This Bexley Estate Garden Received a Major Renovation

The historic gardens at a vintage home are restored with the help of a seasoned and sensitive landscaper.

Teresa Woodard
Formal gardens on a Bexley estate have been refurbished and updated over the last decade.

A Bexley homeowner was shopping in Powell one day when she was smitten by the English landscape outside an interior design store. Thinking that its tailored style would translate well to the 90-year-old stone home that she and her husband owned, she walked into the store to inquire.

“Who the heck did your landscape?” she remembers saying. “I need his number.”

The shop owners were happy to oblige, and the homeowner called noted interior and garden designer Kevin Reiner to discuss the first project. It was a project that has led to a decade-long effort to transform the Bexley estate’s gardens section by section.

For Reiner’s first gig, they focused on an unused pool area.

“We have this pool in our backyard,” the homeowner told Reiner, “and we haven’t opened it for eight years. It leaks, and we really need to figure this out.”

Reiner was a good match for the job, bringing along a homegrown passion for historic properties. He has renovated six of his own houses including several featured in national magazines. A few of his homes have been in the middle of Granville where his gardening prowess has been on permanent and public display for a number of years.

Thus, Reiner was undaunted when it came to tackling challenges like the Bexley home’s leaky pool or an antiquated irrigation system. He also leaned on his deep horticulture experience to advise on the property’s historic trees, boxwood parterre and rose garden.

Through the last couple of decades, Reiner’s reputation has bloomed in Central Ohio. But his botanic interests were sparked at age 12, when his dad helped him build his first greenhouse. He then worked his teen years at a nearby nursery and went on to study horticulture at Cornell University. After graduation, he marketed ornamentals for an international seed company and managed indoor horticulture operations at Granville’s Timbuk Farms before launching his own design firm in 2005.

For Reiner, this pool transformation ended up being proving grounds. He advised the couple to fill in the unused rectangular pool and, in its place, create a space for hosting large events. The new landscape would then also enhance outward views from the home’s living areas.

Thankfully, the couple had access to quality contractors through their home building business. Thus, they had the bottom of the pool cut out, retained the walls and shape, but then filled the void with layers of gravel and topsoil to ensure good drainage. Reiner and his team added a central lawn, a surrounding bluestone patio, plenty of boxwood spheres with columnar boxwood accents, and terraced beds with giant ‘Sagae’ hostas. Additional annual flower displays and flower-filled urns were added for seasonal interest.

“We had balance and rhythm with all the boxwoods yet accents of color during the entertaining season,” says Reiner.

Next up was the outdated irrigation system. The system update presented challenges as Reiner and his team wound water lines under patios, around stone walls and beneath large trees.

“It was quite an endeavor to get irrigation everywhere,” says Reiner “and there are limitations in some spots, but that’s what happens on historic properties.”

From there, Reiner continued working with the couple on a project basis.

“Instead of gutting the whole garden, we went space by space,” he says. “The bene-fit to that is we got to know the property together and see it through the seasons. The collaboration was great.”

First off, Reiner said he had to respect the home’s stunning Tudor architecture and the classic design of the garden.

“It had such great bones!” he exclaims.

His first step was to assess if any historic elements needed to be changed. Together, he and the homeowners decided to retain all the stone walls and boxwood hedges while enhancing other elements, such as the arborvitae hedges. Reiner says they were getting too much shade, so his team thoughtfully removed a tree or two to gain more sunlight.

Another design challenge was finding a balance in texture, color and scale. Reiner says the existing perennial beds were losing impact as they aged. Some became too busy with overgrowth and more aggressive plants ended up blanketing some areas.

To make the front beds more impactful, they updated them with a fresh perennial plant palette. For the car court, they lifted the tree canopy to allow more light into the beds, then planted masses of white ‘Honorine Jobert’ anemones, blue hostas, Virginia bluebells, spring bulbs and miscanthus grasses.

“Masses of ornamental grasses were a love of the homeowner, so I juxtaposed the grasses’ fine texture with the boldly shaped boxwoods,” says Reiner.

For seasonal color, he created pockets for plantings of flowering annuals like red begonias in summer and purple pansies in fall.

Beyond the car court, his team recently updated a large border extending in front of a stone wall. Here, they added a purple-themed planting of ‘Millennium’ alliums, Siberian irises, Japanese forest grasses, ‘Denim ’n Lace’ Russian sage, ‘Cat’s Pajamas’ catmint, ‘Midnight Masquerade’ penstemon and ‘Steel Blue’ angelonias.

Along the property’s most visible corner, the homeowners charged Reiner with finding an alternative option for the large bed’s annual displays.

“This was getting a little crazy,” says the homeowner as she explained dozens of flats of annuals were planted there each year.

Reiner recommended a more sustainable, yet equally impactful, design of recurring perennials and shrubs. He kept the boxwood hedge and added contrasting layers of chartreuse hostas in front, then cascading golden deutzia shrubs and dogwood trees behind.

In the birdbath garden, they chose to mass flowering shrubs for greater impact. Here, they framed a central birdbath with ‘Annabelle’ hydrangeas and ‘Chardonnay Pearls’ deutzia along with boxwoods and more ‘Sagae’ hostas.

Not all projects involved a simple solution. One intimate garden challenged Reiner and the homeowners to think through options and make compromises.

“I love this little kitchen area, but it’s not right,” said the homeowner at one point, recalling the intimate bluestone dining patio shaded by a large Japanese zelkova tree. Reiner proposed taking down the tree to allow more sunlight for other plants. While the homeowners stood firm about not wanting to remove trees on the property, they made occasional exceptions such as the removal of this overgrown tree, hoping that more sunlight would allow Reiner to redesign the area into a more functional space.

Reiner and his team replaced the tree with hedges and added shrub roses, perennial geraniums, oakleaf hydrangeas and boxwoods.

“Now, they can enjoy an intimate space for two that’s in scale and very inviting.”

Besides updating gardens, the homeowners rely on Reiner and his team to take meticulous care of the garden’s existing shrubs, hedges and trees, including a giant sycamore and two mature ginkgos. A boxwood parterre, for example, takes a four-person landscaping team a full work day to trim each spring as well as cover in winter for frost protection. Reiner’s talented team also neatly prunes the English ivy along the home’s exterior and maintains the garden’s historic rose and azalea collections. Recently, they’ve added some new azalea varieties to the existing ones. Still, Reiner says the showiest ones are those that have been there forever.

“We celebrate that bold color in spring and are not scared of it,” says Reiner. “It’s so impactful.”

Today, the gardens are at their peak, but Reiner notes that’s temporary.

“Gardens, even historic ones, are always evolving and needing adjusting,” he says.

“Thankfully,” he adds, “these wonderful clients understand there are going to be changes, because trees grow, shrubs grow and tastes change.”