Cool Spot: A stoic owl peers from a birdbath perch.
Local Pro: Though now mostly retired, Beverly Rivers has been designing and tending Charleston garden spaces since the 1980s.
Geometry Rules: Rivers has always favored her shaded West Ashley backyard over the sunny front. Here, under the high canopies of three live oaks, a brick mason helped create a series of circles, squares, and rectangles around a central weeping Japanese maple. Ball-shaped boxwoods mark the entrances to paths leading deeper into the garden, which is filled with a richly textured array of plants that thrive in shade and dappled light.
Creature Comforts: It took Rivers years to finish planting dwarf mondo grass amid the stepping stones laid in several areas throughout the back garden. Here, the inviting combination draws one from the patio into a verdant nook ending in a birdbath.
Great Accommodations: ”Birds come to splash and drink and eat from my feeders, but not a single one has ever lived in the houses I put up!” she says, pointing to numerous residences that at least provide charming gathering points for plantings such as ’Charity’ mahonias and hydrangeas.
Color Play: ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ pineapple lily weaves together with farfugium and blue evergreen hydrangea.
In the Mix: Fancy-leaf begonias convene on a table, adding height at the back fence.
Cool & Collected: ”In the long run, texture will give you more satisfaction in the garden than flowers ever will,” says Rivers of her propensity for mingling plants with contrasting forms and leaf shapes. Here, she highlights a moss-frosted fountain with an array that includes edgeworthia—a four-season stunner—variegated cast iron plants, and Southern maidenhair and tassel ferns. “Maidenhair is one of the prettiest ferns to blend with just about anything because it’s so delicate,” says Rivers. “It drops spores that always seem to sprout up in places that surprise and delight. I find myself saying, ’Okay, I didn’t even think about putting you there, but that’s a great spot—I’m glad you found it!‘”
Making the Rounds: Rivers’s mason laid a circular terrace from flagstone and brick—a combination often used by pioneering Charleston landscape designer Loutrel Briggs. Each year, a dogwood rains white petals upon the terrace and its layered plantings.
Curves Ahead: The variegated spiral ginger doesn’t leaf out until June, but its cream-brushed foliage and curling, crimson stem is worth the wait.
Lime Twist: ’Walkabout Sunset’ lysimachia provides a pop of chartreuse around a birds’ dipping spot.
Buzz Worthy: A ‘Lime Sizzler’ firecracker shrub sets off the deeper-green foliage and bright blooms of bronze fennel, ’Mystic Spires Blue’ salvia, zinnias, and hibiscus that attract bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies.
Acing the Test: Arcing alongside the driveway, this sunny bed was born as a ”trial garden”—a place for Rivers to test plants’ potential before introducing them into clients’ spaces. Now it’s fertile ground for species that support wildlife, such as the native giant coneflower, whose seed pods tower on silvery blue stalks at right, high above even the canna lilies.
Elevated Entrance: Rivers transformed her front yard with a raised terrace that stretches from her porch toward the street and incorporates a tea olive and sasanqua camellia. A flagstone path accentuates the elevation change, curving among plantings such as (above) agapanthus, which Rivers values more for its strappy leaves than its blue flowers, and hellebores, blooming here in front of a ’Kingsville’ boxwood..
Along the Way: One of the gardener’s go-to ground covers, Selaginella braunii, spreads under the red leaves of a Japanese maple.
Garden designer Beverly Rivers shares her passion project