The Welty garden in Jackson MS has been restored to its original design and is open to the public.
We stopped there to walk through the famous garden rooms and down the Woodland Garden path to the rebuilt summer retreat.
The Tudor Revival house built in 1925 became the home of 16-year-old Eudora, her parents, Christian and Chestina, and her two brothers, Edward and Walter. Eudora lived in the home off and on throughout her lifetime, gardening with her mother while she was alive, taking over the management of the three-fourths-acre and then being unable to maintain it.
The Eudora Wely Foundation (http://eudorawelty.org) operates the house though it is owned by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
The gardens at the house, “my mother’s garden,” were designed and created in 1925 by Chestina.
Susan Halsom, author of “One Writer’s Garden: Eudora Welty’s Homeplace”, restored the landscape. Halsom guides a group 15 gardening volunteers “The Cereus Weeders”, who arrive every Wed. morning to work together for a few hours.
The Welty’s considered gardening an art form equal to writing and photography.
Eudora said, “I think that people have lost the working garden. We used to get down on our hands and knees. The absolute contact between hand and the earth, the intimacy of it, that is the instinct of a gardener. People like to classify, categorize, and that takes away from creativity. I think the artist – in every sense of the word – learns from what’s individual; that’s where the wonder expresses itself.”
Chestina’s design was ahead of gardens of the time. Once you walk past the 20-foot tall flowering gardenia shrub and the side porch, there is a garden room made up of a central lawn surrounded by Camellias and perennials on all sides.
Each garden room has an entrance, an arbor, or a narrow path to guide visitors’ eyes and feet, with one area flowing to and from another.
The rose garden on the other side of an arbor and garden seat was Chestina’s favorite. Here the women grew roses but also propagated plants for the next year’s garden, had cold frames for overwintering seedlings and made compost.
The gardens were designed so that there would be something in flower every season (Jackson MS is USDA zone 8). Camellias and pansies bloom in winter, hollyhocks and snapdragons in spring, zinnias and salvia in summer and mums and asters in fall. Roses are planted everywhere.
Each of the gardens is old-fashioned and comfortable. There are no hard to find hybrids, tropical plants, trendy colors or other plants an experienced gardener would not recognize. Plant tags help jog your memory as you walk through from front to back.
When we visited in May the Camellia Room of 30 varieties, was not flowering. In flower were: German Iris, Columbine, daylilies, Sweet Williams, pink Mrs. R. M. Finch roses, jasmine, Four-O’clocks, Asiatic lilies and larkspur.
The Woodland Garden has a dirt and rock path lined with bamboo Argentea, ferns, sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus), and other perennials.
In the 75-years she lived at the house, Eudora made notes about the plants, birds, trees and light for her writing and photographs.
A few famous quotes –
“Gardening is akin to writing stories. No experience could have taught me more about grief or flowers, about achieving survival by going, your fingers in the ground, and the limit of physical exhaustion.”
“All serious daring starts from within.”
“Gardening is not intellectual, you must get out and do it.”
“People are mostly layers of violence and tenderness wrapped like bulbs, and it is difficult to say what makes them onions or hyacinths.”