Heaven on Earth

Posted on 19 Apr 2007 at 10:32am
By Kelli Doyle

Turning a small backyard into a spiritual retreat made all the difference for a Dallas couple



Bryan Brooks and John Haupert wanted to turn their small yard into a garden without disturbing the giant cedar. Their landscape artist made the tree a focal point but also added a grotto to create a charming meditative space. Photo by Arnold Wayne Jones.

Their garden was what they considered just a grassy postage-stamp sized yard, but Dallas couple Bryan Brooks and John Haupert now consider their backyard an elaborate sanctuary they never want to leave.

Brooks loves to tinker but didn’t know the true scope of gardening until he began to redesign the yard. He read magazines articles to get inspiration, but most of the ideas came from visiting different gardening shops and getting their professional advice.

One thing Brooks knew ahead of time was that they didn’t want a backyard with any kind of grass that needed mowing. The design had to be for an area that would be self-maintaining.

“We have a very small backyard,” Brooks says, “but well-executed.”
They hired Leigh Ann Ellis with Ghost Dance Designs to build it. Her first challenge was dealing with the main element of the garden: a 30 foot tall cedar tree that dominates the space.

“It’s bigger than most in the neighborhood,” Brooks says, “and stands dead center in the backyard it’s grand!”

Surrounding the aged tree, a lush garden sprouts more than 40 different varieties of plants ranging from vertical pine to birds of paradise to Chinese mahonia, with several types of perennials azaleas, ferns and star jasmine to name a few.

“We wanted to throw some fun plants in so that regardless of where we stood, it would still look good,” Brooks says.

Winding through this extravagant asylum is an elaborate pathway made from Arizona flagstone that snakes in, around and between plants, shrubs and trees. A flagstone patio with a built-in grill and a small porch overhang decorated with Mexican folk-art compliment a welcome-area for family, friends and visitors.

Accenting the relaxing retreat is a traditional handmade grotto. Each piece of flagstone, river rock and marble is strategically placed throughout to promote color. The outside is finished with natural stones, quartz and marbles.
“It is quite beautiful,” Ellis says.

Around the outside edges are different pieces of stone that seem to weep a rusty stream of tears down each side of the grotto. Inside the grotto is a large Jan Barbaglio metal sculpture angel with candles of metal and glass surrounding the primary art-piece. The walls inside the grotto are zigzagged with light blue marble that create the look of the night sky.

“It’s a nice play on sun and shadow, with light going through the marble,” Ellis says.

Ellis says she designed the backyard especially for Brooks and Haupert, creating an area for entertaining friends and another personal area just outside their bedroom that gave them a serene and meditative space.
“John and Bryan are pretty spiritual,” Ellis says, and the space was intended to reflect that.

Not only does the couple find their garden a place for peaceful relaxation, Brooks says there are woodpeckers that make permanent homes in the trees and there is a squirrel that lives in the back.

“He is our squirrel,” Brooks says.

He praises Ellis for turning the small space into something special, treating their yard like her canvas.

“It’s just that wave of a brush stroke to see that sense of color, and artistic style and impression from her,” Brooks says. “When we come out here, we see her and we see that level of influence and spiritualism. It’s humbling I feel like we have our own arboretum. And it’s always fun to be able to share this with other people.”

Leigh Ann Ellis with Ghost Dance Designs, 214-395-1902.

This article appeard in the Dallas Voice print edition April 20, 2007.

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