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Southeastern gardens: Green thumbs welcome!

montgomery blout cutural park c ala tourism dept
Montgomery’s Blout Cultural Park, courtesy Alabama Tourism Dept.

When author Eudora Welty left her home to the state of Mississippi, she specified that it was not to be a shrine to her but was to be used to encourage creativity in others. However, you cannot help but feel Welty’s presence when you tour the Tudor Revival house that her father built in 1925 in Jackson and where she lived the last 76 years of her life.

“We try very hard to make it feel as if she had just walked out of the room,” said Karen Redhead, director of the Eudora Welty House and Gardens. “We were able to restore the house as it was when she lived here.”

Outside, the gardens that Welty and her mother, Chestina, lovingly tended are also restored to represent their time there from 1925 to 1945.

“It is a very thoughtfully designed and maintained garden and is maintained in much the way it was when Eudora and her mother worked together in the garden,” said Redhead.

The Welty House and Gardens is an example of Southern gardens that combine the beauty of nature with cultural attractions at the same site.

Thus, you can tour an authentically furnished Victorian mansion in Bentonville, Arkansas, then step outside to savor more than 5,000 daffodils and tulips blooming in the spring; sample roses, narcissus and lavender mentioned by William Shakespeare in his plays and then attend a production of one of those plays nearby in Montgomery, Alabama; learn about herbs and visit a chapel nestled in the woods at the University of Georgia in Athens; and visit an official American Hosta Society Garden and see works of art by regional artists in South Carolina.

Eudora Welty House and Garden

Jackson, Mississippi
“The garden is an oasis in the center of the Belhaven neighborhood,” said Redhead. “Her [Eudora’s] mother designed the garden, which was designed to be a Southern regional garden. There are garden rooms, and the plants themselves create the spacers.”

Trellises, latticework and arbors also help define the garden rooms, which include a camellia area with more than 30 varieties that is a stop on the American Camellia Society’s Gulf Coast Camellia Trail.

There is an upper garden with a cutting garden of annuals, a wide variety of lilies loved by Eudora Welty and a border of perennials, and a lower garden with a rose bed.

“At the back is a woodland garden with plants that grow natural in the woods,” said Redhead.
“The gardens certainly enriched her life. There are over 150 references to plants in her works.”
The house is filled with Welty’s furnishings, including books stacked in nearly every room, keepsakes from her extensive travels and pictures of family and friends. Her writing desk sits at a right angle to an upstairs window.

“She was a great friend. People enjoyed her company. Her presence is really evident,” said Redhead.

Peel Mansion Museum and Historic Gardens
Compton Gardens
Bentonville, Arkansas
Businessman and congressman Sam Peel built a large Italianate mansion with a tall villa tower on the outskirts of Bentonville in 1875 and surrounded it with a vintage garden.

Today, the house is maintained as a museum filled with Victorian furnishings, and the gardens have been restored to their 19th-century appearance.

“We call it a heritage garden,” said Corrin Troutman, director of horticulture and gardens for the Peel Compton Foundation. “It is laid out much like a Victorian formal-style garden. We try to stick to heirloom plants, stuff that would have been growing in your grandmother’s garden. We want to evoke that feeling.”

The three-and-a half-acre garden, which surrounds the house, includes a shade garden, two herb gardens, an heirloom vegetable garden and a formal perennial garden.

“In the spring, we have poppies that bloom,” said Troutman. “New this year, we have just planted over 5,000 bulbs on the grounds. Daffodils and tulips will be blooming this spring.”

The mansion has a combination of original items of the Peel family and antiques and artifacts on loan from the Historic Arkansas Museum and the Old State House in Little Rock.

The foundation also manages Compton Gardens. “Compton is a new garden; it has only been open since 2005,” said Troutman. “It is still a hidden treasure in downtown Bentonville. It is a seven-acre native woodland garden that focuses on plants that are native to the Ozark plateau.

“There are over 55 species of mature trees and over 150 species of native plants in the garden and about a half-mile of walking trails.”

Compton Gardens will have its own major cultural attraction later this year when the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art opens. “It will be the pedestrian entry to Crystal Bridges,” said Troutman.

State Botanical Garden of Georgia
Athens, Georgia
Visitors won’t have to walk far this year to see the culture exhibits at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia. The exhibits will be right in among the flowers and plants.

“In March, we are opening the first art exhibit out in the garden itself,” said Connie Cottingham, the garden’s public relations director.

The exhibit will feature sculptures of six metal gates, from stainless steel to rusting metal, standing six to 10 feet tall.

“They will be there throughout the year,” Cottingham said. “They are works of art from dramatic and beautiful to whimsical and fun.”

Part of the University of Georgia, the garden has several display gardens that feature plants from around the world.

“One of the largest is the International Garden, which really does take visitors through different geographies,” said Cottingham. “It goes around the world.”

Other display gardens include a daffodil garden, an herb garden, a flower garden and a shade garden with wildflowers and magnolias.

The garden is located about three miles south of the university campus along the Middle Oconee River.

Groups can also tour the Garden Club of Georgia’s headquarters on the grounds, whose upper level is a house museum with prints, paintings, porcelains, antique furniture, custom-made rugs and decorative arts.

“Athens is where the first garden club was formed,” said Cottingham. “It is also well known as a horticulture center. There are a lot of experts located here — a lot are connected to the university. People who know gardening have heard of Athens.”

Blount Cultural Park and Shakespeare Gardens
Montgomery, Alabama
The English-inspired Blount Cultural Park has trees, lakes, weirs, flowers and sculpture spread over 300 acres, with roses typical of those found in Scotland along fencerows throughout the park. There are more than three and a half miles of paved walking trails.

A central feature of the park is the Shakespeare Garden, one of seven in the United States, which features plants and flowers mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays.

The Shakespeare Garden has tens of thousands of plants, including 8,000 narcissus bulbs that cover 6,700 square feet, 1,000 square feet of Asiatic lilies and chives, and nearly 5,000 yellow archangels. Moneywort is used as ground cover.

There is a 325-seat amphitheater in the Shakespeare Garden with rock ledge seats and a canopy of 55 trees that provide shade.

Also on the park grounds are the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts and the Alabama Shakespeare Festival.

The Alabama Shakespeare Festival presents 14 productions year-round in two theaters in its striking 100,000-square-foot brick building. The productions include three works of Shakespeare, along with stage classics, musicals and new works.

The Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, the oldest fine-arts museum in Alabama, has large, light-filled galleries and vistas of the park. It 3,000-piece permanent collection features 19th- and 20th-century American paintings and works on paper from the 15th through the 20th centuries by masters such as Durer, Rembrandt, Picasso and Whistler.

The museum’s decorative arts gallery has 18th-century Worcester porcelain and 19th-century Chinese export wares.


South Carolina Botanical Garden
Clemson, South Carolina
In addition to its officially recognized hosta garden, the 295-acre South Carolina Botanical Garden at Clemson University has a mix of natural landscapes, display gardens, a 70-acre arboretum and miles of streams and nature trails.

Like its counterpart in Georgia, the South Carolina Botanical Garden has artwork interspersed with its floral displays. Unlike Georgia, its displays are part of the natural environment.

The nature-based sculptures are some of the largest of their kind in the country. Designed by international artists and constructed by local volunteers and students, the pieces are slowly returning to nature, and some have already disappeared.

The garden’s Fran Hanson Discovery Center was originally built in 1998 by Southern Living magazine as an Idea House. Today, it features a nature discovery room, visitor information and rotating paintings by regional artists.

Also on the garden grounds is the Bob Campbell Geology Museum, with a large collection of rocks, minerals, fossils, gemstones and mining artifacts, and two historic houses: the 1716 Hanover House and the 1826 Hunt Cabin.

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