A Garden Tour: Kristal Hill's Family Oasis


Stepping into Kristal Hill’s garden is quite literally like taking a breath of fresh air. Just a short commute from the hustle and bustle of Philadelphia where Kristal works as the creative director of Free People, her and her husband Dan’s six acre property is a secluded country sanctuary with a thoroughly modern feel. The balanced mix of wild design and structured elements is a garden design philosophy that speaks deeply to our own sensibilities, so when Kristal invited us to explore the property, we couldn’t wait to ask her about every inch of the gorgeous gardens she and Dan created with the help of Nate Tuno of Roots Landscaping. Read on to hear her inspiring answers!

terrain: Thank you so much for welcoming us to your home, Kristal! When you were planning these outdoor spaces, what were some aspects that were most important to you?

Kristal: I always wanted a little bit of a secluded courtyard feel. Our property is pretty wide open, which makes for incredible sunrise and sunset views, but I wanted to add in a feel of intimacy and shared outdoor living space. I also wanted the garden to attract bees, butterflies, and birds—I love being immersed in nature and find the energy and vibrancy that wild creatures brings very soothing. I’ve also love spending time in the south of France and the Balearic Islands and wanted to bring a bit of that feel to our own landscape design. When I met Nathan Tuno from Roots Landscape he completely understood what I was looking for and did an incredible job turning my vision into reality. 

terrain: We love the look of all this striking greenery that’s climbing the exterior of the building. Has that always been there?

Kristal: This is the original side of the house and this greenery was already started when we bought the property. It’s actually two different kinds of climbers on it! The right side is a climbing hydrangea and produces beautiful flowers that I love.

terrain: Can you talk to us about your espalier tree and all the gorgeous greenery that is surrounding your barn? 

Kristal: The tree in the front is an espalier apple tree, which is a technique I’ve always found interesting and beautiful so Nate added them along both sides of the drive entering the courtyard to create a natural fencing feel. The potted tree near the building is an Eastern Whitebud that I fell in love with and bought at terrain while the blooms were still on the tree in early spring. The tree interwoven within the bamboo structure is another apple variety that has been trained along the grid. Then we have some simple grasses around the bottoms to fill it out! 

terrain: There’s a relaxed effortlessness to your outdoor space. What did you want your garden to be for you and your family once it was complete?

Kristal: I wanted it to feel like an extension of our home, to be easy and relaxed yet beautiful and inspiring. We like to live very casually—nothing is too precious and life is to be enjoyed, and I wanted that reflected in our outdoor space. We also made sure to create different “rooms” to enjoy, whether you want to nap in a hammock or read a book in a lounge chair. We also love watching the sunset from our salt water pool that fits seamlessly into the landscape, with flowers and plant life surrounding it.

terrain: We are absolutely in love with your container plantings. Can you talk to us about your creative process behind grouping these together?

Kristal: I like to play with height, textures, and color when it comes to container plantings. It’s just an intuitive process for me. I love containers to be bursting with plants and always want some spilling over. I often buy what I think will be way too many plants and it’s usually just barely enough. And the beautiful stacked stone sunken garden with small manicured boxwoods anchoring the path was here when we bought the house. They’ve grown into a nice large scale over the years and I love the structure they reflect.

terrain: It seems as though there’s plant life growing straight out of your stairs! Is that the case?

Kristal: Yes! This was something Nate worked on to soften the hard lines of the bluestone stairs and is one of my favorite features of the garden. We wanted it to feel like these plants had been growing there for years, to make even the newest areas feel more lived in.

terrain: One last question, if that's okay! What is your philosophy when it comes to wild versus manicured garden elements? You have a lovely mix of both!

Kristal: I love a little bit of structure to a garden but balanced with the wild and whimsical. Plants have different personalities and can play off each other in fun and expressive ways. I think manicuring or training some elements are important to hold a space together, so it doesn’t get chaotic, but the wildness makes it feel relaxed and casual. We also have all of our buildings and garden spaces designed in a very angular, gridded way which helps give some structure to the wildness of the plants. This is actually just my personality as well, a little bit of structure to embrace my wild creative side!

Thanks again, Kristal, Dan, Adele, and Olympia!

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