From Wilderness to Wonderland

A private estate in East Memphis contains one of our city's finest gardens.

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Around 500 different species of plants and shrubs are now in the garden, many of which are native to the Southeast, and far too many to list or even to attempt to name here. Pellett rattled off a few, including plumleaf azalea, bottlebrush buckeye, spigelia (Indian Pink), and Japanese lantern. A colorful mixed border presents a changing array of perennials and shrubs, and there is a fall border. The garden also features a large, sunny central lawn, vegetable and herb gardens, a rose garden, and a swimming pool and adjacent pergola with a seating area.

Both client and her consultant describe their objectives in creating and maintaining this garden in highly artistic terms. They throw out words such as “perspective,” “balance,” “layering,” “structure,” “form,” “texture,” and “sculpting.” Perhaps this comes as no surprise since Dale Skaggs, director of horticulture at The Dixon Gallery and Gardens, says this about Pellett: “He is a scholar, an artist, and a plantsman.” The artist in him is evident; Pellett likes doing woodcuts and watercolors in his spare time.

This particular garden features long vistas, and its stone, brick, and gravel paths are central elements that lead you deeper into the woodlands, enticing the visitor and offering a nice surprise around every corner. The owner of the garden is admittedly not a particular devotee of what she calls “dripping fountains” (which are hard to maintain, in her opinion), but she is very partial to statues, many of which are dotted around her garden as key focal points.  She tells me the look of these graceful statues, some of which once belonged to her mother, change frequently as the plants nestled around them change.

For Pellett, the secret to gardening success is very simple. For him it is using “the right plant in the right place.” That sounds easy enough, but it takes careful editing, fine tuning, and constant vigilance, because as Pellett says, “Memphis wants to be a forest.” It is all about trial and error, and he and his client agree they frequently envision combinations in their heads that in reality just don’t work.


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