Kitty Taylor has been designing and installing gardens since she was a young girl working beside her mother.
"It started without my even thinking about," she said. "I’d give my mother ideas about how we could plant more flowers, and she liked them."
Those early years proved to be good practice for the gardens she was destined to develop on a 35-acre country property on the edge of Collierville.
Carving out about 3 acres, she created a sunny perennial border measuring 75 feet by 14 feet, a meandering shade garden, a bog garden and a rock garden — all impressive enough to be featured in a Better Homes and Gardens magazine dedicated to Southern gardens and a segment on HGTV.
Success with her hobby led to a garden design business she operated for about 15 years.
"People started asking me to help them with their gardens, so I did a lot of researching, went to seminars and learned about plants," said Taylor, who also has a background in art. "I also traveled to England, France and Italy to see great gardens."
But as the upkeep of the garden and demands of the business became overwhelming, she and her husband, Neil, decided to make a change.
A little more than two years ago, they sold their home and property, but not before dismantling some of the gardens because prospective buyers were wary of their ability to maintain them.
When they moved to their spacious zero-lot home in Schilling Farms, Kitty thought her gardening days were over.
"I was burned-out for about three months," she said. "Then I couldn’t stand not gardening."
Their corner lot has ample space for a perennial border, albeit much smaller than before.
"This little area was empty," she said. "I felt it was looking at me to change it. I like to have a project, so I did."
To enclose the space and deter the many dogs that walk by with owners, she had a wrought iron fence erected.
After preparing the soil along the fence with her longtime employee Ricky Tate, she began planting her favorite perennials.
She also chose a few annuals, such as cosmos, because "they go between other plants and anywhere the good Lord puts them."
At her previous garden, she installed drifts of the same plant. But that doesn’t work in a small space — at least not for a plant lover.
"I now have one of everything I like," she said. "No multiples."
When the plants make their own multiples, she pulls them out and gives them to friends or neighbors.
She left a small area of turf because she finds a lawn "quiets" the excitement of the flowers.
She takes care in selecting nonaggressive plants like Miss Manners, a clumping rather than running variety of obedient plant, and Petite Delight, a dwarf bee balm that forms a low mound.
But the back of the border requires larger plants, such as a Firecracker hibiscus that blooms all summer, butterfly bush and crape myrtle.
She chose reliable, hardy varieties. "I don’t go for exotics."
Among them are rudbeckias, liatris, hardy geraniums, geums, yarrow, Siberian iris, peonies, veronica, white balloon flower, East Friesland salvia, Brazilian verbena, baptisia, butterfly weed, Stokes aster and David, a tall phlox.
One of her favorites, Venusta, is a filipendula, or meadowsweet, that sends up tall stems with large deep pink flower heads in early summer.
It’s not common in Memphis gardens because it needs moist soil all summer. Taylor’s irrigation system provides it.
"For a small garden, you have to be selective and choose plants that bloom over a long period," she said. "Then you need to space the plants to have something blooming here and there throughout the season."
The peonies and irises flower early while pink chrysanthemums, sunroses or helianthemums and even coneflowers, if deadheaded, take the garden through the fall.
The border reflects the style of gardening Kitty admired and studied on several trips to England.
While once the rage, English gardens are not as popular as they once were, she said. But she thinks it’s easy to incorporate elements of them into any garden, even in the hot Mid-South.
"It’s basically an informal, colorful style with a looseness of design," she said.
It can be accomplished with plants that tolerate our long growing season with several months of extremely hot and often dry weather.
With the backyard border completed, she took her husband’s suggestion and turned her attention to the front. She eliminated the grass and added deciduous azaleas, peonies, the tall but slender weeping cherry named White Fountain, oak leaf holly and a ground-covering dwarf juniper, Nana.
In between the shrubs and ground covers, she plants daffodils and other spring bulbs.
She no longer has an active garden design business, but she does consult with a friend who owns the Buckhorn Inn in Gatlinburg, Tenn.
The inn, which was established in 1936, has a mature landscape, but it is being updated with some new terraced areas, walkways and perennial beds. That project and her own small garden are all she needs to keep her connected to her lifelong passion.
"Except for the heavy work, I do everything," she said. "I’m satisfied."