Favorites in a Restored Garden
Jennifer Bigham shares a few of her favorite plants including: Peacock moss, yellow anise, Kenilworth ivy and chocolate-leaf snakeroot.
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In the summer of 2000 when Jennifer Bigham and her husband Roger drove by the kudzu-enveloped ruins of Dunaway Gardens, she instantly knew that this once thriving training center for the performing arts was her destiny. Conceived and built by Hetty Jane Dunaway, an actress on the Chatauqua traveling circuit in the early years of the 20th century, the gardens had their official opening in 1934 after 18 years under construction.
Located about 50 miles southwest of Atlanta, the 25 acres of hillside gardens consisted of rock terraces (the rock came from local farms), a grass amphitheatre and stage, a honeymoon lodge, tea room, natural swimming pool, and a Japanese garden and several smaller spring-fed pools. Various troupes of dancers, lecturers, singers and actors from all over the U.S. came to train and give performances. Walt Disney was a visitor, and Minnie Pearl was the head instructor of the drama school.
Hetty Jane Dunaway died in 1961, and the terraced gardens went into decline. By the time Jennifer saw the property in 2000, kudzu and English ivy smothered most of the acreage, the buildings had disappeared, and much of the rock work had crumbled.
Photographs from the 1930s show a sunny garden with open grassy areas and newly planted trees and shrubs. Today the garden is mostly in shade. During an aggressive three-year restoration, the rock walls were rebuilt and the natural swimming pool, hanging gardens and large expanse of granite outcropping were uncovered. Jennifer has added thousands of shrubs, bulbs, trees and perennials to the plants put there by Dunaway.
Dunaway Gardens is located in an area rich with natural granite. Today there is a new stone entrance to the garden. A stacked stone obelisk has replaced a wooden totem pole from the 1930s and sits in the middle of four pools shaped like arrowheads. The gardens consist of terraced stone walls that lead down to a river below. In the distance are 25 acres of wetlands occupied by ducks and egrets. The other spring fed pools and the amphitheatre have also been restored along with the Japanese garden and the pink terrace.
Jennifer Bigham has fallen in love with gardening and has added her own favorite plants to those left by Dunaway:
Pete Wallenborn shares some of his favorite plants in his sloped southeastern garden.