The Garden of Goodrum

December 7, 2017
Pinning Her Hopes
November 5, 2018
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries,

‘Aurora Leigh’

Emily Dickinson

If you drop by Goodrum House unannounced, chances are you will find me traipsing around barefooted, toting a camera through the garden. This never fails to catch an admonishing comment from the itinerant visitor. Indecorous? Yes! But the feel of the grass and red clay earth on my feet gives me a sense of physical connection this place. Having spent the past year watching the gardens transition through the seasons, I realize I know just enough about landscaping to be dangerous. My desire to leave my mark on the property causes me to color just a little outside the lines of Spencer Tunnell’s original master landscape plan by sneaking in an unspecified cultivar or variety of plant here and there.

After touring the home and grounds, one recent visitor exclaimed, “This place is magical!,” and I couldn’t agree more. The gardens never cease to enchant me, regardless of the prevailing weather or season. Once again, Spring brought pails full of pink Sarah Bernhardt and white Festiva Maxima peonies cut from sixty bushes growing in the Rear Terrace and Serpentine gardens. Their heady sweet fragrance filled the house for days. The bearded irises planted last November sprouted blooms of lavender, deep purple, and pastel pink this April. The butter yellow Lady Banks roses bloomed a month early, their petals gently cascading over the stone staircases by the end of February.


These days, I tend to the Brown-eyed Susan like children, awaiting the arrival of their golden faces; wrap intertwining vines of pink and white Painted Lady sweet peas and amethyst Jackmanii clematis who reach for the trellised walls of the pavilion; and diligently fertilize the water lilies in anticipation of their pads unfurling to shade and shelter the goldfish. Each morning I walk through the Monogram Garden, lamenting the spider mites and leaf miners while calculating how much dirt will be needed to backfill the holes of the budding Thomas Edison dahlias, and mentally noting the time it will take me to deadhead the Delta Blotch Blue pansies, Liberty Crimson snapdragons, and spent roses on the thirty-seven heirloom bushes. I loathe to leave the task to the weekly gardeners, fearing they might injudiciously prune more than I would.

It’s not just the flowers I fret over—there’s an abundance of fauna, too! Harkening back to my favorite childhood books by Beatrix Potter, I’m captivated by the small creatures who make this their home and can’t help but lay claim them. Franci the Bullfrog, and his brood of five children, share the koi pond with the school of goldfish. George and Georgina the Chipmunks (aptly named as I am unable to tell who is who) scamper through their network of underground tunnels connecting the Rear Terrace and Serpentine gardens, teaching their young the best spots to find the carefully laid out cracked corn. Lime green anoles (affectionately called Larry and Lily) scoot in and out of the Lady Banks, catching bugs while turning shades of sepia and umber to camouflage themselves from the pair of swallows who’ve formed a nest in the roof peak above the garden door.

It’s the ethereal quality of the house and gardens which draw me back every day—a strange amalgamation of the static yet shifting passage of time which hangs over this place. Like the gardens, the house continues to go through its own transition of seasons. Goodrum House has weathered eighty-seven years of love, decline, and neglect, anxiously awaiting Spring to return. I’d like to think it is well on its way.

The Dandelion’s pallid tube Astonishes the Grass—
And Winter instantly becomes
An infinite Alas—
The tube uplifts a signal Bud
And then a shouting Flower—
The Proclamation of the Suns
That sepulture is o’er—
Emily Dickinson