Saving Elizabeth Lawrence’s Garden

The Famous Side Gate and bamboo Lawrence always fought.

Have you ever wanted to own a historic garden, one created by someone who’d made it and herself famous? What would it be like? If the gardener were deceased, would any of the garden remain? Would you ever feel like it was yours? Could you make changes, or would you only want to preserve it?

Once I finished Beautiful at All Seasons, I felt like I knew Elizabeth Lawrence’s garden, but I wanted to experience it. A week ago, we were 160 miles from Charlotte, North Carolina, the closest I would ever get. Not expecting anything, I emailed The Friends of Elizabeth Lawrence, now the Wing Haven Gardens, explained about how the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club was reading the book, and asked for a tour.

The next day I heard from Lindie Wilson, the owner of the home and one of the editors of the book, who very graciously agreed to give me a tour. She stressed that the garden had already peaked, but I found so much beauty remained.

This is the famous gate on the front cover of Beautiful at All Seasons and the bamboo Lawrence frequently mentioned in her columns. Wilson finally tamed it by placing a barrier in the ground which surrounded it and kept it in bounds.

The circular pool with netting in it to stop birds.

 

As I walked up to the front door, I was curious about the garden and the woman who’d taken it on. As she wrote in the introduction, the burden of owning this treasure weighed heavily on her at times.

People came from near and far and asked to see it. In fact, two other women from Charleston came the day I did. Together, we trod the gravel walks and paths previously laid by Lawrence and now tended by Wilson.

Although Wilson knew Lawrence, both through her articles in The Charlotte Observer and the Charlotte Garden Club (the oldest gardening club in North Carolina,) Lawrence was very old and no longer gardening. When she purchased the property, Wilson never expected the enthusiasm of Lawrence’s devotees.

Hydrangea 'Blue Billow'

 

Wilson bought the property in 1986, and added her own stamp to the garden over the years. Sixty percent of the plants still remain from Lawrence’s original design. One hundred percent of the hardscape remains. Still, Wilson didn’t worry when she wanted to change some things because the garden was always a laboratory for plants, and she believed Lawrence would have approved.

I asked her why she thought Lawrence was growing so much plant material only now available in nurseries.

“She was on the cutting edge,” she said, “in touch with everyone in the nursery industry.”

Considering that Lawrence gardened at her home for over 35 years, and Wilson continued gardening there for over twenty years, the biggest change to the garden is in its maturity. What began as a sun garden has now become one of dappled shade due to the growth of the trees. The ‘Blue Billow’ Hydrangea at left was added by Wilson. It makes a lovely accent in the garden.

Most of the roses were finished with their spring bloom, but some of the varieties grown were ‘Bon Silene,’ Cl. ‘Old Blush’ (in the front yard,) ‘Darla’s Enigma,’ and ‘Bubblebath.’ Of these, I grow Cl. ‘Old Blush.’

Stewartia pseudocamellia

Near the rear of the garden is one of the treasures, a Stewartia pseudocamellia often written about by Lawrence, is the largest tree of its type in North Carolina. It was blooming, and I took a photo of the blooms, but the tree towered over us.

The neighborhood where the garden is located has also changed. The older homes are being torn down and replaced by new ones.

The walk which runs the length of the garden.

 

“I’ve been worrying about the garden for the past ten years,” said Wilson. With the help of many agencies, including the National Garden Conservancy, Southern Garden History and the National Trust, she placed a conservation easement on the property in 2002.

Wilson will be turning the property over to the Wing Haven Foundation in a couple of months when she moves to a new home. In some fashion, it will be a release. She can then garden with a “clean palette” and no longer be concerned about what Lawrence would think. It will truly be her own.

“It will be a place I can really play,” she said.

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22 comments on “Saving Elizabeth Lawrence’s Garden

  1. Pingback: In to the garden of Elizabeth Lawrence « Flowergardengirl

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  4. kate

    What a beautiful post Dee. I enjoyed seeing the photographs that you took and also your account of the visit. That must have been a highlight of your trip. The garden entrance is just gorgeous. I am glad that a seasoned gardener continued to evolve Elizabeth Lawrence’s garden as she did. Hopefully, it will continue on with the new owners.

  5. Melissa Mannon

    Wow! Now I see where you vacationed. I am very envious (quite fitting considering my post on envy today, btw.) What a wonderful experience you must have had. I”m glad that eating didn’t get in the way ; )

    Hi Melissa, eating had its moments, but I made it. So glad I got to go. I’m off to read your envy post.~~Dee

  6. Kathryn/plantwhateverbringsyoujoy.com

    Hi, Dee! Good for you for including a very special, meaningful personal adventure in your vacation! One day your kids will appreciate it. (My daughter just did a post on organic veges…) This post was a contribution to the garden blogging community. Well done!

    Thanks, Kathryn, I was thrilled to get to tour it.~~Dee

  7. Don

    Dee… I am also quite grateful for your post. Ms. Lawrence has been my favorite American garden writer for years, and every winter I read The Little Bulbs; people probably get tired of me talking about her. There are just a couple of garden writers that you feel you actually know, just through reading their books; she was one of them.

    Don

    Hi Don, I’m glad you liked the post. I love Miss Lawrence too. She was very personable and engaging in her writing.~~Dee

  8. Robin at Bumblebee

    Whoa. What a great idea and how brilliant of you to follow through to secure a visit. Fabulous account of your visit and your whole vacation. I always enjoy your writing.

    Robin at Bumblebee

    Hey Robin, I was lucky to be close enough to visit. Thanks.~~Dee

  9. Wurzerl

    Wow, what a great post!!!
    I will start to read it again because it’ s a very interesting story. In Great Britain there is the National Trust to safe gardens, in Germany it’ s part of a department. Here I can see how it can be in the USA.
    Wonderful story and good photographs.
    Have a great weekend
    Wurzerl

    Thanks, Wurzerl. We don’t take our smaller gardens seriously enough, but I think we’re getting better.~~Dee

  10. Anna

    Forgive me—you must think I’ve lost my mind. I’m thrilled you were at Elizabeth Lawrence’s Garden. I didn’t realize you could actually tour her garden. I learned a lot from you. Ms Lawrence is my hero cause she was all about the plant and not the landscaping just like you said. I’m sorry Dee that I didn’t make so much over you being at her garden to begin with. I was doing it in my brain just not on the keyboard. My brain was thinking NC State (where she graduated)—Gardens—Preservation—-it’s how my mind thinks—.

    Anna, I just thought you were excited and that the post touched a cord with you. That’s all. As soon as Wing Haven takes over, I think it will be easy to visit. This is just a time of transition while Miss Wilson moves. I love how your mind thinks.~~Dee

  11. Lisa at Greenbow

    Oh my gosh, Dee, you are a lucky lady getting to actually see her garden. I would be entirely too intimidated to even attempt to garden in such a famous garden. Ms. Wilson is a brave lady and talented no doubt. Thanks so much for taking us with you through the garden.

    Lisa, it would be intimidating. She is quite a gardener to take it on.~~Dee

  12. Anna

    I have a new weblog site–
    http://flowergardengirl.typepad.com/
    Just a reminder to change it;) If you don’t, I’ll put exlax in your sweet tea.

    Oh, please don’t. LOL.~~Dee

  13. Anna

    I got so excited when I saw where you had been. You did a great job on the whole piece. You were so close to my house. I surely wish I had known you were coming.

    Yes, I do feel a huge need to document these gardens in our southern region that are possibly fading away right before our eyes. Something else you mentioned too that greatly interest me is the study of new plants. Our own NC State University is so involved with that. The JC Raulston Arboretum is a fantastic place.

    Well–I don’t know why I’m rambling so–it’s just that you were here and I am so worried about all these old gardens. You touched a soft spot with me. Right in my own back yard is a big park that I’ve written quite a bit about–Tanglewood Park. It could all become a big horse racing track one day if the county runs out of money. I could just cry.

    Anna, I hope your Tanglewood Park stays a park. I can’t believe I was that close to your house. I’m sorry. I would have stopped by. I wanted to stay in North Carolina for several days because there is so much to see. I use the JC Raulston Arboretum all the time to check my information. I’m glad you liked the post.~~Dee

  14. deb

    What a great post. Thank you for sharing this garden. What an honor.

    Deb, I think that after Wing Haven takes it over, there will be regular visiting hours. This will just be a time of transition, while Miss. Wilson moves to her new home.~~Dee

  15. Linda MacPhee-Cobb

    Thank you for the wonderful tour! What a lovely garden.

    Linda, Thank you for stopping by and reading.~~Dee

  16. Cinj

    Thanks for the lovely tour. I know that people say that gardens become “past their prime”, but to me there is always so much interest to be seen in the garden. It’s not only about the flowers (although they are very pretty!)

    Cinj, if you’re really into gardening, you can always find something beautiful to see.~~Dee

  17. chey

    Beautiful garden. Thanks for the tour and the story Dee!

    Chey, thanks for coming by and reading it.~~Dee

  18. Stuart

    What an awesome experience Dee. There are a few gardens like these in the Eastern States that my parents would take us to as kids. While I probably didn’t appreciate the gardens, or gardeners, much back then it gave me some context to understand them when I read about their exploits as I grew up.

    It’s such a great thing to have these living legacies of those who went before us and forged so many great accomplishments in horticulture. Cheers for sharing it and good on you for driving the extra miles.

    Stuart, my kids get really tired of going to gardens, hearing about gardens, my discussing plants. I try to only subject them to those I think are the best. I think it’s cool your parents took you.~~Dee

  19. Mr. McGregor's Daughter

    How lucky you are to have been able to visit that garden & talk with the person who acquired it from Sarah Lawrence. I wouldn’t like to take on the burden of caring for a famous garden. What if people didn’t like what I had done? What if I accidentally killed one of the important feature plants? I’m glad that this property has been put into a conservation easement. They are such important tools for preserving gardens & open spaces.

    MMD, I felt honored to be there. Wilson is a wonderful gardener, herself. She took the space to the next level.~~Dee

  20. Annie in Austin

    Oh Dee, you gave me goosebumps with this wonderful post and the way you unfolded the story.
    I can’t imagine being so faithful a steward for all those years, but how wonderful that Lindie Wilson managed to preserve the garden while having a chance to start her own.

    And now I’m really glad that I bought the book – maybe Lindie got a couple of cents from the purchase price to put in her “new plant” fund.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    Annie, oh good, I’m so glad you enjoyed it. I’ve never given anyone goosebumps before.~~Dee

  21. Pam/Digging

    Fantastic post, Dee! I didn’t read the Book Club selection, but I think you surely took it to the next level by getting a personal tour of the garden that Lawrence wrote about. It looks like a beautiful garden, and the story of how Wilson tended it, trying to make it her own while still honoring Lawrence’s vision, is fascinating. Good job!

    Thanks, Pam. I was kind of close and figured it was a once in a lifetime visit.~~Dee

  22. Carol, May Dreams Gardens

    How wonderful that you got to see the gardens of Elizabeth Lawrence! I’m
    very envious. I love the write up on your visit, this little bit of insight you’ve
    given us on how the garden is today. Thank you! Later tonight, I’ll link
    this post to the GBBC virtual meeting post.

    Hi Carol, I’m glad you liked the little surprise. I was so thankful I was able to visit it. I think it’s nice the garden still exists.~~Dee