Southern exposure: Touring the nation's beautiful gardens

January 02, 1994|By Tom MacCubbin | Tom MacCubbin,Orlando Sentinel

For the gardening enthusiast, there is no sense in going from Point A to Point B unless you can stop to smell the roses somewhere along the way.

Fortunately for those traveling the roads of the South, there are plenty of side trips to take -- relaxing jaunts to examine everything from old estates to community plantings.

But where to start?

Laura C. Martin, a horticulture columnist for the Atlanta Journal and Constitution and an author of gardening books, maps it all out in her new book, "Southern Gardens" (Abbeville Press Publishers, $45).

"Each of the gardens in the book is a creation of an individual, a couple or a family, and their personalities are indelibly stamped on the gardens," Ms. Martin said in an interview.

In her book, Ms. Martin tours the gardens -- from Vizcaya in Florida to Monticello in Virginia -- in chronological order. She includes the better plantation gardens of the 1700s, antebellum plantations from the 1800s, estate gardens of the early 1900s and plantings developed since the 1940s, which are considered modern gardens. Ms. Martin encourages her readers to visit one or two gardens that might be near their homes, then use others as side trips during more distant travels.

Here are some of the notable stops she makes:

North Carolina

* Elizabethan Gardens: Ms. Martin begins with the Elizabethan Gardens in Manteo, N.C., the site of the First Colony of Roanoke Island, which was established in 1587. The garden was planted during the 1950s as a tribute to the settlers who vanished with the lost colony.

The garden on Roanoke Island follows the formal geometric designs popular in England during the 16th century. Well-manicured hedges define beds filled with flowers or herbs and trimmed trees line the walkways. Plantings with seasonal interest include azaleas, dogwoods, magnolias, camellias and chrysanthemums.

Statues create focal points throughout the garden. A major attraction is the Italian fountain and pool at the center of the sunken gardens. Nearby stand statues of the gods Apollo, Diana, Venus and Jupiter, who watch over the garden.

Florida

* Cypress Gardens: A tour of some of Florida's best gardens can start with a weekend trip to Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven. A creation of Dick and Julie Pope, the gardens opened to the public in 1936. More than 8,000 varieties of plants are featured, and "Southern belles" in antebellum dress pose for photos. Also popular are the lakeside water-ski shows.

Ms. Martin notes Mr. Pope had a favorite saying: "If it ain't fun, then the heck with it." He obviously took great pleasure in creating the minigardens. Reached by winding walkways, they are filled with bromeliad, bougainvillea, fruit tree, ginger and annual flower displays that hug the shores of Lake Eloise. Most recently, three seasonal plantings have been emphasized at the gardens with a fall chrysanthemum festival (running through November), a winter poinsettias display and a spring flower festival.

* Four Arts Garden: Palm Beach in South Florida is the home of the Four Arts Garden. Its plantings began as a project of the local garden club in 1938 to demonstrate what could be grown in South Florida landscapes. Seven distinct gardens resulted, including a rose planting, which club members were told could not exist in South Florida. The bushes have flourished.

The Four Arts Garden also includes a Chinese garden, jungle garden, tropical fruit garden, and a moonlight garden that is filled with white flowering annuals and shrubs, many of which perfume the night air. A visitor to Four Arts Garden also will find palm collections, herb plantings and many colorful subtropical flowers.

* Vizcaya: One of Florida's most popular estate gardens is Vizcaya in Miami on Biscayne Bay. The landscape is composed of about 10 acres of formal hedges, alleys and statuary, which creates an Italian Renaissance look. James Deering, a former vice president of the International Harvester Co., began construction of the mansion and gardens in 1916.

Vizcaya "is the same year-round," says Stephen Slaughter, gardens curator. The design features liberal use of greenery, stone and water. Numerous ponds and fountains create a cooling effect, even in the warm Florida climate. Mr. Slaughter says pockets of caladiums and other seasonal flowers are periodically added to create seasonal interest.

In the Italian tradition, Vizcaya is divided into many small gardens by masonry walls and hedges of jasmine, buttonwood and clinging vines. Mini-landscapes of interest include a maze garden, where visitors can try to find their way to the center; a secret garden with high walls for privacy; a garden for the blind, with an assortment of fragrances and leaf textures; and a theater garden planted with soft grass.

Vizcaya's gardens were damaged by Hurricane Andrew, but replanting of the trees, shrubs and hedges is almost complete, Mr. Slaughter says. An orchid house will open soon.

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