The Garden Club of Frankfort has chosen the home of Fonda and Rendall Butler as Frankfort’s House of the Month. Homes are chosen based on outstanding landscape design.
The Butler home is in the Bon Air Hills subdivision and is the epitome of creative landscape design. The couple moved into their home in June of 1986. Built in 1977, the house had two previous owners. The most irresistible feature for the Butlers’ home is the abundance of native trees that grace the property.
The house sits on a lot that serves as a drainage conduit for much of the subdivision, with two conduits converging behind the house — one of which is spring fed. The conduits ultimately flow into the Slickway branch of Elkhorn Creek. From Breckinridge Avenue to its lowest point the lot falls about 20 feet and this low area is filled with trees native to the area.
The most stunning are the sycamores with their beautiful white trunks. Despite growing in the low mid-section of the lot, the native trees soar above the house. Ron Bland, who helps them with maintenance of the trees, likes to say that the lot was landscaped by the birds. Many trees, particularly ashes, have been lost over the years due to disease. As trees have been lost, they have been replaced with a variety of other trees including willow oak, dogwoods, redwoods.
The trees create a shady landscape, so the yard abounds with hydrangeas, laurels, viburnum, azaleas, liriopes, hosta, lungwort, ferns, and many others too numerous to mention. In the sunny areas Fonda and Rendell have included native plants, such as cardinal flower, black eyed susan and coneflowers.
The Butlers have turned the 9-foot-deep depression that facilitates the drainage into the most striking feature of the property. The drainage depression is now a delightful sunken rain garden.
The original landscape was created by the Hillenmeyer nursery and they have tried to remain true to the original concept but have made replacements and additions over the years. They replaced a failing dry-stone wall which makes a serpentine effect around the sunken garden. A spillway was created, a stone pathway and a short curving wall that levels the lower sections of the front yard. They also built a short wall to level the upper portion of the garden.
The front of the house features several copper trellises built by the couple to support wisteria, clematis and trumpet vine.
The back of the property drops down to the drainage area and the house from the back looks out over a large tree lined field. To make the dramatic drop-off more manageable, they had two earthen tiers built that transition from the house to a wooden bridge that crosses a ditch. A crew of dry-stone masons constructed walls from the patio to the end of the house with a 3-foot wall around one tier, a 3.5-foot wall around the other and a 3-part slab bridge.
Fonda and Rendell have received many treasures for their gardens from family and friends and these hold a special place in their hearts. The giant reed that flourishes near the spring was a gift from a former neighbor, Kay Lykins. Irises abound on the property and were gifts from Suzane Rodger’s grandmother (Annie Milam Kennon Stagg) and their late neighbors John Faulkenberry Sr. and Jean Mitchell.
The Japanese red maple and Japanese wisteria are from the original landscape design and are still breathtaking. The native oakleaf hydrangeas (Alabama’s state wildflower) were gifts from Sam Peavier of Hoover, Alabama. Another prized possession is a Kentucky millstone and a concrete Zen kitty (a gift from Ed and Brenda Bunch) that resides in the sunken garden.
With the wonderful trees and native plants, the property has the feel of a wildlife preserve. During the summer months, from June through August, the neighborhood awaits the arrival of a herd of deer they have hosted for several years. Last summer the matriarch, playfully named Jane Doe, birthed two fawns, and brought back four offspring from the two previous years to everyone’s delight.
The Butlers’ yard is the perfect example of using creative landscape ideas to best advantage. Their love of nature is evident in the peaceful, parklike setting and makes this property a special and wonderful addition to the neighborhood.