Chuck Beard is a man who practices what he preaches. A horticulturist and garden designer, he has spent nearly 27 years creating beautiful gardens throughout St. Louis. But perhaps the most beautiful testimonial to his talent has been in his own yard.
Featured in numerous national publications and on prestigious garden tours, the Webster Groves home and landscape he shared with his longtime partner the late Charles Parrish, and then Adrian Keys, moves visitors through a series of breathtakingly beautiful spaces and pathways different in style, yet cohesive in flow. A shady walkway from the front yard leads to an arbor gate. Open the gate and you are in a fountain-centered, brick courtyard with a New Orleans ambiance. Go through an arbor on the opposite side of the courtyard and you step into a Japanese garden, complete with a crooked bridge, koi pond and waterfall. From there, stroll through a sidewalk café set with a table and chairs for a bite to eat, move on to a rustic walk through the back of the yard. Eventually, find your way to a tropical paradise, where lush foliage surrounds a saltwater, free-form pool with the azure hue of a natural pond.
His theory of garden design, Chuck explains, “is to create spaces where people can go, dream and escape their regular lives. Everyday life is hectic, and the stress can overcome you. If you can find a little corner to sit and watch the birds, soak up a bit of sun or enjoy a cocktail in the shade, you can get away from the stress. I want people to be able to get away from what is bothering them, maybe get their hands dirty if they enjoy gardening, relax and dream.”
The sound of splashing water is a key element in any garden he designs, Chuck adds. “I like to use water because the minute you hear the sound your stress level goes down. The splashing masks the sounds of everyday life and transports you to another world.”
His years creating gardens for others and for himself have led him to feature plants that serve more than one purpose. “For a plant to make it into the garden palate, it has to have several seasons of interest,” Chuck emphasizes. “Evergreen foliage, blossoms and then berries, fragrance…they have to perform throughout the seasons…for several seasons. To make the grade, a plant has to be able to handle the worst that St. Louis can throw at it, both summer and winter, and still look good.”
Some of his favorites include: false cypress (Chamaecyparis) evergreens for the fernlike foliage and wide variety of shapes, colors and textures; boxwoods, which in addition to being evergreen have a small flower in early spring with a lovely fragrance; azaleas for their spring flowers, fall color and winter foliage; aucubas for their evergreen tropical-like foliage and adaptability to everything but soggy conditions, and nandinas for their lacy, evergreen foliage, showy white blossoms and red fall color and berries. Two particular evergreen shrub favorites are "Green Giant" arborvitaes and smaller "Graham Blandy" boxwoods. Both are hardy in the St. Louis climate and have narrow, vertical growth patterns that work well in many landscaping situations.
Chuck’s design philosophy centers on the use of interesting shrubs and trees and annuals for shots of color. “Perennials are nice,” he notes, “but they take up valuable real estate and they only bloom for a short time.”
He also points out the importance of creating beautiful garden views from every window in a home. “You have to think how a garden looks from inside a house, not just how it looks outside. There should be something beautiful to look at in each season of the year.”
One of the biggest gardening mistakes, he believes, is not paying attention to size and scale; “planting a hemlock tree two feet from a foundation, ” he illustrates. Homeowners should “pay attention to the mature size of the plant.”
Another common mistake, he notes, is not paying attention to the cultural requirements and trying to grow a sun-loving plant in the shade. “Pay attention to the plant tag,” Chuck stresses.
With a solid career as a garden designer behind him, Chuck is planning to take the next logical step and pursue a degree in landscape architecture in the coming months, “because my back can’t handle the heavy work anymore,” he frankly admits. With no local school offering a landscape architecture degree, Chuck and Adrian are relocating to Florida, where they already own a condo.
“My biggest worry in moving was finding someone who would appreciate the garden and keep it up,” he admits. That worry was eased when Lynn and Alex Hromockyj came through the house last September, just after it had gone on the market. With a background in and love of gardening, Lynn had such an emotional reaction to the house and the garden, she admits being almost teary eyed after her first tour of the property.
“The whole process (of seeing and buying the house) was so strange and magical,” she recalls. “Every single day when I sit in what is now our house and look out the windows I am so in awe of what Chuck has done in every inch of the garden. Alex and I feel we have a huge responsibility to maintain his beautiful plantings. Living here makes me feel as if I’m on vacation every day of the week.”