From Wilderness to Wonderland

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



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Speaking generally, shrubs and flowers with white or light blossoms such as oakleaf hydrangea and viburnum are perfect in a woodland setting against the forest’s many shades of green, and Pellett believes “it is nature’s way of showing off the garden.” He tells me also that “this is a different garden every single day,” and suggests that we come back and photograph it again and again as he likes to do.

Four distinct growing seasons mean in essence four different gardens. For example, Pellett says the July garden is all foliage and hosta in the shade garden, but bright yellow and red plants elsewhere such as hardy hibiscus, red canna, and cardinal flower, all of which stand out against the hot summer sun, especially when viewed from a distance.

Over 30 varieties of trees stand on the property. Many have been lost over time, taken by nature, so the majority are now hickory rather than the original oak. However, more oaks have been planted as well as dogwood, beech, deciduous magnolias, and others.

Branch structuring is an important element of the garden, and Pellett tells me this entails accentuating the bones of the shrubs and trees through artful pruning. Indeed, one sweetgum tree and an old Japanese maple look like dramatic pieces of sculpture outlined against the blue sky. In addition, his aim is always “to raise the canopy” to let more light into the garden.

Santiago Acuna, the gardener on-site daily, is another important member of the team responsible for this garden’s glory. Acuna has been with the family since 2003 and Pellett says that, what’s more, “he is always here working and is blessed with a truly great eye and a sophisticated esthetic sense.”

Our garden lady’s patient spouse also derives a great deal of pleasure from this spectacular garden, sometimes offering horticultural suggestions of his own. But as he good-naturedly says, he is frequently overruled and therefore describes himself (to use a diplomatic term) as simply “an ambassador without portfolio.”

The bonsai plants which are displayed in the home and garden come from Brussel’s Bonsai Nursery in Olive Branch, Mississippi, a local treasure chest that is famous for offering the largest selection of indoor and outdoor bonsai trees in the United States. Our garden owners’ son — proving that apples never fall very far from their trees — is a business partner of Brussel Martin, the company’s founder.

“Gardening is like raising children, never boring, always interesting,” opines our gracious garden lady, and as such, it has clearly been her lifelong passion (along with raising her children!). When she said this, I was reminded of reading recently about a famous aristocrat, Ambrose Congreve, who died last year at the age of 104, having established at his estate, Mount Congreve in County Waterford, Ireland, a garden of worldwide renown.

Mr. Congreve was said to favor (and often quote) this old proverb: “To be happy for an hour, have a glass of wine; to be happy for a day, read a book; to be happy for a week take a wife; and to be happy forever, make a garden.”  

 

Anne Cunningham O’Neill is the arts and culture editor of Memphis magazine.

 

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