A North Raleigh couple embraces la vie en rose in their French garden

by Katherine Poole | photography by Jillian Clark

Lisa Sandman might best be described as a bon vivant, one who truly enjoys the finer things in life-—culture,  the arts, gastronomy, entertaining. So when she and her husband Michael set out to build their dream home 18 years ago, they wanted to create a space that reflected their cultivated lifestyle, but with French flair. “It was my passion,” she says. “We wanted to build a truly authentic French home.” So Sandman immersed herself in all things français: The couple traveled to Paris, visited Versailles, clipped tons of pictures and meticulously planned their home alongside builder Mike Young of Mike Young Homes, Inc. Together they crafted une maison magnifique on a secluded acre in North Raleigh.

The artfully landscaped grounds of the Sandman’s property match the grand home’s élan. The formal garden embodies the elements of a classic French garden: defined spaces, symmetry, decorative planters and a subtle color palette with an emphasis on green. Tea roses and creeping fig climb the exterior walls of the home, giving it the feel of an 18th century château. Manicured boxwoods line the home and border the yard, and are most elegantly shown off in a parterre. Tightly pruned hedges in a symmetrical pattern are separated by connecting paths and planted with rose bushes.

Sandman loves her boxwoods. She considers them “the little black dress” of the garden. “They go everywhere and look beautiful no matter what else is going on,” she says. Landscape designer Margot DeBarmore of Miramonte Design Studio, who has worked with Sandman for over ten years, calls Sandman’s love of boxwoods “a bit of an obsession.” In fact, the two have started Sandman’s own boxwood nursery on-site—with as many boxwoods as the garden has, it is inevitable that some die or fall prey to disease, but such defined shapes can be tricky to replace. “Every time we would order a boxwood, it would never match, which would drive us crazy,” says DeBarmore. Now, they need only peruse Sandman’s collection, already planted in rustic Siebert and Rice terracotta pots, which make a lovely addition to the landscape.

Despite her desire for a picture-perfect garden, Sandman admits that she’s “not a great gardener.” So she enlists the experts: She leaves upkeep of the property to Myatt Landscaping Concepts and uses Witherspoon Rose Culture to tend her roses. “I am definitely not outside trimming bushes,” says Sandman. “I would rather be cutting roses for my home and playing with tomatoes and basil and tarragon.” And that is just the way she likes it. “It just makes me so happy,” she says. For Sandman, la vie est belle—life is beautiful.