About one month ago when I had my routine dental cleaning, my hygienist told me she was volunteering at a local garden and gave me its name. I have visited many gardens - have driven hours to visit some in Georgia and visited several in other states, like the Rose Gardens in Portland, Oregon and Columbus, Ohio, gardens in California, New York, Florida and other countries like the Butchart Gardens in Canada, the Orchid Gardens in Singapore, the Royal Botanic Garden in Kew, England, Le Jardin des Plantes in Paris, France, etc. When I used Google Map to find the name of the garden my hygienist had given me I was quite amazed, as it was only 4.5 miles from my home (7.25 kms) – and I had never heard of it! This certainly had been a secret from me.
Last Monday my husband and I drove to this garden, the Smith-Gilbert Gardens. We drove to the house to pay for our admission – we were the first visitors there that day. In 1995 the house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places – it is a Georgian Cottage with Greek revival and Italianate detailing. Originally this was Cherokee Indian land. When the Cherokee were driven away from Georgia and into Oklahoma in 1832, the area was parceled out through a Land Lottery. These 3,000 acres of land were at first a cotton plantation. Then in 1880 Hiram Butler, a prominent railroad man, bought 160 acres and started building a home there. It was built of solid brick with 12” thick walls. Below is a picture of Hiram Anderson Butler and the house. (Click on any picture or collage to enlarge and click again on individual pictures to enlarge again.)
The Butler family sold the property in 1913 and after being sold several more times the house and 16 acres of land were purchased in 1970 by Richard Smith and Robert Gilbert. Mr. Smith, an accountant, and Dr. Gilbert, a periodontist, worked in Atlanta and spent the first five years restoring the house. During their 35 years of ownership Richard Smith and Dr. Gilbert developed the land into extensive gardens with a vast collection of exotic plants. Being avid art collectors Smith and Gilbert also acquired contemporary sculptures during their travels. The sculptures are carefully placed throughout the landscape. Below is a painting of Richard Smith and Robert Gilbert in the back of the house.
Richard Smith and Dr. Bob (as Dr. Gilbert is called) realized early on that their garden was on a bird annual migratory path. They began planting fruiting trees and shrubs in the hope of attracting more birds. Over 120 bird species have now been identified on the property where they enjoy the woodland setting. Because of this unique bird and wildlife habitat the garden is a designated Wildlife Sanctuary. This early interest in birds drove Gilbert and Smith to expand the gardens to include all the exotic plants and sculpture in the beautiful gardens we were visiting that morning.
The temperature was not in the 80's yet (27 C) and the humidity was low – about 30%, so it was pleasant walking the paths in the garden. The sun was bright and glimmered among the trees creating gray shadows but making it a bit hard to take good pictures. With the garden brochure and map in hand we started our exploration.
The brochure states “Welcome to one of North Georgia’s hidden gems, Smith-Gilbert Gardens. As an established collectors garden, we have over 3,000 species of plants, many unique to American gardens. Having grown through the years, the Gardens stand out as an exceptional blend of art, history and horticultural, all creating a tranquil respite of reflection and enjoyment. Enjoy the highlight of 30 sculptures carefully positioned among plant species, all surrounding the historic (ca. 1882) Hiram Butler house.” We started the exploration with the Conifer Garden.
The marker says that the collection here has been designated as a "reference garden" by the American Conifer Society. Over 200 conifer varieties have been gathered by the founders and have been labeled with their botanical and common names and the year they were planted.
Here is a shrub which is well named – don’t its leaves look like parsley?
Walking on the shady path we passed several beautiful plants including lovely species of Hosta – the Georgia Hosta Society has designated it a “display garden” and it was hard not to touch their rounded leaves, shown in the center right of the collage below.
Turning around the path we saw a mulberry tree with an unusual bent.
Stepping down to the other side of the small hill I came close to the sculpture named “Respite” (1980) by Frank Creech, a Florida artist. I wonder if it does not represent Gilbert and Smith taking a rest in their gardens.
It is very easy to rest in these gardens as many benches are placed so one can sit, listen and contemplate the beauty of nature while listening to the song of the birds.
We arrived at a large open space with a piece called “Untitled” (1984) by Atlanta sculptor Edward Chrisman. On the other side of the grassy expense stood a tall Eastern Cedar where my husband went to sit in its shade. I went closer to the rose garden to admire and take picture of the colorful roses.
So many roses … with lovely colors and fragrances … some light pink
some a darker shade of pink, almost fuchsia
some pale yellow and coral - all the way to vibrant red
some alone and some in bouquet
This reminds me of a saying my mother used to say:
“Fleurs qui fanent – coeur en panne,
Fleurs fanées – coeur aimé.”
Fleurs fanées – coeur aimé.”
[Flowers that are fading - heart that is braking, Faded flowers – heart loved.]