A Sessions Village Backyard Teaches the Owners a Thing or Two About Gardening

A Sessions Village couple cultivates a landscape they inherited from the Wexners and others.

Teresa Woodard
A koi pond, hostas and other elements highlight this shade garden in Sessions Village

Up front, Cathy and Steve Williard’s courtyard garden easily charms. Tucked behind a hedge wall of European hornbeams, neatly clipped boxwoods frame geometric beds. Yews, roses and tree-form lilacs fill these beds to create an endearing formal entry like so many others’ walled gardens inside Sessions Village, the nearly century-old, French-inspired community in Bexley. And if this parterre garden weren’t magical enough, a lush shade garden beckons beyond the glass-walled rear addition of the Normandy-style home.

More:The Charm of Sessions Village

“My sensibility is to the front parterre so methodically kept, but I really enjoy the back being very planned out yet still very natural,” says Cathy, the sales and marketing director at Contemporary Art Matters gallery, founded by her cousin Rebecca Ibel. Cathy also is president of the Little Garden Club of Columbus.

Built in 1953, the Williards’ traditional home gained a contemporary addition in 1975 during Les Wexner and his mother Bella’s tenure in the residence. Wexner called on modernist architect Byron Ireland to renovate the dwelling and design the solarium addition overlooking the wooded backyard. (Many know Ireland for his design of the Ohio Historical Center north of Downtown.) In 2003, the next owners added extensive gardens including the formal courtyard garden in front and the lush shade garden in back. A two-tier pond was built beneath the property’s mature maple, cherry and hackberry trees. Stacked limestone lines the pond, and a water fall spills over a stone ledge from the upper tier. Layers of lush green perennials and evergreen shrubs surround the pond.

The addition to the home that Les Wexner oversaw when he and his mother lived there.

When Cathy and Steve, an orthopedic consultant, purchased their home in Sessions Village in 2012, Cathy explains they “inherited” this impressive garden and really had to step up their gardening know-how.

“We didn’t exactly know what we were getting into,” she says.

Still, the couple heartily embraced the opportunity. Steve learned through research and hands-on experience, while Cathy joined the Little Garden Club of Columbus to gain wisdom from guest speakers, garden tours and other club members. Ten years later, they both have become garden aficionados.

Hosta blooms line the walkway through the garden.

Steve handles the day-to-day chores and works with arborists to manage tree care. And, together, they tackle new projects like the rebuilding of the pond.

“That was a big one,” Cathy says with a laugh. She recalls how they had to disassemble the stones in their limited space and had differing opinions on how to go about doing so.

“He did a lot of the heavy lifting and was much more methodical,” she says, confessing that he ended up finishing the job.

As an unexpected bonus, they discovered an unused filtration system during the renovation that now keeps the pond water clearer.

“We started using it, and it’s a game changer,” Cathy says. “Now you can see right in the water and enjoy the beauty of the fish.”

The homeowners sometimes wade into their revitalized koi pond in an effort to best care for their fish. Upon moving into the home, the pond was in dire need of reinvigoration, which the two accomplished on their own, learning much along the way.

Over the years, they both have waded into the pond to care for the fish. One time, they even climbed in to catch an overgrown koi that was then relocated to a friend’s pond.

“It was pretty hilarious,” Cathy says. “We both jumped in the deep cold water to try to capture it.”

Cathy says Steve has since become the unofficial “pond guy” for Sessions Village and helps neighbors with their water features while wearing no waders just an old swimsuit.

For Cathy, she credits much of her growing garden passion to her involvement with the Little Garden Club of Columbus. “The timing was good since I had this responsibility to care for this garden we inherited,” she says.

She joined the garden club at the invitation of a neighbor soon after they bought their home. Then, she immediately stepped into a leadership role heading up the awards committee. The garden club, founded in 1961, is an affiliate of the Garden Club of America and supports numerous beautification, conservation and community garden projects across the city. They include Capital Square gardens, Park of Roses, the Audubon Center, Franklinton Farms, Highland Youth Garden and more. Cathy now serves as the club’s president and will represent its members at the GCA 2022 national convention in New Jersey this spring. In 2023, Columbus will host the national GCA convention.

Garden wall decorations and evergreen tree that keeps the garden lush in the winter

At her own garden, Cathy enjoys hosting the garden club and, together with Steve, entertains small groups in the garden or indoors overlooking the outdoor oasis.

Whether wandering through the garden, sitting on the brick patio or viewing it from the solarium, the garden shines year-round. In spring, the azaleas and rhododendrons star with blooms in pink and purple. A cast of flowering perennials such as Solomon’s seal and brunnera add more dainty blooms. In summer, their foliage stands out alongside other green perennials such as variegated hostas and feathery ferns. A large magnolia near the patio delights with its shiny leaves and classic white blooms. In fall, the colorful Japanese maples steal the show. Even in winter, the garden impresses with evergreen yews, boxwoods and the central pond all enhanced with a layer of snow and landscape lighting.

As the property matures, the garden only continues to improve.

“We love the garden that we inherited and want to maintain and honor the original design,” says Cathy.

This story is from the Spring/Summer 2022 issue of Home & Garden.