By Donna Cornelius
Although you might not realize it right away, David Brush has one of those cool names that fits his profession.
He’s an artist – but as a landscape architect, he uses plants instead of paints.
“I like to think that I’m creating living pieces of art,” Brush said.
One of his latest undertakings is in Mt Laurel at the 2016 Southern Living Idea House, which opens June 25. While the project has been an extensive one, it hasn’t involved much travel time for Brush. He and his family live in the traditional, master-planned community behind Double Oak Mountain.
This year’s Idea House is part of Southern Living’s 50th anniversary celebration. The house was designed by Birmingham architect Bill Ingram and built by Bryan Phillips of Town Builders Inc.
Interior designers from throughout the South were given pages from the magazine’s past issues to inspire their designs. Brush got access to something more tangible – the Southern Living Plant Collection. Introduced in 2008, the collection features plants specifically chosen for Southern gardens.
“The Southern Living Plant Collection was a wonderful asset for this project,” Brush said. “It’s got a huge variety of colors and textures.”
The landscape architect had to work within certain parameters.
“Mt Laurel is based on native plants, and all front yard plants here are indigenous,” Brush said. “There are a lot of Southern staples that I’d normally use for a house of this style, such as boxwoods, but they’re not indigenous. In the enclosed spaces, I could introduce some non-native plants.”
The Idea House grounds are divided into four distinct gardens. If you’re approaching the house from the Mt Laurel entrance on Kessler Street, you’ll see a “natural area” – only here, Mother Nature has had a helping hand from Brush. He brought in some good-sized ornamental trees while preserving the existing trees on the front of the lot.
“One of the mottos here in Mt Laurel is ‘Save the Trees,’” he said. “Developers coming in with bulldozers and clearing a lot is the antithesis of what we do here.”
Throughout the landscape, Brush added bursts of brightness with Crazy Pink and Crazy White echinacea, pink muhly grass and Sunset Bolero gaillardia. On the patio, blue hues from lavender and powder blue fescue complement colors of the house and of stone pavers.
“Outdoor living is big here in Mt Laurel,” Brush said. “People spend a lot of time outside, so an outdoor room is a big part of the landscape.”
Visitors will notice intriguing selections including Chef’s Choice rosemary, St. John’s wort and Autumn Brilliance serviceberry trees, one of Brush’s favorite plants. A new favorite is a striking burgundy ornamental grass called Design-a-Line Cordyline.
“The Southern Living Plant Collection gave me access to some plants like this one that I hadn’t worked with before,” Brush said.
One room of the house looks out onto the Secret Garden, where a narrow gravel pathway is bordered by plants including loropetalum, Twilight heucherella, mahonia, gardenias and Pure Blonde liriope. Cherry laurels have been planted above the wall that encloses the garden and will form a green curtain as they grow. Water bubbles up from an urn-style fountain in the center of the design.
“The fountain adds movement to the color and texture,” Brush said. “I consciously added different colors here, a mix of bright and subdued.”
Brush said he thinks of landscapes as paintings. That means he chooses hardscape elements carefully to create a complete picture.
“In the hardscape, I wanted to utilize materials already in the neighborhood, so the stone wall is moss rock,” he said. “For the patio, I designed a fence borrowing finials that Bill (Ingram) had used on the front porch. The driveway is made with charcoal pavers instead of standard concrete.”
Brush grew up in Vestavia Hills. He has a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture from Auburn University. His wife, Lisa, is from Mississippi and is an Ole Miss graduate. Their three sons are Miles, age 12; Bay, who’s 10; and Jon David, 8.
The Brushes moved to Mt Laurel in 2003.
“We were living in Nashville, and I’d met Mt Laurel’s former town landscape architect and had gotten on the Mt Laurel mailing list,” Brush said. “I fell in love with the place. I told Lisa, if we ever move back to Birmingham, that’s where I want to live.”
He opened David N. Brush Landscape Architecture in 2005 and specializes in custom residential design.
“It’s really rewarding to be a resident here, to work on a project like this,” he said.
Brush also has designed the Southern Living Idea Garden, a community garden a short distance away from the Idea House.
“Southern Living has built a prototype garden shed,” he said. “People will get to see the shed and will soon be able to buy one through Southern Living.”
The community garden has 10 raised beds. Southern Living will fill some with annual and perennial plants. Residents can grow vegetables and herbs in the others.
Brush designed a walkway through the center of the garden, gates and fencing. Benches will encourage folks to relax and linger.
“If mom and dad are watering and the kids want to goof around, there’s room to do that,” he said.
Whether you’re working with large properties or small spaces, you’re wise to remember that gardens are “always changing and evolving,” Brush said.
“You’ve got to forecast into the future and consider durability, growth and looks,” he said. “You learn that you sometimes have to change things – to make some audibles in the field. That’s important with design. You keep pushing until it’s right.”
For more information, visit davidnbrush.com or follow the company on social media.