The following is a reproduction of the article which appeared in
Texas Highways magazine, April 1999, about Weston Gardens.
Morning has broken at Weston Gardens in Bloom, a peaceful sanctuary of woodland creatures, myriad birds, and those favored souls fortunate enough to wander amidst its beauty. Behind the veil of enticing evergreens and ferns, small clearings and graceful contours teem with color, texture, and sweet aromas. The network of nooks and hollows, framed by generous borders of assorted blooms, overflows with plantings – drifts of hardy perennials, supple grasses, and copious groundcovers and vines that creep and curl their way up tree trunks. At every turn, a profusion of tender shoots and bursting bulbs heralds the arrival of spring.
This 17-acre “living showroom” thrives on a scenic stretch between Forest Hill and Kennedale, on the outskirts of Fort Worth. Open year round, the gardens offer singular beauty in springtime. Weston Gardens in Bloom is the handiwork of Randy and Sue Weston, whose specialty is creating lush “wildscapes” and easy-care Lone Star gardens that have an English flair. Their popular compound includes a retail landscape nursery, a small gift shop full of accessories, and a maze of demonstration gardens boasting Texas-tough native and perennial plants. “We have many different environments here, which illustrate various facets of gardening,” says Randy, an avowed naturalist whose interest in plants sprouted in early childhood.
“When you have a free afternoon, Weston Gardens is a wonderful place to visit, to get away from it all,” says Phyllis Snider, executive director of the River Legacy Foundation in nearby Arlington. “You forget you’re just minutes away from town. I always leave feeling refreshed.” Phyllis enjoys dropping by on special occasions, like Mother’s Day, to see what’s blooming, sip tea, and listen to the harpist play. During evening celebrations, special lighting makes the trees, flowers, fountains, and ponds sparkle.
Weston Gardens also offers children intimate encounters with nature. In 1998, a team from River Legacy Parks presented a live-animal demonstration during the gardens’ annual open-house festivities, which take place each April. Popular children’s entertainer Eddie Coker of Dallas sang “Stick Your Teeth in the Air,” “Alligator in the Elevator,” and other catchy tunes kids love. On April 4 this year, youngsters can have their pictures made for free with the Easter Bunny while Mom and Dad enjoy live music and peruse the gardens. Everyone wearing an Easter bonnet gets to take home a free plant.
Randy and Sue find it enormously satisfying to provide a place where people of all ages can stop and smell the roses. They gear everything toward putting people in touch with nature, and they promote the joys of gardening with a simple, show-and-tell approach. The couple eagerly obliges customers, who frequently ask how to cluster and mix borders of wild-and-wonderful native blooms, such as plucky Texas bluebells, columbine, winecup, and asters, for a cheery, cottage-garden effect.
“The most important thing is to pick plants that will cope with the extremes of our weather, especially the heat,” says Randy. He warns that many imports, though beautiful in early spring, fizzle when Texas temperatures sizzle.
Perennials making Randy’s “Survivors of the Hotter-than-Hell 1998 Drought” list include flame acanthus (hummingbird bush), wood fern, pink skullcap, rock rose, autumn sage, Texas lantana, and Turk’s-cap. Also on the list are two native shade trees, the chinkapin (chinquapin) oak and Eastern red cedar; two shrubby plants, sumac and American beautyberry; three groundcovers or vines – coral honeysuckle, cross vine, and pigeonberry; and two ornamental grasses, Lindheimer’s muhly and inland sea oats.
The most popular part of Weston Gardens is the so-called “Westonian,” a secluded area of peaceful grottos, lichen-encrusted stones, and exotic plantings. Remarkably, Randy and Sue were unaware of this garden’s existence when they opened their landscape nursery on Anglin Drive in 1984. But then, says Sue, “Old-timers began coming into the store, reminiscing about the beautiful gardens that once graced nearby Chambers Creek. One of them said, ‘You know, that place just across the street used to be the showplace of Tarrant County.’”
In 1988, the Westons purchased 10 acres of the old estate, which had once belonged to Fort Worth socialites Leon and Peggy Bandy, and immediately began reclaiming it. Because of the garden’s size, and because information about it and its creators has proven sketchy at best, restoring the Bandy’s private Eden to its former glory has been slow. But the Westons – gritty Texans who got that way growing up on the blustery High Plains (Randy at Spearman and Sue at Canyon) – have persisted.
Today, the Westons, along with their seven-year-old son, Jackson, live in the Bandys’ farmhouse, now enlarged and renovated. South of their sprawling home is a once-formal rose garden featuring Cramoisi Sup`erieur, Ballerina, and The Fairy varieties. Randy and Sue gave the Bandys’ conventional garden a more casual, cottage-garden look by adding oxeye daisy, rock rose, bright yellow calylophus, “Sunny Border Blue” veronica, Russian sage, yarrow, and purple coneflower, the latter an excellent butterfly magnet. A long, narrow lily pond traverses the garden and leads to a wisteria-draped arbor erected in 1933. Randy says the deep-crimson water lilies here withstood almost three decades of neglect following the Bandys’ departure in the mid-1960s.
By Lana Robinson
Texas Highways Magazine - April 1999
They do know that Leon Bandy, a prominent and somewhat eccentric architect, bought the original 100-acre parcel in 1929. In the throes of the Great Depression, he and Peggy propagated their own plants and established a garden of substance and rare beauty. They also successfully transplanted South Texas natives, such as retama (Jerusalem thorn), hummingbird bush, and Turk’s-cap, along with yaupon hollies from East Texas.
A row of red crape myrtles and three jujube trees number among the Bandys’ original plantings, along with several conifers and Eastern Red cedars. Other Survivors include arborvitae and assorted shrubs, as well as remnants of three groundcovers, vinca major, coralberry, and honeysuckle. Several gigantic button bushes also linger along the creek banks.
“To have survived all these years, the plants had to be native, or as good as native, in terms of their adaptability,” says Randy.
Leon and Peggy Bandy called their idyllic retreat “Dripping Springs,” for the numerous seeps and springs that flourished here. While Peggy nurtured the plants, Leon began building a series of fanciful structures, many of which remain. The most outlandish is a 125-foot long, stone-and-concrete replica of a ship, which appears to have run aground on a little peninsula on the bank of Chambers Creek. When it was completed in 1942, the vessel boasted steel rigging, a fo’c’s’le, and two 50-foot masts, each with a crow’s nest. The terrazzo deck, which served as a dance floor for the Bandys’ all-night bashes, is still intact.
Several ironstone monuments and a red brick wishing well – all built in the 1930s – stand in an area where local thespians and Big Band-era musicians entertained the Bandys’ dinner guests. A stone altar and courtyard, where couples once tied the knot, endures in a secluded nook by the creek. Though it no longer serves as a wedding site, the Westons re-landscaped the intimate setting in 1993.
Beyond the rose garden, in a second arbor, visitors often pause for quiet reflection. Just steps away, another lily pond built in the early ‘30s forms the hub of a perennial garden boasting fiery-red autumn sage, silver Artemisia, upright germander, and Indian blanket. The Westons added a waterfall, a connecting stream bed, and an upper retention pond in 1991. A shade garden and a patio, introduced in 1992, are favorite areas for outdoor lectures and activities. These include a recent earth-friendly workshop that promoted pine-cone bird feeders and biodegradable pots made from newspapers; the annual “Antique Roses & Romance” Valentine’s Day Celebration; and the “Herbs for Texas” workshop, held each March (March 20-21, 1999).
Though Randy and Sue have designed their “living showroom” to bloom and provide interest virtually nonstop, the peak season at Weston Gardens is from April through the end of June. Simply select any serpentine path, and venture into the park’s innermost recesses. Smell the flowers. Watch the butterflies flutter. Hear the bees buzz. Romp with the squirrels, or sing along with the park’s raucous chorus of birds. Get the lowdown on the plants, and learn how to grow them from the gardens’ gracious owners and friendly staff.
Enjoy a family outing; come alone to relax; explore with friends; or plan a lovers’ rendezvous. Beneath the ancient canopy of trees in this botanical paradise, families seem to grow closer, solitude feels special, friendships take root, and romances blossom.
© Copyright 2015 Weston Gardens in Bloom, Inc.