The Many Moods of Montrose

The gate at Montrose
The gate at Montrose

As we traveled on the bus for the second or third day (they all began to blur into a seamless, leafy consciousness), I turned to Kathy Purdy of Cold Climate Gardening and asked “Are you excited about visiting Montrose?”  At her incredulous look, I continued, “I mean, is it a big deal?”

Carol of May Dreams Gardens and Mary Ann of Idaho Gardener turned around in their seats.  “You’re kidding right?” they said in unison.

Unidentified colchicums

“You know, it’s Nancy Goodwin’s garden.  She wrote books and sold Cyclamen through her nursery.”

Unidentified cyclamen

I shook my head. I don’t grow cyclamen, I wanted to say.  They don’t live in Oklahoma except as houseplants, and you know how I feel about indoor plants.

You may have guessed by now that I didn’t know who Nancy Goodwin is.

I do now.

Nancy Goodwin's home
Nancy Goodwin's home

When we first entered Montrose, we were taken on a guided tour around the once formal, front garden.  I was a bit dismayed to see that it was in some disrepair.  I knew the Garden Conservancy took on Montrose as a preservation project, and I wondered why the front garden looked the way it did.  It seemed rude to ask, so I didn’t.  I just dutifully followed our leader until we reached the back gardens, and oh, my, I was stunned.

The allee of banana trees.  This photo doesn't do them justice.
The allee of banana trees. This photo doesn't do them justice.

Under a huge, rustic arbor was the most unique allee I’ve ever seen.  Instead of the usual climbing roses, it was composed of banana trees.

See the pretty red bananas?
See the pretty red bananas?

Yes, trees with bunches of actual bananas.  I counted five to seven trees, and at the base of each were collections of flowers.  That was room one.

One of the many garden rooms.
One of the many garden rooms.

Once through the allee, we walked through room after room of perennials and annuals which were blooming like an orchestra full of instruments playing all at once.  At the end of each room was a beautiful focal point.  The garden was tailor made for photography, and I wish I could have stayed all day.

To determine the scale of the container, please note the people behind it.
To determine the scale of the container, please note the people behind it.

I remain stunned at all the beauty I saw there, and although I still wonder about the front garden, it doesn’t really matter.  Maybe if I read her books, A Year in Our Gardens: Letters by Nancy Goodwin and Allen Lacy and Montrose: Life in a Garden, I’ll get the answer.

If you ever get a chance to visit Raleigh and its surrounding towns, make plans to see Montrose Gardens.  They are a very big deal, and now I know.


  1. CurtissAnn says:

    I enjoyed the tour so much! I had no idea banana trees could grow in NC. Ours are beginning to grow on me. When Big mentioned they might grow bananas, I thought he was joking. I thought Montrose was where Billy Graham lived. 🙂 I sure have learned a few things.

  2. Dee, What a delightful post. I felt the same way on the Garden Writers Association tour. The name sounded familiar, but I wasn’t acquainted with the garden. Your description of the backyard reminded me exactly of what makes Montrose Gardens so special. Thanks for sharing. Teresa

  3. I really enjoyed that garden, but didn’t know as much about it as I would have liked to before seeing it in person. It was quite photogenic, as gardens go, and there was a lot to see in a little bit of time. It should be on everyone’s list if they find themselves in Raleigh…

  4. Gail says:

    That is one incredible garden…Dee, your description of an orchestration was perfect. There are just so many gardens I must see. gail

  5. What a perfect and inviting archway! Thanks for the tour. The unidentified colchiums are beautiful, I really love fall crocuses. I wish we could go straight from them to the spring bulbs. 🙂 Rebecca

  6. VW says:

    I’ll be sure to add Montrose to the list if I ever get to visit gardens in Raleigh. Lovely shots, except the one of the front is kind of sad. Maybe they have a great new planting planned and just haven’t started on it yet?

  7. Willi says:

    Wow! I saw an allee of banana trees like that in Cuba, but I don’t think it was planned. Too bad you can’t grow hardy cyclamen. At the winter garden in the Arboretum here in Seattle they plant carpets of them under witch hazels. It is a wonderful sight!

  8. Phillip says:

    I have “Montrose: A Life in the Garden” but I’ve never read it. I will get around to it one day. How exciting to have seen it in person.

  9. I read “Montrose: A Life in a Garden” and had intended to order some things from the nursery before it closed. I am so jealous that you got to visit. It looks amazing.

  10. Lorene says:

    Get OUT! That container is stunning! I visited Montrose in the late 90’s…at the time the front garden was beginning it’s decline but we were told at one point it was a “dianthus walk” with dozens of varieties of old-fashioned pinks lining either side of the walk. My imagination filled in the rest and I never saw the weeds. So glad for your treat!

  11. Katie says:

    I loved Montrose. I would gladly live under the banana trees! Beautiful post!

  12. Hey Dee,
    I didn’t know anything about Montrose either! But boy was it beautiful. I just loved walking around a corner and seeing a perfect picture already set up for me. And the lovely colors! I would love to see it again in the spring time wouldn’t you?

    Beautiful post. Thanks for sharing your photos!

  13. commonweeder says:

    I didn’t know about Montrose either, but I’m glad I do now. Its nice to know there are more beautiful gardens than we ever imagined – and that they are just waiting for us.

  14. Lori says:

    Oh, wow. I hadn’t heard of Montrose either, but now I’m impressed.

  15. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    It looks like a dream. I am glad you got to enjoy it.

  16. Tatyana says:

    Dee, thank you! You showed just several pictures, but they give me the sense of what that garden is. Banana tree allee is something! And that container… Fabulous!

  17. Becky says:

    I wonder if our drought conditions are hampering some of the work in the front garden. Our lawns here (I’m about 15 miles south of Montrose)are suffering.

  18. Pam/Digging says:

    I wouldn’t have known either, Dee, and I even lived in Raleigh for five years. But I wasn’t a gardener then, alas. Nancy’s back garden looks awesome. I’d love to have seen it.

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