The first time I took an official garden tour with my mother, I officially had no interest in gardening. I’m not sure how she persuaded me to go, but I begrudgingly accompanied her on a trek through North Chattanooga touring various gardens, whereupon she pointed out nothing was planted in a straight line; everything was staggered or planted in masses, an insight I ignored.
The gardens were all lovely, but the one that stands out was the bonsai garden. The owner showed us exactly how one would go about this technique, and I was amazed. You actually dig up the plant altogether and clip its roots and must do so every year. Or at least that’s what I remember. I’ve never done that myself, but that experience marked me as a garden aficionado, albeit an unknowledgeable and unskilled one.
My mother and I have toured many gardens since she first dragged me along to the bonsai garden. We’ve strolled through Tina Currin’s lovely shaded grounds, brimming with hosta and begonia and all manner of ferns, all surrounded by incredible rockwork. I invite myself and my sidekick regularly, and Tina always obliges. We love my neighbor’s garden, the one that belongs to David and Marcia Barnes, and feel like we are in another world altogether when we walk among the man-sized rubrum lilies, their scent floating all the way over to my yard across the street. And my next-door neighbor Mefran boasts a lovely garden, no thanks to my dog Vic, who claims Mefran, her yard and her daughter Cathy as his own.
We toured again this past summer, thanks to the Master Gardeners of Hamilton County’s 2022 Annual Garden Tour. Carefully curated, these gardens ranged from the Lookout Mountain Conservancy’s Teaching Garden and Ecology Preservation gardens, a project with a large greenhouse and 12 raised vegetable beds managed primarily by the interns from the Howard School, to the Hulse gardens, a microcosm of various plant environments that is a sanctuary for many species of plants, insects and birds. Suzanne Ford, communications director for MGHC, said, “We choose the gardens based on their qualities and focus (native plants, interesting plantings or landscaping); some [belong to] Master Gardeners, others are interesting gardens that we find or are suggested to us.”
Ann and Howard Brown’s grounds are amazing. On the board of Bee City USA, Ann is quietly creating and saving wildlife habitat all over Lookout Mountain through her garden club, Lookout Mountain Beautiful, as well as just everywhere she goes! Her 10-year-old garden is pesticide-free and is a naturalized habitat for wildlife, and her various, graceful oases are packed with hard-working native plants. She has transformed her former lawn into a veritable wildlife paradise, leaving wide swaths of grass as beguiling paths that traverse masses of shrubs and perennials all brimming with important pollinators! “Notice the masses of coneflower and St.-John’s-wort,” my mother whispered. “Nothing in a row!”
The garden that Peggy and Jim Laney created at their new home in the former Lookout Mountain First Baptist Church insists passersby take a minute and enjoy it, as do the new Fairy Trail Gardens in Lookout Mountain, Ga. This public garden was designed by Dennis Bishop, along with a committee of community members. Over 200 trees and shrubs and 2,200 native perennials offer blooms year round. Benches offer lovely spots to relax and enjoy, and the charming rustic arbor serves as the entrance to the Jimmy Campbell Connector Trail leading to the Fairyland Elementary School.
If the idea of a garden room seems like an oxymoron, take a stroll through the Spann-Gibson family’s gardens. A shaded dining room, a lovely parlor with a view of the grounds and several little reading nooks all are shaded with mature trees are accented with antique planters brimming with colorful annuals.
In St. Elmo, Olga and Scott Drucker’s home is like something out of a fairytale. “Enchanting” was the word Lee Moore used to describe this garden. A landscape architect, Scott transformed the city lot around their 100-year-old house into a veritable secret garden. Indeed there are beguiling paths that beckon one to peer through, only to find a delightful spot to curl up with a glass of lemonade and a good book for the afternoon, or be treated to a magazine-worth dinner party al fresco under the stars beneath a vine-covered gazebo. Lush plantings include climbing roses, hydrangea, camellias, ferns and more. Truly, it’s a spot that’s hard to leave.
So, after our tour, I asked my mother what I should do with my yard. She didn’t say a word. She just looked at my perfectly-spaced straight line of hydrangeas and raised her eyebrows.
There are 300 certified Master Gardeners in Hamilton County; the 15-week certification course takes place each January. Learn more at www.mghc.org.
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Ferris Robinson is the author of three children’s books, “The Queen Who Banished Bugs,” “The Queen Who Accidentally Banished Birds,” and “Call Me Arthropod” in her pollinator series. “Making Arrangements” is her first novel. “Dogs and Love - Stories of Fidelity” is a collection of true tales about man’s best friend. Her website is ferrisrobinson.com and you can download a FREE pollinator poster there. She is the editor of The Lookout Mountain Mirror and The Signal Mountain Mirror.