Restored Welty garden in Jackson offers glimpse into past

Published 1:04 am Saturday, February 18, 2012

Eudora Welty, one of Mississippi’s most famous authors, was also an avid gardener.

Details about plants, trees and birds appeared in many of the Jackson writer’s stories and essays. Welty’s garden has been restored by artist, gardening consultant and preservationist Susan Haltom and a group of volunteers.

“One Writer’s Garden: Eudora Welty’s Home Place” by Haltom and Jane Roy Brown with photographs by Mississippi landscape photographer Langdon Clay, has brought the story to the attention of groups such as The Garden Conservancy. They have named the Welty garden one of 10 most inspiring gardens in the last 10 years. These gardens were chosen because they preserve the legacy of our North American culture so well, according to The Conservancy, a nonprofit group founded in 1989 to help private gardens transition into public gardens.

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Welty was 16 when her family moved to the Pinehurst Street home in 1925, and she lived there unitl her death in 2001.

Haltom received permission from Welty in the 1990s to restore the garden to the era between 1925 and 1945, and Welty was very much involved with the project. Haltom is maintenance coordinator, and most of the research was provided by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

Chestina designed the garden for four seasons of bloom. Camellias, iris, 28 varieties of daffodils, larkspur, pansies, day lilies, hollyhocks, snapdragons, summer phlox, zinnias, salvias, fall asters, chrysanthemums, spider lilies and roses are some of the heirloom plants in the backyard garden rooms separated by trellises and arbors. These were the popular plants of that period, and care has been taken to use varieties most appropriate to the time frame. Some were original to the property.

“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 and 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,” Welty said.

The Welty home, listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated as a National Historic Landmark, was bequeathed to the state of Mississippi in 1986. The furnishings and extensive collection of books remain as they were when the state took over the home. The family honored books and reading, and Welty wanted visitors to know that the house was to be known not just as her home, but as a place about literature and the arts in culture.

The Welty home and garden, at 1119 Pinehurst in Belhaven is open Tuesday through Friday at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. The cost is $5 for adults, $3 for students and group rates are available. Call 601-353-7762 for information.

Other gardens on The Garden Conservancy list include Abkhazi Garden in Victoria, British Columbia; Ann Spencer House and Garden in Lynchburg, Va.; Chase Garden in Orting, Wash.; Hollister House Garden in Washington, Conn.; Garland Farm on Mount Desert Island, Maine; Yew Dell Botanical Gardens in Crestwood, Ky.; Elizabeth Lawrence Garden in Charlotte, N.C.; Greenwood in Short Hills, N.J., and McKee Botanical Garden in Vero Beach, Fla.

If you go

The Eudora Welty garden is open for tours Tuesday through Friday at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Cost is $5 for adults, $3 for students, and group rates are available. Call 601-353-7762 for information.

Miriam Jabour, a Master Gardener and Master Flower Show judge, has been active in the Openwood Plantation Garden Club for over 35 years. Write to her at 1114 Windy Lake Drive, Vicksburg, MS 39183.