Despite Mother Nature’s erratic behavior lately, one sure sign that spring is finally here is the Art in the Garden Tour, the annual collaboration by Mint Museum of Art and Charlotte Garden Club.
Held Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m., the tour features nine gardens, with 18 artists painting “en plein air” in the gardens both days. A party in the garden at Mint Museum Randolph will be held 4-6 p.m. Sunday.
Charlotte Garden Club was organized in 1924 as North Carolina’s first garden club. It affiliated with the Mint in 1954. The volunteer-organized tour is a fundraising activity for both.
The home of Burch and Arrington Mixon near Theatre Charlotte on Queens Road is one of six private gardens and three public ones on the tour. Built in 1928, the 3,800-square-foot house is on a corner lot that gave the couple a challenging yet enviable chance to turn their property into one surrounded by a dream garden.
“We tried to buy (this house) in 1995 and again in 1999,” Burch Mixon explained, but the owner wasn’t ready to sell. Then his wife Arrington’s employer, Bank of America, gave her an opportunity to relocate to England. Not only did it mean a job promotion for her, but it gave Burch the chance to pursue his passion – garden design.
“Before, gardening was a hobby, and we both loved being outdoors and working together in the yard,” said Burch, who had also worked in banking industry and real estate. “When we got to London, it just seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to study design in a more formal way.”
Studying at the prestigious English Gardening School at the Chelsea Physic Garden in London, he found he enjoyed the process of plant selection and achieving various effects to help the outdoors flow indoors. Burch Mixon is now self-employed as a garden designer, working with residential clients.
His master work may well be his own garden. When “their” Queens Road house – characterized by its eyebrow feature on the roof line facing the street – finally went on the market in 2003, they snatched it up even though they were still living in the U.K. They rented it out for a couple of years until they were ready to return to Charlotte.
Along the way, the couple undertook several major renovations to the house, such as enlarging the kitchen and eliminating the porte-cochere, or pass-through driveway, and creating a large south-facing side porch instead.
Starting from a ‘blank slate’
The family returned to Charlotte in 2005, moved into the house and started on the garden. Creating outdoor living space was a priority. Beginning with what he describes as “a blank slate,” Burch had a plan for the yard, but admits it has evolved.
Initially, when the Mixons’ two children were younger, he started with “an adult side” and “a kids’ side,” which included a wrought-iron fence to keep soccer balls from rolling into the street. The soccer balls have been retired but the fence remains.
All the bushes, shrubs and trees – some border yews, magnolias, camellias and Lenten roses, to name a few – are his plantings, but there are fewer perennials than before.
From each interior window in the house is an interesting, strategically placed vista outdoors:
• A fire pit surrounded by seating against a backdrop border of Leyland cypress seen from the north-facing kitchen.
• A slate patio with raised beds of colorful seasonal flowers seen from the east-facing breakfast table.
• Azaleas and a bank of daffodils heralding spring seen from the west-facing front door.
The patio entrance at the back, flanked by lush vegetation of both perennials and annuals, is the home’s main entry, giving the home a more informal feel than its classic architecture might suggest.
Creating outdoor ‘rooms’
An herb and vegetable garden is tucked away in a corner off the separate shed Burch uses as his office and work space. The wall of this building supports a water fountain surrounded by climbing vines.
Additional brick walls add definition throughout the garden, creating a series of “rooms” that offer a variety of textures and something in bloom nearly year-round. Pavers lead wanderers naturally through these rooms, part of the area previously known as the “adult” side of the garden.
While Burch was trained in the English tradition, he doesn’t think of his garden as English.
“The range of our weather is so different than it is over there,” he says. “Their plants would burn up over here, and we get more rain here than in London, believe it or not. So we have to choose plants that work in our environment, and still go for the effect of making the house settle into its landscape.”