We all want to gaze beyond the ancient brick walls of Savannah's historic district to see the hidden gardens. One weekend each April, some of these private plots swing open their iron gates to welcome you in.
The senses come together in these gardens, where sight, sound, smell, and touch create a kaleidoscopic wonder. The Garden Club of Savannah knows this, and they invite you to eight private walled gardens, each chosen for its historical significance, landscape design, or features such as fountains and sculptures. The selection is new every year, and each is as different as its owners.
The club sells tickets and maps to the 10 sites (8 private spaces plus 2 public) for $30. Because the historic district never has enough parking for residents and visitors, you'll want to leave your vehicle behind and stroll between the locations.
"No, this isn't my house," says the hostess at the first garden on the tour. "I'm just planted here today." The tiny space, no more than 20 x 20 feet, mesmerizes us with its beauty.
"Size is not important," she notes. "Visitors like to come into a small garden and say, 'I can do that.' "
Miniature grasses create little sculptures before us. Confederate jasmine cascades over the walls alongside loquat trees heavy with fruit. Along the ground, shady borders hold thick cast-iron plants.
James Morton, a museum designer, antiques dealer, and expert gardener, opened his gate to the tour last year. (Although not in this year's event, it's open to his antiques shop customers on East Jones Street.) A stone walk meshed with formal brickwork leads into a paradise where statues of cherubs peek out among his bonsai collection. The middle point of the garden features a topiary compass. Nearby little tufts of ferns grab a toehold on the base of a fountain, enjoying every drip of cool water. "My garden gives the feeling of holding back nature to form civilization," James says. We see what he means with the delicate lichens growing on a 17th-century Italian olive oil urn exhibiting the crest of the Medicis.
Two public facilities remain on the tour each year. The Massie Heritage Interpretation Center, once Georgia's oldest chartered public school, offers two simple gardens out back--one for the boys and one for the girls--and restrooms inside.
The most popular spot, the Harper Fowlkes House Museum, serves afternoon tea. Tasty cookies, candies, and pastries made in the kitchens of the garden club members delight guests. Before sipping your tea, however, you get an informative guided tour of the 18th-century mansion.
NOGS (North of Gaston Street) Tour of the Hidden Gardens by the Garden Club of Savannah, P.O. Box 13892, Savannah, GA 31416-0892; (912) 961-4805 or www.gcofsavannahnogstour.org. Dates: April 22-23. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Teatime: 2-4 p.m. Cost: $30.