PRESTON HOLLOW, Texas — "Beyond this place there be dragons,” reads the sign over a courtyard door, visible after you’ve walked across a drawbridge, over a moat and passed through ornate iron gates.
So begins an excursion through a unique property, unlike its neighbors on this narrow, winding, blacktop road of old estates and new mansions. The house and grounds were built for the delight of their owner and her five grandchildren. Guided by their client’s fantasies, the professionals who designed, installed and maintain the gardens and grounds have had to create separate compartments, intellectually. The property does not conform to standard operating procedure, for this is a land inhabited by hobbits. "The imagination started with her,” landscape architect Rosa Finsley says of the homeowner. The 1-acre lot, bisected by a creek, was overgrown with vines, trees and bushes, including invasive species. Privet and wax-leaf ligustrum, planted by birds, are left alone, Finsley says, because the homeowner wants to preserve her thicket of privacy and because the large shrubs’ berries are a food source for wildlife. The homeowner doesn’t shrink from mixing fantasies. The wall flanking the drawbridge was inspired by gardens of Ninfa, an abandoned medieval town southeast of Rome. Made of sandstone and slate, the higgledy-piggledy wall is studded with glass bottles and partly obscured by white Lady Banksia roses. Blackberries replicate the brambles clinging to Sleeping Beauty’s castle. The courtyard inside the gates is set with faux-bois concrete furniture and planters. A faux-bois tree trunk, spilling water into rusty buckets, is the focus of a round stone fountain. The house, finished in 2006, was to be a replica of White O’Morn, the whitewashed stone cottage John Wayne’s character in "The Quiet Man” reclaims in the Irish village of his birth. "We told them to put up the cheapest stone because we were going to whitewash it,” the owner says. The stonemasons’ work turned out "too stately, too fancy, too nice” to be masked by paint, and Dallas would not allow a thatch roof. The architecture’s premise, therefore, became a "Tolkien-inspired cottage.” Hipped roofs facing this way and that are shingled with a jumble of old slate, new slate, tiles and other materials.