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The Woods of Graceland
Henleyfield, MS

On the twentieth of August 1996 I started gardening in a way I had never thought possible. For the past thirty years I had a neat, unpredictable garden in the New Orleans Garden District. Beautifully made up of seasonal plants brought to New Orleans in big trucks from, of all places, Henleyfield where Field and Flower Plant Company exists, and unbeknownst to me, where our current property is on the same road.

Once here, the idea of a native plant garden excited me. We had built our new house with bay windows in nearly every room, with a loggia on one side of the great room and with windows to the floor and a glass gallery on the other side. The outside was literally the focus of every room in the house.

I had no idea that there was such a wealth of native plants that I had never heard of until Marc Pastorek, a local native landscape gardener introduced me to plants like Scutellaria Integrifolia L. (Skull cap), which happens to be the drawing on the first page of my sketch book along with Rudebecia Hista (Black Eyed Susan). I was astounded by the simple beauty of the Xyris (Yellow Eyed Grass), Eupatoriadelphus Fistulosus (Jo Pyeweed), whose light green balls have tiny white flowers that appear in September. Bees seem to love this plant. The dainty Climatis Crespa with pale blue-purple bell like flowers and the fire works Sulidugis Rugosa were awesome. I drew the magnificent Coastal Hybiscus Immaculata and the Echinacea Purpwrea (pale purple cone flower), the asters of October along with the Hervaceous Perennial Veronica Alpina "Goodness Grows", which not only blooms in October but in the spring as well. All this excitement, and much more! The Rivina Indianola with its berries and the glorious South American Orchid tree looking for all the world like honeysuckle.

That fall I fell in love with all these plants which seem to change with the seasons, as well as the ground covers (Mazus and Carex "Little Beetles") and the wonderfully named grasses like Panic Grass, Black Monkey Grass and Boltonia Grass with its eye level daisy, Artemesia "Power Castle", the Butterfly Pea wild and sweet smelling just to name a few.

A sprinkling of finer plants and roses like the Virginia Willows with their tail-like white splendor and the Erythrimia Bidwilli (Coral Bean) with their long red exotic flower pods. Also, the Hysimomcia Congesta (yellow rose-like) and my very favorite Purple Smoke Baptisia with its commanding spike of purple flowers.

Roses I was introduced to that year were Caldwells Rose with their burst of small roses all spring and summer, and two Duchess de Brabant all of which bloom to this day and whose canes have reached the roof line. The wonderfully named "Mermaid" has been chopped back several times but always is the "big show" each spring.

All of the above is in the small cottage garden, enclosed and which can be viewed from Ken's library and the long gallery at the entrance to the house. To this day, five years later, these are my "old friends". There has been an explosion of plant materials to be viewed from my bedroom and bathroom. Island-like flower beds have been developed deep into the wooded side of the house. There are wild mint and verbenas and "Holy Roses" from and old church site with manes like Old Blush and Marie Pavan and Katy Road Pink and Laughter. There are towering beams planted into cement so my climbing roses can reach the sky. There are truly rare plants such as Zenobia (blue leaf form) little gem Magnolia, Walters Viburnam, Cydonia Fruting Quince, Mock Orange, etc.

Suddenly parts of my gardens have taken on a slightly Japanese look. I have installed two sugar kettles with water lilies and gold fish and fountains for movement and sound. I have built (out of the same cypress beams left over from the building of the house) a simple post and lintel gate way into the rose garden with white Lamarque Roses going every which way off of the posts, all of which is flanked by Stan Anise bushes and Spirea as tall as the gate. Also new this year is a giant bamboo trellis, which echoes the trellis that is submerged this spring with "New Dawn" Roses. This trellis is the centerpiece of the Cottage Garden. Going out the bamboo trellis one reaches a long path through the woods to my studio (a converted pole barn). White blooming flowers of native trees and bushes line the path. The Hip Gardenias are in full bloom this April. Spirea (Bridal Wreath) is the main foliage down the twenty-five foot deep beds on either side. At the end of the path near my studio is a bamboo arch twenty feet in the air with native vines, Clematis, and glorious all summer with Moon vine and flowers as big as the moon at a distance. New also are the giant bamboo poles on either side of the path standing two by two like soldiers, enhancing the height of the pines around them.

Out in the fields past the studio are grape orchards built by Ken with local grapes and Concord grapes, which thrive. The vegetable gardens (two garden side by side) are full of red and golden Swiss Chard this spring along with tomatoes, cucumbers and squash.

Back to the house passing Robert's Rose Garden, new this year also. Our son sent beautiful roses from a nursery he works for in Los Angeles.

The herb gardens are three raised beds to foil the armadillos and to save my back. They are to the West of a fountain and to the East is the grand loggia overlooking the pool. The kitchen door leads directly to the herb gardens with their nine-foot square beds bursting with every herb and with lettuce. My favorite is Sorrel and I use it daily in salads or to make soup.

The pool has an infinity edge to trick the eye. It appears to have water flowing towards some hidden valley where there runs a creek or a bayou, however it's a wild flower field that swoops down to the woods.

The beds on the chimney side of the house are a bit more formal with Gumpo Azaleas, Vietnam (Softleaf) Boxwood, Camellias and Japanese Magnolias. The roads all over the 20 acre property have been lined with Leyland Cypress, Sycamore, Azaleas, Flowering trees like Redbud, Dogwood, Pear, Chinese Poplar, Sweet Gum and Crabapple.

Down by the pond we have a watercress garden with ever running water flowing over a rock garden planted with Iris and Daylilies. Just beyond is my "folly", a very well built and more beautiful replica of the bridge at Giverney. It just sets the whole scene off in a very special way. We have caught bass as big as eight pounds here and this is where the Labradors swim each day.

If I had one tree to save on the property, it would be the great oak at the pond's edge. Our son's wedding took place in the arched limbs beneath this old man. The bridge behind this setting is a memory not to be forgotten. Many days I look towards the pond, through the arched branches and watch the blue herons eating their way along the edge and I thank God for the moment.

I had no grand plan for gardens at our home, but with nature calling me at every turn, I hurried to enhance the wonderful gift that had accidentally fallen into our lives forever.

Photo of Grace Newburger