation in place, Rod began adding his own plants to the mix. Now, the couple enjoys their multilayered garden, which they share with Jack, their red merle cattle dog, along with frogs and a family of orioles that have nested near the garden gate. 

Still, the garden is always evolving. A few years ago, after creating a conifer and vegetable garden at the highest point of the property, they changed course and installed a pool and cabana.

“It’s an ever-changing garden,” Melissa says.  SP

Rod Blair and Melissa Kimberly-Blair with Jones, Jack and Indiana, their dogs when they moved into the home. Photograph by Timon Blair. 


SouthPark Mall giveaway

Win a $500 shopping spree at SouthPark Mall,
a one-night stay at Hampton Inn & Suites SouthPark
& a $100 Bulla Gastrobar gift card!

Enter here by July 23!