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GardenSMART Episode

Show #8/5108. A Collection Of Unique Gardens

Summary of Show

The Garden Cemetery Concept
The GARDEN CEMETERY CONCEPT was a forerunner of public park development in America. Today Oakland Cemetery is still used as a park for the community and is a valued green space in Atlanta. It is also a repository for stunning art and architecture, elaborate mausoleums and soaring sculptures. The effusive inscriptions speak of an age when the bereaved found consolation in extravagant expression.
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Heirloom Plants
Eric would next like to talk about some of the plants that are grown at Oakland Cemetery. Many of them are very old and also many of them are very symbolic plants. They have meaning to the family. Exactly, today they try to use a lot of the HEIRLOOM PLANTS, but can't use all of them because they can't get all of them but they do try to reflect their usage and use modern cultivars that reflect a similar style. They also use the language of flowers a lot.
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Sandy Loam Soil
Sara and Eric next talk about the growing conditions at Oakland Cemetery. When we think about the southeast much of it is compacted red clay. But, of course this is a very old site. What would we have seen a hundred and fifty, two hundred years ago? Would one have found a nice, rich SANDY LOAM SOIL, is that what is present at most of the old sites, has that not been disturbed over the many years? Yes, in fact they have a very sandy soil here, maybe even sandier than sandy loam at times. And it can be difficult when the droughts come, to keep it moist.
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Sara's Favorite Plants
Eric would like to know what are some of the PLANTS SARA LIKES TO USE? They use quite a few, like the hydrangea paniculata because it likes the hot, sunny conditions here. They do showcase a lot of the newer cultivars but have grandiflora and some of the old ones in places because they do want to show people the diversity that is out there. When Sara started, the thing that really surprised her was the breadth of plant material she could use. She started consulting Liberty Hyde Bailey's 1901 Plant Enclopedia Of Horticulture and discovered it had over four thousand pages of plants that were in commerce at the turn of the century.
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Tropical Garden
Eric finds all the different vistas and views, little vignettes, fascinating, yet there is a cohesiveness to the entire property. They are standing in front of a very TROPICAL GARDEN and we may not think of that being consistent with the victorian era, but they loved plants and they loved gaudy plants. They paid lots of good money to send explorers out to find the newest, the greatest and the showiest of plants and bring them back to their gardens.
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Texture
Eric next wants to talk about some of the plants that are part of this next collection. It's also a very nice garden in its own right. Sara appreciates the compliment. This is a garden they change out a lot each year but also try to get it established with a lot of perennials that don't have to be changed out because that saves a lot in maintenance. This garden has Tibouchina, which they love. They were in full bloom about a week ago but they are still lovely and butterflies adore them. Of course the bananas, the red leafed ones have a great TEXTURE.
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Big Trees
Structurally, with old cemeteries, one of the things that is most important are the BIG TREES. Cemeteries are often times a wonderful repository of plant genetics that go back a long, long time. Many of these trees are well over a hundred years old and, and it is interesting to walk through and see plants that would have been used in gardening a long, long time ago. Many of them are the natives that we know well from this era, but also there are many unusual plants that have survived because cemeteries are protected spaces. This is true and they do love their mature trees.
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Understory Plantings
An additional gardening challenge that one has with all of these large trees, is the UNDERSTORY PLANTINGS. Especially on this site with raised garden walls. The roots have got to be utilizing most of the air and soil space. But Sara still has these really nice lush under plantings that are doing really quite well especially for a non-irrigated site. That has been a challenge because it really doesn't look good to have just bare dirt with a huge tree.
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Show #8/5108. A Collection Of Unique Gardens

Transcript of Show

In this episode GardenSMART visits a victorian inspired garden that is brimming with the history of the south. Less than a mile from the heart of downtown Atlanta is a hidden garden treasure, Oakland Cemetery. Oakland Cemetery was founded in 1850 and is the final resting place of many of Atlanta's settlers and most noted citizens like Bobby Jones, Margaret Mitchell and Maynard Jackson. It is also a showplace of sculpture and architecture and a botanical preserve with ancient oaks and magnolias. In this peaceful place the full scope of the city's rich and fascinating history unfolds, from early builders, to civil war soldiers, to leaders of industry, to civil rights pioneers. No matter where one turns, history surrounds you. It is a shining example of the "rural garden" cemetery movement of the 19th century. This garden cemetery features winding paths, large shade trees, flowers, shrubs, and appealing vistas.

The GARDEN CEMETERY CONCEPT was a forerunner of public park development in America. Today Oakland Cemetery is still used as a park for the community and is a valued green space in Atlanta. It is also a repository for stunning art and architecture, elaborate mausoleums and soaring sculptures. The effusive inscriptions speak of an age when the bereaved found consolation in extravagant expression. Impressive art and architecture can be seen in many styles: victorian, greek revival, gothic, neo-classical, Egyptian and exotic revival. Several mausoleums feature stained glass windows from Tiffany studios. Bronze urns, some over six feet high, were cast at Gorham Manufacturing Company in New York, the first art foundry in America. In this episode we walk the grounds with Sara Henderson who is the Director of Gardens at Oakland Cemetery. Sara has been a lifelong gardener and is a frequent lecturer throughout the Southeast. Starting in 2007 she has spent years overseeing much of the renovation of the garden and has poured tremendous love and passion into every corner of the gardens vast footprint. Her job is a unique blend of horticulturist, historian, and park manager as she navigates her many roles at Oakland Cemetery. We are excited to have Sara share her considerable knowledge and experience.

Eric welcomes Sara to GardenSMART and thanks her for joining us. Sara returns the compliment and thanks Eric for including her. Eric opines that this is a really unique opportunity, we often times visit large gardens that are very cohesively planned. But a cemetery he guesses is more of a collection of gardens that have very unique personalities in each plot. That is very true, the victorians bought their gardens fee simple and each one gardened it all on their own, whatever they wanted to do, so it was more like a quilt or a neighborhood than a unified landscape.

Eric would next like to talk about some of the plants that are grown at Oakland Cemetery. Many of them are very old and also many of them are very symbolic plants. They have meaning to the family. Exactly, today they try to use a lot of the HEIRLOOM PLANTS, but can't use all of them because they can't get all of them but they do try to reflect their usage and use modern cultivars that reflect a similar style. They also use the language of flowers a lot. Victorians were big on that, so things like rosemary were for remembrance, the trees were pointing towards heaven and lilies and palms were used to connote resurrection. So, when they approach each lot they come in and try to put themselves in the position of being a family member and pay careful attention to what might have been planted at the time, what they might have liked. They take clues from what they did on their tombstones. Did they carve roses, for example. In general, they try to get creative with what few clues they have to work with.

Sara and Eric next talk about the growing conditions at Oakland Cemetery. When we think about the southeast much of it is compacted red clay. But, of course this is a very old site. What would we have seen a hundred and fifty, two hundred years ago? Would one have found a nice, rich SANDY LOAM SOIL, is that what is present at most of the old sites, has that not been disturbed over the many years? Yes, in fact they have a very sandy soil here, maybe even sandier than sandy loam at times. And it can be difficult when the droughts come, to keep it moist. When they built Oakland and as the families built these walls, they had to fill in behind them with something and down the hill was a creek. So many of the workmen, they believe, just went down there with their horse and cart, one must go back quite a few years, and would haul up a load of sand and would fill it in with that. Thus they had extremely good drainage. The real challenge here is to keep enough water on things rather than to keep things from rotting. That's a great, great foundation for a garden unless one wants to grow hostas.

Oakland Cemetery is a place that has changed a lot over the years. But one of the stories very important to this place has been the restoration effort that has occurred over the last twenty or thirty years, bringing it back to what it is now. Again, Oakland was founded in 1850, probably hit its hay day in the eighteen eighties, that's when most of the mausoleums, and such, were built. It was fine up through about World War one and then things started going down hill. The women went to work and most of them had tended the gardens. Styles changed to a more lawn-oriented cemetery and by the fifties or so, certainly by the sixties, it was really in disrepair. More from neglect than anything but there was a little bit of everything, even an abandoned area. So in 1976 a group of families got together and founded the Historic Oakland Foundation to restore, enhance and share Oakland with the public. Its taken a long time and a lot of money raising but they really have been doing a great job. Sara started working on the gardens here in 2009 after some of the money had been raised and some areas had been restored. Restoration has to be done very slowly because it is done to the National Park Service's rules for preservation - proper mortars, proper techniques, and so forth. The gardens can then come in once the restoration is finished. When they then come into an area it is basically a construction site that has been emptied out, bare dirt and so on. It provides an opportunity to bring new plants and new life to that area. There are thousands of plants that could be considered. They are using a number of new cultivars blended in with some of the more traditional, native American plants.

Eric would like to know what are some of the PLANTS SARA LIKES TO USE? They use quite a few, like the hydrangea paniculata because it likes the hot, sunny conditions here. They do showcase a lot of the newer cultivars but have grandiflora and some of the old ones in places because they do want to show people the diversity that is out there. When Sara started, the thing that really surprised her was the breadth of plant material she could use. She started consulting Liberty Hyde Bailey's 1901 Plant Enclopedia Of Horticulture and discovered it had over four thousand pages of plants that were in commerce at the turn of the century. So there is a great diversity of plants they can use. They use a lot of Rose of Sharon or Althea, it works really well and would have been used here a great deal. They use vitex, which is one of their favorite small trees. It can be limbed up very successfully. It has just about finished blooming now but they can go back in now, trim it back and it will re-bloom again in late summer. Since this is a public garden and open year round it is good to have something that wants to bloom in August and September.

Eric finds all the different vistas and views, little vignettes, fascinating, yet there is a cohesiveness to the entire property. They are standing in front of a very TROPICAL GARDEN and we may not think of that being consistent with the victorian era, but they loved plants and they loved gaudy plants. They paid lots of good money to send explorers out to find the newest, the greatest and the showiest of plants and bring them back to their gardens. So they use a lot of those here. They were a little surprised when they started realizing exactly how much of that they had used. In fact, they have a postcard, postmarked 1908, it was probably a photograph from about the turn of the century, showing bananas and other tropicals on one of the lots that the family had chosen for their lot. They are not gardening in that area yet but have identified it and it is on the radar. It will be several years before they get in there and plant that garden.

Eric next wants to talk about some of the plants that are part of this next collection. It's also a very nice garden in its own right. Sara appreciates the compliment. This is a garden they change out a lot each year but also try to get it established with a lot of perennials that don't have to be changed out because that saves a lot in maintenance. This garden has Tibouchina, which they love. They were in full bloom about a week ago but they are still lovely and butterflies adore them. Of course the bananas, the red leafed ones have a great TEXTURE. Plants like the salvia Wendy's Wish, just because of its amazing color, attracts hummingbirds. There is a little bit of this and a little bit of that but it is all about texture. The blooms aren't always present but the texture and the foliage is.

Eric is interested in what some of the resources Sara consulted to draw inspiration in her quest to mirror what was going on in the victorian era in gardening? As mentioned Liberty Hyde Bailey's was a good place to start. It provided the broad-brush approach, they then attempted to narrow it down into the southeast as best they could. One of Sara's favorite resources is the catalogs from Fruitland Nursery. Eric asks for a few examples of plants that would have been grown at Fruitland Nursery that are now on site? There really are quite a few. Primarily roses. There are some unusual things they didn't expect and lots they did. They sold Crinum lilies, they sold Althea or rose of Sharon, which ever one prefers and a lot of evergreens. And, they introduced privet, for better or worse. One plant Sara finds particularly interesting that they introduced is the hearty orange, Poncirus trifoliata. It will grow in full sun and with full sun you get the blooms in the spring and interesting green thorns. The fruit in the fall is always a show stopper. But even in the shade it will grow and bloom and produce a few fruit.

Eric has noticed a greenhouse on the property and assumes that it must have been part of the story of Oakland Cemetery. Is it still in use? The greenhouse today is not a historic greenhouse but they do still use it. Actually Oakland Cemetery had the first greenhouse in the city of Atlanta in 1872. It was built because the ladies needed a place to over-winter their tender plants and in 1873 they had to build another one because the first one was full and the ladies needed more space. So, even then horticulture was booming. Today they use it for propagation and things like that. The greenhouse is actually on the footprint of an 1899 greenhouse but as one can readily see it has gotten bigger and bigger and bigger. They still use the greenhouse, now primarily to winter tender plants, bananas, things like that. They also over winter some of the container plants in the greenhouse.

When visiting Oakland Cemetery one does notice some containers with cactus and things like that. The victorians believed that those were tender, so those would have been brought in. Although today they've knocked out the bottoms so that the roots can grow into the ground, thus they're actually permanent plantings.

What Sara can't bring herself to recreate though is the fact that they considered liriope to be a tender, tropical plant and they brought it into the greenhouse every winter. Even so, the greenhouse has been a great asset.

Something one notices walking through the garden is that year round this garden is very interesting. That is because of all the different forms and textures. Even if nothing is in bloom just the design of the garden is interesting. Visitors, families are going to experience beautiful views regardless of the time of year. One of their goals, like any public garden, is to be beautiful 365 days of the year. It's not always easy to do but they try.

One thing they do have to think about, and something that kind of drives a lot of what they do is - this is a cemetery. They do still have burials here although not very often but when they occur these are people in distress. A garden can be very soothing and calming. They want it to be just that when those folks come to visit. It is a different type of horticulture, it's a different type of garden but one they have come to love.

Structurally, with old cemeteries, one of the things that is most important are the BIG TREES. Cemeteries are often times a wonderful repository of plant genetics that go back a long, long time. Many of these trees are well over a hundred years old and, and it is interesting to walk through and see plants that would have been used in gardening a long, long time ago. Many of them are the natives that we know well from this era, but also there are many unusual plants that have survived because cemeteries are protected spaces. This is true and they do love their mature trees. They may not have as many as they would like for a variety of reasons. For example, the walls limit the root spread, many places are sandy, thus drainage is a problem, plus the urban pollution that has happened in the last few years. But there are many unique plants. One of Sara's favorites would be the southern magnolia. They have quite a few of those and they really speak of the south and speak of the victorian era. They also have a variety of oaks and other wonderful native trees. That said, they lost quite a few in March of 2008 when a tornado landed in Oakland in two spots and took out over a 110 mature trees. So, they now have a lot of space where they have been planting a lot of new and different varieties. Eric wonders what are some of the trees that Sara particularly is excited about and maybe some of these new selections they are now adding to the collection of plants at Oakland? In a way one of the fun things about this job has been trying to juxtapose the old and the new. They try to start with the native trees and the native species and with the plants that they know the victorians gardened with but then they do add the new and the different. The southern magnolia has been mentioned. One they're watching and hoping they'll be able to continue to enjoy is a southern magnolia called Baby Grand. It is not supposed to get over ten feet wide. So far it is holding up really well.

When it comes to oaks they have expanded the pallet from just native oaks and quercus robur which have been good choices. For example they are really having fun watching one of the variegated forms and also have a gold leaf form.

An additional gardening challenge that one has with all of these large trees, is the UNDERSTORY PLANTINGS. Especially on this site with raised garden walls. The roots have got to be utilizing most of the air and soil space. But Sara still has these really nice lush under plantings that are doing really quite well especially for a non-irrigated site. That has been a challenge because it really doesn't look good to have just bare dirt with a huge tree. With Sara's first house she had a large magnolia in the front yard. It was the bane of her existence. It is one of the things they work hard on here and have found an assortment of perennials that will make a nice green carpet underneath and for the most part it is evergreen. Cast iron plant is an old favorite, good and reliable. They use epimedium, they use sedges, but the one that was most successful and something of a surprise is iris japonica, the eco easter, that everybody had maybe fifteen years ago. Those plants took over their gardens so now they are pulling them out and giving them to Oakland Cemetery. Here they tried it under the magnolias and discovered it would live there and it blooms there and even blooms in the spring on top of an evergreen ground cover.

Our time has come to an end. Eric thanks Sara for spending the day with us. We have learned so much. Oakland is a beautiful and historic cemetery right in the heart of Atlanta. It provided a great opportunity to look at the many unique challenges to this type of gardening and allowed us to view the many plants that give this place its wonderful personality. And importantly we've been fortunate to have seen it through the lens of an accomplished gardener. It has been very special. Sara thanks Eric and GardenSMART for visiting.

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