By Donna Cornelius
It’s no big deal for a landscape designer to improve gardens by digging up plants. But it’s another thing to transplant a whole family.
Todd Dorlon, who owns TMD Landscape Designs, did just that when he decided to leave the financial world and pursue something he’d always wanted to do. After graduating from Birmingham-Southern College and working for a while in banking, he decided to go back to school to study environmental design through Auburn University’s School of Architecture.
“I was married and had a child – in fact, we moved to Auburn on his first birthday,” Dorlon said. “It was really scary to uproot my family. We were living in Birmingham and had a support system here, and there were financial considerations, too.”
Dorlon and his family now live in Vestavia Hills. He’ll be one of the tastemakers at this year’s Antiques at The Gardens on Oct. 6-9. Tastemakers are regionally and nationally known architects, interior designers and garden designers who will curate themed areas at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens event.
“Birmingham is really home,” Dorlon said. “My mom grew up here, and I lived here from birth through ninth grade. I went to three years of high school in Mobile.”
After graduating from Auburn, Dorlon worked for several other landscaping companies before opening his own business in 2011.
“That was a really big step,” he said. “I had wonderful help from someone who does the same thing I do, Kelly Hulsey.”
His decision to switch careers has paid off. Dorlon’s gardens have been featured in Southern Living several times, including on the cover of the magazine’s special 50th anniversary issue, “Best Southern Homes.” He’s won an award from the American Nursery and Landscape Association, too.
His grandmother, Joy Magruder, taught him to love gardening, he said.
“She was a huge gardener,” Dorlon said. “She lived in the same house in Mountain Brook for 50 years. She really influenced me a lot and encouraged me when I decided to go back to school.”
His grandmother’s garden had Southern favorites such as boxwoods, ginger lilies, snowball viburnums and Japanese maples, he said.
“When I was asked to participate in Antiques at The Gardens, I wanted to use something of hers,” he said. “So at the event, I’m using something that I took out of her garden when she died: a piece of statuary.”
Those who attend Antiques at The Gardens will have a hard time missing Dorlon’s display.
“It will be the entrance everyone will walk through to go to the event,” he said. “I’ll create a garden on the concrete plaza. I designed a bench I’m having built, and I’m having a pergola built. It will take me about five days to set everything up.”
Dorlon said he’s been “fortunate to be able to borrow” items from several Birmingham businesses, including Brandino Brass Co., SiteOne Landscape Supply, The Arbor and Summer Classics.
He’ll place tall hedges around the perimeter of the display to screen the garden area, he said, and he’ll have a new floor laid on top of the concrete.
Event organizers “wanted this year to have a Southern garden feel, so I’ll have boxwoods, flowers, lamb’s ears and ferns,” Dorlon said.
While his company does some commercial design, he most enjoys residential work, he said. One project that’s gotten a lot of press, including being featured in Southern Living, is in Crestline.
“The owners told me they wanted their house to stand out from others on the block,” he said. “They didn’t just want a row of shrubs along the front. It was a fun project.
“There’s also a house on Westbury Road in Mountain Brook that I’m so proud of. This was a design for a more contemporary, Prairie-style house. It was one of my favorite jobs because it pushed me out of my comfort zone. I love cottage-style houses and formal stuff, but with contemporary design, you have to be real restrained and not use a lot of different materials.”
He and his wife, Kathryn, have two sons. Coleman, age 17, and John Wilson, 11, both attend Vestavia schools. The family also includes a Springer spaniel named Gracie.
Dorlon is an active member of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church and has served on the vestry and preschool board there. He’s also been a member of the Episcopal Place Gumbo Gala committee and the Mitchell’s Place Junior Council.
Since most of his jobs come through word of mouth, clients know what to expect from his designs, Dorlon said.
“I ask them if there are plants they really love – or don’t love,” he said. “I ask them what colors they like. That gives you a start.
“But each job is different. I’m not always going to put a Vitex tree in every yard or do things the same way.”
For more information, visit tmdlandscapedesigns.com.
Follow the link for our Antiques at the Garden overview and schedule.