Local gardens are big attractions for Pilgrimage visitors

March 20, 2009

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


All around Columbus, plump buds peek out from their protective capes, aware they are about to be given their cue. Under Mother Nature''s watch, azaleas, graceful dogwoods and winding wisteria seem to know the time is near to step on stage to the ooh''s and aah''s of an appreciative audience. The show of color is about to begin, just in time for the 69th annual Columbus Pilgrimage. 


In stately antebellum homes open for tours March 30-April 11, antique silver gleams with vigorous polishing and heart pine floors are being waxed with care. But homeowners know the flora of Pilgrimage is also a draw to visitors. 


Temple Heights and Rosewood, just two of the lovingly restored homes featured, sit atop high knolls in the city. Like their neighbors on tour, they enjoy gracious gardens and intriguing points of interest. 






At Rosewood, the home of Grayce and Dewitt T. Hicks Jr. at 719 Seventh St. N., a neat, narrow brick drive originally built for carriages leads to the Greek Revival dwelling finished in 1835.  


Near enormous banks of azalea flanking the home''s south entrance, tour hostesses Susan Dunn and Crystal Branco -- two of almost 50 Pilgrimage volunteers from Columbus Air Force Base -- stroll in antebellum-style gowns through a greening garden of rose bushes, boxwood and flowering shrubs near an enclosed gazebo. Pansies are still on show, but a host of spring blossoms are poised to show themselves any day. 


"I saw a gazebo when I was in England and wanted to build one like it here, right on the site of the old kitchen," explained Grayce of the structure the couple erected about 25 years ago. To reduce the risk of fire, kitchens of the era were built separate from the main house. The original brick floor of Rosewood''s 1830''s kitchen is a treasured feature of the gazebo. 


"It''s so generous of the homeowners to open these wonderful homes and gardens and share them with all the people who come to Pilgrimage," said Susan, the wife of CAFB Vice Wing Commander Jeff Dunn. A native of Mobile, Ala., Susan is no stranger to Southern ways and enjoys visitors'' reactions. "Some have never been to the South before, and they''re blown over by the hospitality." 


Branco, like Dunn, is serving in her second Pilgrimage. The Omaha, Neb., native, and wife of instructor pilot Scott Branco, was so impressed last spring, she convinced her sister, Sherilyn, of Omaha, to come to Columbus this year and hostess, too.  


"Traditionally, you have to be from the South to be a Southerner," the Nebraskan smiles, "but for two weeks, we are Southern belles." 


Past the gazebo and charming family chapel, a sweeping lawn drapes away from Rosewood''s east facade like a hoop skirt.  


There, four benign guardians representing the four seasons watch over a bordered garden of rose bushes and boxwood. The Hicks found the statuary in Alabama and thought the lovely ladies would suit the formal feel of the garden bordering Seventh Street.  


Towering oak, mature crepe myrtle, redbud, dogwood, magnolia and oakleaf hydrangea are only a few of the delights visitors will enjoy there as they rest on well-placed benches.  




Temple Heights 


At Temple Heights, at 515 Ninth St. S., Mary Winifred Brownrigg stretches luxuriously on a garden table in the sun. The fluffy, dark pewter feline -- named after the original mistress of this circa 1837 town house -- has run of the home''s tiered gardens filled with curious hiding places. 


Dixie Butler and her late husband, Carl, acquired Temple Heights in 1967 and soon set about reviving grounds in dire need of attention. Boxwood cuttings the couple received as a wedding gift from a friend, a docent of Cheekwood Home and Botanical Gardens in Nashville, Tenn., were the foundation of the restoration. 


During the process, the Butlers unearthed a well built in 1830, situated only a few yards from the home, and brick walls and terracing built between 1847 and 1867. 


"We didn''t know any of it was there, the lot was so overgrown," said Butler. "The only way we could get to it was to go on the street and come up here." 


Butler noted a game plan drawn up by Columbian Cindy Rood aided an organized approach to bringing the grounds back to life.  


Temple Heights'' four stories and 14 Doric columns look down over the "new, modern" kitchen, a separate building constructed in the 1850''s. Its surrounding gardens host azalea and other plantings poised to burst with brilliant fuschias, pinks, lavenders and pristine white. 




Hidden oases 


Following a brick walkway to a lower terrace, visitors find "The Bather," a graceful white garden sculpture sheltered by flowering shrubs and trees. Nearby, a white picket fence encloses what was once a kitchen garden. Now flush with aspidistra, it harbors a decorative and diminutive wrought iron seat, inviting meditation.  


The path next opens onto a pleasing space and a surprising piece of rescued Columbus history. A massive public drinking fountain inscribed in 1916 with the names of the then-mayor and city aldermen anchors a compact garden. The heavy piece, which once sat downtown, is a striking focal point.  




More to see  


The stunning gardens of Colonnade are also part of this year''s event. Visitors will delight in the boxwood maze, pleasure garden and amazing Lady Banks rose at this 1840 home of Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Imes.  


"This is one of the largest roses in the state," remarked Nancy Carpenter, executive director of the Columbus Cultural Heritage Foundation, which oversees Pilgrimage. "It completely covers two arbors." 


The 11 impressive homes, five churches and Stephen D. Lee Home and Museum on tour this spring are completing the final touches, ready to transport pilgrims to another place and time and welcome garden aficionados to the colors of Columbus.  


Highlights of the 2009 Pilgrimage also include "Blues Around the Block;" a floral presentation interpreting the settings of Tennessee Williams'' plays by Dr. Jim Del Prince; Noon Tunes; "Tales From the Crypt;" Living History and Artisans Alley; a 10K Run; and tours of Friendship Cemetery.  


Tour tickets are $18 for adults ($16 for seniors and military personnel) and $10 for children K-12, available at the Tennessee Williams Welcome Center, 300 Main St. For tour and event schedules, visit www.columbus-ms.org, or contact the Welcome Center at 662-328-0222 or 1-800-327-2686.

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.