The following is a reproduction of the article which appeared in
Neil Sperry's Gardens magazine, March 2003, about Weston Gardens in Bloom.
A historical perspective
My name’s Xena. I know that’s a funny name for a big ol’ blue tomcat, but that’s another story in itself. I’ve lived here since 1929, when Mr. And Mrs. Bandy bought 10 acres out in the country, built a house, and started on the garden they named “Dripping Springs” because of a seep that flowed over eroded limestone into the creek. They kind of went wild building things around here, and the completion of one project just led to the next. They never really developed a master plan, but it all fit together pretty well. The Bandys were highly motivated people, and spent most of their free time building and working in the garden.
Pools and fountains were dug, hundreds of yards of flagstone paths laid, and walls of stone were erected, all to take advantage of the beauty and recreational opportunities of Chamber’s Creek. Vast expanses of carefully manicured lawn surrounded bright white buildings and meticulously clipped shrubs. Indeed, every conifer on the property was sheared into a tall, thin teardrop shape. The coupe de grace was the massive stone ship. That’s right, I said the stone ship. Completed in 1942, it stretched 125 feet long and was complete with masts, cable rigging, two crow’s nests, and a luxurious Captain’s cabin paneled in pine. The 80-foot deck provided plenty of room for dancing at parties, which the Bandys often threw for business clients, including Moslah Shrine Temple and Consolidated Vultee (later General Dynamics, now Lockheed).
A tour of today's garden
Today, the garden is very different, and for good reason. After the Bandy’s sold the property in the 1960’s, the grounds gradually deteriorated—until Randy and Sue Weston bought the property in 1988. (Ironically, they had operated the nursery across the street since 1984 and never knew the old Dripping Springs Garden 100 yards away!) The Westons are proponents of ecologically responsible gardening—native and adapted plants, low maintenance, low water use, low chemical use, etc—and adopted this philosophy in their new garden. Enough history; let’s go tour the garden.
The iron gate out front here is covered with old-fashioned roses, and is a rather humble entry into such a wondrous place. The gently curving flagstone path winds it way under Eastern Red Cedars, bordered on each side by beauties like Japanese Maple, American Beautyberry, Coral Bells, and Tassel Fern. Where the shade stops, ‘Old Blush’ Rose, Variegated Yuccas, and swatches of Maiden Grass take over. Behind that gazing ball is a group of that Acanthus mollis, sometimes called Bear’s Breeches. Over the fence you can see one of the tree nurseries where they grow tough trees that don’t need coddling.
Past the wispy Gulf Muhly and giant iron flowers is the first of many ponds, this one bordered in rust-colored, wind-sculpted sandstone boulders. Just a few feet away are some prickly pear cacti—just like the Westons to break traditions and plant things where you don’t expect them. I kind of like that. Reminds me of me.
Skipping across the drive, a little bank of Lamb’s Ear rests against a boulder, and the spicy smell of Wax Myrtle wafts through the air—at least it did before I rubbed against the Rosemary. I get a Shamrock tummy tickle as I step over to the little angel statue that sits under an umbrella-like Vitex. Personally, I don’t like all these signs identifying all the plants and telling about how they grow. People sure seem to like them, but I don’t.
You’d never know it from the outside, but that old barn off to the right has a floor made of Bois d’Arc bricks!! They came from the old Camp Bowie Boulevard before it was paved with clay bricks.
Down past the rustic swing is an old Eastern Red Cedar that is home to a giant Trumpet Vine, and past that is the formal water garden with its clean, brick-lined flagstone walks. Again, the Westons have broken tradition by trading the miles of clipped boxwood for soft-textured grasses, butterfly-attracting perennials, and sumptuous aquatics. They have also added crushed stone paths that wind through the garden, so you can visit it, not just view it. The juxtaposition (fancy word for a cat, eh?) of formal hardscape with loose, informal plantings is what makes this garden come alive. The ancient trunks of the old Lady Banks Rose have split to reveal some bizarre layers of flaking, cinnamon-colored cambium. There is also a strange little statue in the corner over there that I haven’t quite figured out, but it’s worth a peek.
Backtrack a bit and veer left to the wisteria-cloaked colonnade and head for the sound of water. This overlook is my favorite spot. Beside and below you are ponds and waterfalls and a stone strewn stream that drops four times, running through thickets of Inland Sea Oats and eventually pouring into a boomerang-shaped pool edged in terra cotta sandstone and accented with Sedums, Irises, and tall Horsetail. To enter that garden, you must first pass through a court lined with shrubs and centered on a modernistic, hexagonal, obelisk fountain carved from black granite and topped with smooth black river stones. The bronze cat sculpture to your right is cute, but it’s not me, so let’s carry on, shall we?
Down six brick steps onto a figure 8 lawn, we are subliminally pulled right past the boomerang pool by the curious archway carved in a mature hedge of nine foot-tall Winter Honeysuckle. Another Shamrock tummy tickle as we pass through the arch and we enter a secret garden that instantly affects my every nerve. Moss and lichen-encrusted stone walls ooze water and ferns from dark cracks. A cracked and disfigured Eastern Red Cedar looms overhead; scarred yet dignified survivor of nature’s fury. A domed grotto stands silent, its strange pattern of stone just a clue to an untold story, as it was obviously crafted by different hands than any other stonework on the property. The sound of water surrounds us and elevates our sense of immersion. Breathe deep and purr. Through a split in the hedge, we can see the creek; just beyond, the ship. Exit our secret garden…
Across creek banks studded with thousands of daffodils, the stone ship lays in wait. She shows her age without shame, from the gaping hole in her starboard hull to the burn-out shell of the Captain’s Quarters. (Lightning, not vandals.) Her masts list like ancient spines, and the rickety bridge that leads to her creaks in the wind. A shipwreck indeed, but if you listen with your heart you can still hear the whisk of fine leather shoes on wood, the shy giggles of young ladies in love, and the squeals and laughter of children echoing through the trees.
Up and over a crumbling stone wall, past a statue of Mary, up eight brick steps, and we can survey the whole scene from an old foundation. The glory days of the past are gone. My days as a kitten with Mrs. Bandy in my first life are gone. Here I stand, twelve years into my eighth life, with more behind me than in front of me. I look into a gazing ball as a strut past - is that me, scarred survivor like the old red cedar? Is there anything left for me ... or my garden?
A shamrock tickles my tummy as I move on.
About the author: Steven L. Chamblee is the Education Director for the Fort Worth Botanic Garden. He is an advocate for sustainable gardening practices ... and sustainable cats.
Steven L. Chamblee
The rich history of Weston Gardens in
Bloom is reflected at every turn
© Copyright 2015 Weston Gardens in Bloom, Inc.