NEW SUBURB BEAUTIFUL — Millie Redmond didn't want to shut the blinds anymore on her back yard.
Her colonial-style house with crisp black trim and tailored Georgian accents sits on a tree-canopied street in New Suburb Beautiful, one of the city's prettiest old neighborhoods. The house is smart and simple and distinctly Southern. The cozy garden area behind the home was once another story: "I didn't go out there," she recalls, "and I literally kept the shutters closed all the time."
So Redmond hired Kim Levell, the talented Tampa exterior designer, to create the kind of outdoor living area Redmond had always dreamed of. "But I wanted it to be low enough maintenance that I could spend time out there relaxing instead of working," Redmond recalls.
Redmond got what she wanted and more: Levell created a gracious outdoor room designed well enough that 30 guests can easily mingle beneath the trellis or around the large wall fountain or peek into a side potting yard. There's plenty of seating for dinner parties or just reading on the black, all-weather wicker "cuddle chairs" that fulfill Redmond's need for practical comfort: "I didn't want any benches that were sitting there not being used."
On Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Redmond will open her garden to the public for a charity garden tour hosted by Levell. Five of Levell's designs are on the tour, which costs $20 in advance and $25 the day of the event. All proceeds will go to Cornerstone Kids Inc., (www.cornerstonekidsinc.org) a program that reaches inner-city kids to help with their educational, spiritual and emotional development.
"They've been around a long time, and I believe in their mission 100 percent," says Levell, who also believes that "gardens can be beautiful places that help people to feel good about themselves."
Levell, whose father was an interior designer, grew up loving horticulture, design and architecture equally. Her business has grown from a chic garden she once ran out of a South Tampa cottage to the job she has today: designing her signature gardens in neighborhoods everywhere from Tampa to St. Petersburg and Clearwater. She's recently completed the design of a rooftop garden in Brooklyn and is marketing her own travel/gardening TV show with hopes of piquing the interest of the Travel Channel or HGTV.
The tour will feature a French-style garden, a Key West-style yard, Redmond's traditional Georgian garden and two Tampa Bay waterfront homes in West-shore Yacht Club.
Levell, who can easily spend a year and a half working with a client, has designed about 100 gardens in the Tampa area. She chose the five on the tour because of their uniquely different looks and differences in size and style. She hopes that visitors will come away with creative inspiration for their own gardens, like the privacy screen she made from bamboo poles and a handmade wooden box for one of the waterfront homes in the Westshore Yacht Club.
"First and foremost, we needed privacy," says Joann Abraham, who with her husband, David, hired Levell to design their outdoor living space with its screen of palm trees (dreamed up by Levell) and breathtaking views of Tampa Bay. "All we used to do when we came into the back yard was nitpick. Kim not only extended our living space but gave us privacy. We come out here all the time for lunch or a glass of wine."
Levell also helped the couple select durable outdoor seating, including a large, all-weather sectional sofa made by an Italian furniture manufacturer. Abraham said she decided to open their garden for the tour to spotlight Levell's abilities.
Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.