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.
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.
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.’
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.
“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.