Hills and Dales Estate

Hills and Dales Estate in LaGrange, Georgia is a unique property whose history goes all the way back to 1832, when Nancy Ferrell planted a small formal garden. Her daughter Sarah began her own garden in 1841. From then until her death in 1903, she developed "Ferrell Gardens" into one of the most famous gardens in the nation. Her husband, Judge Blount Ferrell, died in 1908, and three years later the estate was sold to Fuller Calloway Sr. and his wife Ida Cason. To reflect the beauty of the gardens, they built a magnificent Italian style villa on the site of the old Fuller home in 1916; and as they worked to restore the gardens, they diligently preserved Sarah Fuller's original garden plans. The leaflet I received describes Hills and Dales Estate as a "Southern treasure with 35 acres of rolling hills and shady dales." It is a good description!Today the estate remains in the Calloway family, though no one has lived in the house since 1998, when Alice Calloway passed away, following her husband, Fuller Calloway, Jr., who died in 1992. According to their wishes, the estate is now a house and garden museum, open to the public.

I recently visited with other garden lovers from the Birmingham area. No photos are allowed inside the home, but I will say that the home is a wonderful complement to the fabulous gardens. One thing that truly impressed me, in a house full of impressive features, was the airy servant's room on the third floor, beautifully decorated and complete with a bathroom with all the finest features of the other bathrooms in the home. The room also featured a round window with the most magnificent view in the home, looking out over the loveliest part of the gardens. Lucky servant!

We will begin our (very abbreviated) tour of the gardens with a look at the exterior of the original garage, where southern magnolias are espaliered. The beautiful tree trunk in the foreground belongs to a crepe myrtle.

Not far from the garage is where, in 1950, Alice Calloway converted part of a large vegetable garden into the Ray Garden:

Next we look at three scenes within the herb garden:

Next to the herb garden is the greenhouse, where orchids, begonias, blooming tropicals, ferns, and succulents grow.

The tour guide shooed us out of the greenhouse long before I was finished looking at all the features inside. There was too much to see! Scenes inside the greenhouse:

I like this wreath made with succulents.

Near the herb garden is this ancient China fir, part of the original planting by Sarah Ferrell:

Sarah Ferrell also planted this venerable Ginkgo:

Sarah Ferrell was a devout Christian. Inspired by the the Genesis verse, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth," she planted the word GOD into boxwood at the original entrance to her garden. This may have saved the estate during the Civil War when Sherman's troops came through the area, burning and pillaging. According to legend, the officer in charge of the troops that approached Sarah's home was a religious man who spared the property when he saw GOD. My only criticism is that, while GOD remains, there is no elevated view from which visitors can take a photo!

Here are more views of the garden, including Sarah's famous boxwood parterres. You may identify GOD in the smaller shot on the upper left, taken from a side angle:

I have visited several great gardens this month, soaking up inspiration. Deep summer is here now, and with the sticky heat, there are few changes being made in my own garden; but I am just waiting for fall!




Cat Walk

Our cat Autumn loves the garden as much as we do, though maybe for different reasons. She dreams she is a tiger, slinking through the jungle and stalking her prey. While she stays inside most of the time, we do let her out a few hours each day so she can be a cat.Being a cat.

We no longer put up bird feeders, not wanting to give her or our resident hawks easy targets, nor wanting to encourage our pesky chipmunks to hang around. (We have an over-abundant chipmunk population. In the past they built a condominium underneath one of our bird feeders and then sent out fliers advertising its amenities, including free meals. Now a vast underground chipmunk city stretches beneath our garden.) Both the hawks and Autumn hunt chipmunks, but since she has a home and doesn't depend on her prowess for food, Autumn is likely to catch chipmunks simply for play. I watched her do this one day. She repeatedly captured and released a chipmunk just so she could chase after him. I began to feel sorry for him; but apparently she wasn't actually biting him, and in the end he got away. 

Autumn often accompanies me on my garden strolls. I call these our cat walks. We make frequent stops to gaze into space for prolonged periods. I am mentally assessing the garden, while she has her eyes on some imperceptible movement amidst the plants.Clockwise from upper left:African daisy; An old Easter lily that blooms faithfully every year; Hydrangea 'Lady in Red', named for its red stems, not its blooms; Gardenia, whose wonderful fragrance fills the woodland garden each June.I can see the tension building in Autumn's body as she stares. Then she pounces, hoping to catch a chipmunk; but not all movement is made by chipmunks. The other day a snake did not appreciate her aggression and decided to fight back. Autumn made a hasty retreat and stuck close to me for the rest of our walk. I like snakes and leave them alone, because they like to dine on chipmunks, too. I hope that with all these predators, the chipmunks will abandon the area.

The cat and I pause at the top of the steps leading down into the woodland garden.Pink gumbo azaleas are blooming across from Autumn fern. (I named Autumn after the season, not the plant, because she came to us at that time of year and also because of the autumn colors in her fur.)

Down the steps is Carex 'Everillo'.I adore this plant! It keeps getting better and better and doesn't mind Autumn's occasional nibbles.

Next is Pilea glauca, or Red Stemmed Pilea.I love how the steel blue foliage contrasts with its red stems. This is a tropical plant that will come inside for the winter.

Now we come to the weirdest plant in my garden, Amorphophallus konjac, also called Voodoo plant, Devil's Tongue, and Corpse plant. All of these names are appropriate.The spotted stems feel like human skin. The great leaf opens up like an umbrella and looks a lot like a tomato plant. I have two of these growing in pots in different parts of my garden. They are four years old. It takes about five years till they bloom, so I am looking forward to that experience next year. The blooms are giant maroon things that smell like rotting flesh.

Well! Just below the Voodoo plant is much nicer Eucomis, or Pineapple lily.I recently discovered this plant and was thrilled to learn it is hardy in my area (zone 7b/8a). It is my favorite plant of the month. It is just beginning to open its blooms.

We continue our cat walk into the woodland garden, where dark shadows and light beams play across moss covered paths.This woodland side path leads around the main planting area in the woodland garden.

Bicycle shadow in the woodland gardenThe woodland garden is a quiet place, except for the shrieking Cooper's hawks who built their nest in a pine tree earlier this year. The hawk babies are out of the nest now, but the fledglings are still hanging around, while their parents teach them how to catch chipmunks. All these hawks are talking to each other. It is a hard language to listen to. I tell Autumn they are fussing at her and she had better stay close. She does.

After we leave the woodland garden, Autumn and I make our way back toward the patio. I pause to examine the Confederate Jasmine growing on the new arch.Look on the left side of the arch, and you can see the recovering jasmine vine.The jasmine was severely damaged by winter freezes this year, and we cut it back nearly to the ground and took the opportunity to replace the old dilapidated arch. I miss the mass of jasmine that covered the old arch, but the vine is putting out lots of new growth. A new jasmine vine on the other side of the arch is also growing quickly, so I think by next year they will meet in the middle atop the arch.  

The cat walk is over, and Autumn and I head into the house. Autumn curls up for a nap. In her dreams she is a mighty tiger on the prowl, and the chipmunks don't stand a chance.

You may also enjoy these previous posts:

Under the Spell of the Voodoo Plant 

A Cat Tale

The Cat is Back

Confederate Jasmine For a Fragrant Layer in the Garden