Before & After: An Outdoor Urban Oasis

A quaint home in a historic Southern neighborhood gets a modern-day face-lift with outdoor living spaces that enhance its 1930s architecture with old-world charm

front yard landscape after photo: creeping fig-covered wall and a mix traditional European and Southern U.S. plantings

When Dwight Brown of Father Nature Landscapes embarked upon the outdoor transformation of a 1939 quarried stone home in Birmingham, Alabama, he faced a nearly blank slate. The client had already renovated the petite home’s interior, keeping the square footage intact. But when it came to the outside, he wanted to live large. Playing off the original limestone, Brown envisioned a lush urban oasis with plenty of places to relax and entertain. See the before and afters of the landscape and hardscape transformation.

“Before” Landscape

Landscape before photo: front elevation
hardscape "before" photo: thruway
"before" photo: lawn

While the stone exterior brimmed with potential, the landscape lacked curb appeal. In the private outdoor living areas, an open-air throughway connecting the home to the garage was functional but unappealing. And as for the enjoyment one hopes for when gazing upon the garden, the nondescript lawn offered little to admire. (Click the arrows on the image above, or swipe if on a mobile device, to see more “before” photos.)

“After” Landscape

backyard with ivy-covered wall and traditional Southern plantings

Curb Appeal

At the forefront of Brown’s mind when planning the new landscape was the homeowner’s wish for his surroundings to remind him of his European travels. So Brown lent an old-world feel to the facade with creeping fig (Ficus pumila), a climbing plant that is well suited to the warm Southern climate.

For an element of “structured chaos,” a shaped boxwood hedge frames a grouping of freeform ‘Limelight’ hydrangeas, as well as an Oakland holly (left) and a ‘Shi-Shi Gashira’ camellia (hidden).

A border of ‘Moonlight’ caladiums adds texture and contrast along a bed of dwarf mondo grass, and a ‘Little Gem’ magnolia serves as a tall hedge on the right side of the home. Altogether, the landscaped vignette not only adds curb appeal but also makes the front porch a more enjoyable place to kick back and relax.

“Much like English ivy, the creeping fig with boxwoods, mondo grass, and hydrangeas helped create the classic cottage look I wanted.” – Dwight Brown, Father Nature Landscapes


A cypress door with aged bronze hardware leads the way to a private courtyard. Creeping fig and Boston ivy soften the edges of the garden wall, while a ‘Brown Turkey’ fig tree planted in a large container anchors the space and yields fruit in the summer. The lush bed features American boxwood and ‘White Drift’ rose, as well as ‘Merlot’ Itea virginica. Commonly known as sweetspire, this variety offers fragrant white flowers in June but earns the name ‘Merlot’ from its burgundy autumn foliage. On the opposite side of the gate, a ‘Degroot’s Spire’ arborvitae grows beside the home.

landscape after photo: courtyard with cypress gate, fig tree, and lush green garden bed

“We love working edibles into the ornamental landscape. Our goal was to bring back memories of the homeowner’s travels to Europe, especially Italy.” – Dwight Brown, Father Nature Landscapes

Set amidst a pea gravel patio, a reflecting pool offers a glamorous focal point for outdoor gatherings and impromptu al fresco meals. Along the back wall, a row of potted boxwoods and a trained ‘New Dawn’ rose add interest while wax myrtles planted on the other side offer shade. Finishing out the serene surroundings are a pot of society garlic, which offers purple blooms, and a camellia (far right) given to the homeowner by his mother.

landscape after photo: walled courtyard with reflecting pool, pea gravel patio, and plantings

Covered Living Area

Last but not least, the transformation of the open-air throughway into a gracious outdoor living area with comfy seating is perhaps the most dramatic component of the redesign. Gone is the flimsy trellis, now replaced with limestone walls and a grand Alabama blue fireplace. The owner can now sit and reflect upon his outdoor oasis in any weather.

after photo: covered outdoor living space

By Terri Robertson | Landscape design and construction by, and photography courtesy of Father Nature Landscapes, a firm with locations in Mobile Bay and Birmingham, Alabama, and Tacoma, Washington. Learn more at