A preview of a tour of gardens presented by the
Garden Club Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County
By Jim Dodson
According to one old saw, there’s always something new to
see or learn even in an old garden — especially when
spring is at hand.
Fresh hands and inspiring adaptations might well be a theme of “Cultivating Community,” 2018’s spectacularly diverse and ambitious build-your-own tour of 15 unique gardens scheduled for April 28 by the redoubtable Garden Club Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County.
The daylong event and fundraiser features everything from the gardens of National Register homes in Buena Vista to an innovative farm-to-table garden beside an artisan pub in West Salem. The itinerary, aimed at illustrating the impressive breadth of Winston-Salem gardeners, also includes historic adaptations throughout West End, contemporary, traditional and classic restorations in Washington Park, even a sensational rooftop garden in the Old Salem area that scales the heights of beauty.
“We couldn’t be more excited about this year’s tour,” notes event chair Liza Smith, “because it refects the wonderful diversity of our city’s talented gardeners. We represent 22 garden clubs with 850 members who share a strong sense of mission to beautify the city and provide 20 active grants for education and preservation.”
On a recently balmy day at the shank end of winter, with daffodils exploding and cherry trees erupting weeks before their traditional arrival, we enjoyed a sneak peek at three very different gardens debuting on this spring’s tour — plus one breathtaking rooftop garden with a view.
First stop was the restored Washington Park garden of real-estate maven Michael Ryden and his partner Arthur Easter, surrounding a Charles R. Fogle-designed Craftsman house dating from 1917. When Ryden and Easter purchased the historic house in 2000, they inherited a classical overgrown garden they’ve spent almost two decades judiciously reshaping and pruning. The impact of their sensitive editing beneath towering ancient white oaks showcases a front yard yew hedge that frames robust beds of perennials and stately foundation shrubs. The crowning glory is a cedar arbor designed by Ryden and Easter.
A clever stone driveway scored by Dwarf Mondo Grass plantings — the handiwork of Jeff Allen — leads to a former “drying yard” now transformed into a magnificent rose garden bordered by original boxwood hedges. With a screen of cedars and trained holly trees, the landmark house has a splendid sense of privacy on its hilltop above the city.
A lower side garden hosts a small goldfish pond with a moss-wreathed water feature that dates to the property’s original owners.
“Arthur was the designer and I’m the pruner,” Michael Ryden was quick to give proper due, pointing out a pair of beautiful winter hazels already in bloom, and an artfully shaped pierius tree he assured us would be “covered in beautiful white flowers by the time the guests tour the garden.” We made a note to return.
Just around the corner on South Main at Gloria Avenue, longtime Winston-Salem landscape designer John Newman artfully transformed an existing traditional landscape at the Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts into a public open space. Its blend of stone pathways, Eastern statuary and benches with large foundation shrubs and specimen plantings conveys an unmistakable Asian feel.
A circular patio area at the rear of the property is one of several key focal points surrounding the house that invites staff and visitors to pause and reflect, a key intention of the designer. “The elements of stone and steel are meant to project an environmental simplicity,” Newman says, explaining that they draw the eye to the surrounding landscape of older magnolias, crepe myrtles, witch hazels, viburnams and Yoshino cherries, which he notes “provide an enhanced connection with nature.”
He points out that the current state of the garden at Kenan is simply part of a multiyear plan to expand use of the outdoor areas for events and gatherings. The gorgeous stonework and hillside plantings above South Main, he observes, will feature new bulbs and perennials that should make their debut at tour time, with a future phase devoted to a similar transformation along Gloria Avenue.
When Dan Falken and wife, Sidney purchased the magnificent stucco house on a graceful curve of Summit Street in West End, they inherited a house and garden with a venerable history.
Built in 1921 exclusively for Dr. Arthur Valk, R.J. Reynolds’ Johns-Hopkins-trained personal physician, the house had only known three occupants until the Falkens moved in.
During their two decades in residence, with the help of designer Steve Hickman, the Falkens painstakingly restored the interior of the house while making only rudimentary changes to the existing landscape. That all changed several years ago when Greensboro-based landscape designer Chip Callaway brought creative eye and team to the task of transforming the oddly shaped property into something truly special.
“I’ve loved that house forever, but the triangular side yards and back were something of a tired and overgrown jungle,” notes Callaway. “After clearing much of that away, we set out to create gardens that were accessible to people walking past — this is a neighborhood where everyone walks in the evening — but would give the Falkens some much-needed privacy.”
On the upper east side of the house, a overgrown “mess” of Virginia creeper and English ivy was replaced by elegant boxwoods and hydrangeas, highlighted by a parterre under the canopy of an ancient crepe myrtle and filled with acanthus and pachysandra.
The house’s heavily shaded west side yard perhaps got the biggest facelift when a new retaining brick wall was added to replace a fence covered by honeysuckle. Callaway’s staffers created a classic “wedge garden” that recalls a Charleston side garden done largely in green foliage from viburnums, camellias, several varieties of hydrangea, poet’s laurel, cast-iron-pot plants, sweet box and low-maintenance Distylium shrubs.
Elements of an original boxwood garden survived the backyard makeover, where Callaway and company added a distinctive water feature for focal interest and a screen of carefully sculpted yaupon trees to provide the owners extra privacy. Roses and azaleas and selected spring bulbs bring splashes of color to the area through every season, while a discreet stone pathway bordered by snowdrops leads off down a tunnel of vegetation to a neighboring secret garden.
“We really couldn’t be more pleased with the garden and how easy it is to maintain,” says Dan Falken, the garden’s chief maintenance man, with a proprietary grin. “Our family loves it and so do folks walking by in the evening. I think the people who take the garden tour will pleased by what they see, too.”
Our last stop was another Chip Callaway creation — at the official residence of UNC School of the Arts Chancellor
Perched on the edge of Old Salem, it is highlighted by a rooftop garden with one heck of a view.
“What we had there to begin with was a large space that was so hot most of the time it was almost inhospitable and thus underused by Lindsay’s predecessor.
One thing Lindsay missed in Winston was his vegetable garden from back home in Alabama, so we created a triparte garden with one intimate sitting space shaded by smaller-scale stewartia trees, with side gardens for growing vegetables.”
Weight was of critical concern, which is why Callaway employed special fiberglass boxes filled with engineered soil that was far lighter than traditional raised beds for growing lettuce, rhubarb, kale and winter vegetables.
“The view of the city is now to die for,” quips the designer, “and certainly to entertain with. He is out there all the time.”
Bierman gives Callaway props. “Before Chip did his magic, the terrace was as uninviting as a parking lot in summer. The effective heat was so intense we even had to run the air conditioning in winter,” he recalls. “Chip transformed the space into something very practical and beautiful, a sensational garden that is perfect for entertaining and daily use. The plantings and trees reduce the heat significantly and I am able to enjoy a great kitchen garden,” he says. “The view is like a bonus, really amazing.” h
The Garden Club Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County presents its tour of 15 gardens and fundraiser, “Cultivating Community,” from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 28. Proceeds from the self-guided tour benefit grants for community beautification, conservation and restoration projects. Tickets: gardenclubcouncil.org.
Jim Dodson is the editor of Seasons and the author of several books including a gardener’s foray into South Africa, A Beautiful Madness.