Creative Courtyard

Artful design brings plants and color to a Lafayette Square home.

By Lucyann Boston

Photography by Kim Dillon


“Plants add to the quality of life,” says Marlon Taubenheim. “They provide that intangible joy that material things can’t give you.” So, when spouses Marlon and Dave Taubenheim purchased their Lafayette Square townhome just three years ago, they knew they would have a garden. But they also realized it would take some artful design work to get the most green space in their small courtyard, which already included a pool and a hot tub. 

The couple was not without talent and determination. Dave is a data scientist with Nvidia and Marlon, human resources director with the National Archives. When Covid provided the ability to work from remote locations, they made the decision to move to St. Louis to be closer to Dave’s family. Coming from the Washington, DC, area, they were charmed by the homes in Lafayette Square, which reminded them of Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. They were lucky enough to find a residence that, although it had the façade of an historic row house, was totally contemporary on the interior.

The garden project fell to Marlon, who had grown up in Honduras with a mother who loved plants. He had carried that affection for gardening and added to his plant knowledge after moving to the United States. 

Although the Lafayette Square garden is the smallest of the gardens at their previous residences, it required the most artful design work. After talking with five different contractors and receiving plans that Marlon describes as “the good, the bad and the ugly,” he decided to take over and create his own vision for the space. 

Much of the garden grows in raised-bed stone planters with wide edges. They make it much easier for Marlon, a disabled veteran with a bad back, to tend to the plants. He can even sit on the side of the planters. A series of trellises and brightly colored, tall, double-glazed containers holding shrubs and dwarf trees, including a ginko and red-, yellow- and orange-leaved ‘Flame Thrower’ redbud, provide height to the space. He became a quick study on native plants that do well in the St. Louis climate and those that adapt to the clay soil of Lafayette Square “through a lot of research and trips to the Missouri Botanical Garden. Every plant in this garden is something I picked,” he says.

The plantings around the hot tub he describes as more free-flowing cottage garden in style while the pool space, filled with natives, resembles a prairie garden. The privacy-fenced, secret garden with a gate to the street is shaded in the afternoon. “I take my computer outside and work from the garden,” Marlon says. Anchor plants include coneflowers, Japanese maples, hydrangeas and, Marlon’s favorite, dahlias.

While the design of the garden was complicated, it is “shockingly” easy to maintain, Marlon says, emphasizing he uses no weed killers or pesticides. 

“We front loaded all the work, even installing a drip irrigation system that can be controlled from an app on our phones,” adds Dave, who also helps out with the heavy lifting of things such as ceramic containers. “Marlon makes things pretty, I make things go,” he quips, describing their gardening partnership.