During 2016 Rich, my husband, driver, and photographer, and I, flower fanatic, writer, and gardener, visited 134 new gardens. We traveled in the west to Seattle, San Francisco, Cheyenne, Boulder, and Ft. Collins. We did a tour through Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia, and a small area of northern Florida. We traveled seven weeks in New Zealand visiting 102 gardens. Viewing the world through the lens of a garden has given us a further education in history, geography, sociology, botany, art, and cultures, especially horticulture and agriculture.
“Signs, Signs, everywhere there’s signs,
messin’ up the scenery, breaking’ my mind.”
(The Five Man Electrical Band)
Public gardens welcome curious visitors from all over the world. They enter eager to learn about the land, plants, trees and rocks of a particular place. Many gardens proudly highlight the entrance with an eye catching sign, often nestled among a beautifully landscaped bed of flowers. Once inside, posted signs act as the voice speaking directly to visitors. When it comes to signs everywhere, some are creative offenders and a few are just plain offenders.
In 2006 PBS showed the documentary film “A Man Named Pearl.” The film was about a topiary artist’s garden in South Carolina. Seeing the film made a lasting impression on me so much so I recently headed to Bishopville to see Pearl Fryar’s topiary garden. Arriving at his home there are no gates, no posted hours, just a welcome sign with a donation box. A homemade kiosk holds a small brochure with information about the garden. Rich and I walked right into Pearl’s garden, and by the end of our visit we had met Pearl, wandered through his garden and left feeling grateful and inspired.
As an Arizona gardener I don’t deal with much mud and I don’t own a pair of rubber boots. So I can’t imagine gardening in the low country of South Carolina, where there is water meandering through the landscape nearly everywhere. Yet when I learned of the Audubon Swamp Garden, I knew I needed to wander through. I was assured by Christopher at the ticket window that we would be walking through on a raised wooden walkway, safe and protected from alligators. After winding my way in the Swamp Garden for several hours on small board walks spanning the muddy places and navigating around the protruding tree roots I wasn’t sure Christopher had set foot in the garden.
Visiting Piedmont Park in Atlanta, Ga I arrived just in time to take in the Dogwood Festival. I love street art fairs. I feel so inspired as I wander through seeing the original creations made by artists who see the world in a unique way creating powerful expressions of their view. The Dogwood Art festival began in 1936 and it is hard to imagine how many incredible new art creations have occurred in all the years of this event.
“Oh what a beautiful morning!”
My primary exposure to Oklahoma was in the movie theatre many years ago, “where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain.” So when driving through the state recently and finding an ornate Italian Villa with 23 acres of formal gardens, I realized I needed to learn more about this place where there is “Plen’y of air and plen’y of room, Plen’y of heart and plen’y of hope.” (lyrics of Oklahoma, Rodgers & Hammerstein)
My primary exposure to Oklahoma was in the movie theatre “where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain” So driving through the state and seeing the Myriad Botanical Gardens drastically expanded my view. Located in downtown Oklahoma City the 17 acre gardens “there is grand” just as the song from the famous musical says.
If you should tire of your 72 room Italian villa surrounded by 23 acres of formal gardens, consider donating it to your city for an art museum. This happened! In Tulsa, OK, in 1938, oil man Waite Phillips & wife Genevieve decided to move from their Italian Renaissance villa to a home in California. Tired of their Tulsa home they donated it to the city. Accepting this “house” the city opened it as The Philbrook Art Museum surrounded by its beautiful gardens in 1939. Today it continues as a great point of pride for Tulsa.
I don’t know much about Texas and I will admit if I am not paying attention I find it easy to confuse Amarillo and Armadillo. Amarillo is a town with a proud history of quarter horses and cattle. The scent of cattle reminds you of their importance in the economy today. Yet the moment you step inside the fragrance garden of the Amarillo Botanical garden the scent of chocolate flower surrounds you and you realize you are in an incredible gem of a garden.
I wanted to see the survivor tree at the memorial plaza of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building, the site of the Oklahoma City bombing. This tree was buried under the rubble of the building debris that fell April 19, 1995. This American Elm tree showed signs of life when it was uncovered by the clean up workers months after the bombing. A sign of life so significant that it inspired so many then and continues yet today. It is in the center of a plaza space to representing regrowth and healing.