As the principal partner in the Nashville firm Page Duke Landscape Architects, Ben Page is one of the country’s most respected garden designers, a humble man with a warm demeanor and bushy, sun-bleached eyebrows. He designs estates for celebrities and business titans but is equally passionate about transforming a walled courtyard behind a modest townhouse. Why? Because any project, regardless of scale or fee, lets him share his passion with clients. For a true believer like Page, spreading joy and meaning through gardening is the ultimate goal. “We’ve all been battered by the economy and from overexposure to technology,” says Page. “Gardens are a way to fill us back up after the world drains us.”
START SMALL. Page’s strongest advice for a gardening newcomer is to start small. Even a couple of tomato plants in pots on a condominium balcony can strike wonder in a child—and awe when she bites into an unfumigated, homegrown tomato allowed to ripen on the vine.
EMBRACE SMALL. “Over my 40-year career, some of the most wonderful spaces were young couples in starter homes,” says Page. A key ingredient for him is “enticement,” or the lure of romance and mystery, and that’s often easier to achieve in intimate spaces. Even though residential lots are shrinking, people aren’t so enamored with maintaining lawns, which, Page says, “tend to push people away.” As communities and front yards get smaller and lawns disappear, we’re left with residual spaces that are ideal for small, inviting gardens. “You can dip your toe in horticulture in an 8-by-10-foot space a lot easier than if you have this big lawn and you’re worried about keeping up with the Joneses.”
MAKE IT PERSONAL. Regardless of size, Page collaborates with clients to personalize their gardens with an object, a piece of art, or a plant whose fragrance or form conjures childhood memories. One client brought peonies passed down from her mother’s grandmother. Another incorporated an heirloom birdbath. Those personal touches serve as a springboard for the rest of the garden.
CONSIDER THE ENVIRONMENT. Any plants should be regionally appropriate for manageable maintenance. Plant varieties adapted to local climate, water, and nutrient conditions are hardier, requiring less work to keep them alive.
GET YOUR HANDS DIRTY. Even if you can afford to pay a maintenance crew, Page advises against “checkbook gardening.” You must put in the work—and learn to accept failure. “Gardening puts you at risk of disappointment,” Page admits, “but that’s the most rewarding part if you want to grow as a person and improve your horticultural skills.”
An exedra, or small covered space, offers opportunity for tête-à-tête moments to take place.
A pool is framed with Tennessee Crab Orchard stone and Charleston Old Carolina Brick, one of Page’s favorite material combinations. The 19th-century gargoyle, he says, “has just as much personality as this project’s fabulous owner.”
Page has spent a lifetime shaping landscapes. Whether he is working on a grand estate or a small urban courtyard, he creates gardens that allow owners to escape modern-day stress.
A terra-cotta maiden oversees a French-style garden.
Page designed a covered porch, which extends from an adjacent library. Antique urns are planted seasonally, and roses are espaliered on brick arches.
An English garden bench provides a spot to pause and refect.
Boxwoods over 70 years old were moved to their current location in this colonial revival garden.
A stone path leads through a formal, structured part of this property into a wilder, more native part of the landscape.
By Logan Ward | Photos by John Chiasson