Less than 100 yards away from the hustle and bustle of Milledge Road slumbers a living masterpiece with its date of origin shrouded in mystery. The form of this piece of art is a classical parterre garden and the content consists of historic flowering bulbs. This garden has amazingly retained its beautiful classical symmetry, providing pleasure and a serenity to those fortunate to walk its paths. It is thought to be the oldest Dutch bulb parterre garden in Georgia with historians unsure of its beginnings around 1800 versus early twentieth century. The loving hands that have tended it over the years give it a depth of beauty that older things inherently possess. The existence of this special garden was first chronicled in the Garden History of Georgia. Originally published in 1933, this unique book is also a masterpiece of form and content leading us to a deeper understanding and appreciation of our world.

Less than 100 yards away from the hustle and bustle of Milledge Road slumbers a living masterpiece with its date of origin shrouded in mystery. The form of this piece of art is a classical parterre garden and the content consists of historic flowering bulbs. This garden has amazingly retained its beautiful classical symmetry, providing pleasure and a serenity to those fortunate to walk its paths. It is thought to be the oldest Dutch bulb parterre garden in Georgia with historians unsure of its beginnings around 1800 versus early twentieth century. The loving hands that have tended it over the years give it a depth of beauty that older things inherently possess. The existence of this special garden was first chronicled in the Garden History of Georgia. Originally published in 1933, this unique book is also a masterpiece of form and content leading us to a deeper understanding and appreciation of our world.

As part of the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the founding of the colony of Georgia, the Georgia Bicentennial Commission “collected and disseminated correct, reliable and interesting information concerning Georgia, past and present.” Under these lofty aspirations, the Garden History of Georgia was compiled by Mrs. Robert L. Cooney, President of the Garden Club of Georgia and President of the Peachtree Garden Club. Part One of the book explores the early gardens of Georgia from 1566 to 1865. It opens with a short and very interesting genealogy of Georgia’s landscape and ensuing gardens. The book then goes on to examine 47 individual gardens with the intention to “tell the story of the early development of gardening within the commonwealth.” To complete and enhance the text, 21 of the garden selections have stunning pen-and-ink illustrations by P. Thornton Marye drawn true to scale as they would have appeared in 1863. Four Richmond County gardens were selected: The Carnes-Howard-Thomas-Chafee Place, the Cumming-Langdon Place, Rosemary Cottage, and Fruitlands (now home to the Augusta National Golf Club). Part Two profiles the “Modern Gardens” of 1933 and features over 85 gardens. Ten gardens from Augusta were chosen for this section, including the Carnes-Howard-Thomas-Chafee Place. Under the Georgia Historic Landscape Initiative, the book is in the process of being updated with new research and information and will be republished in 2018.

TheCarnes-Howard-Thomas-Chafee Place, now owned by Joe and Sandy Bowles, is a valuable piece of living history, an aesthetic form that directly connects us to nature and the history of our community. Sara Van Beck, daffodil historian and expert, states, “The most exciting thing so far has been discovering Georgia’s oldest Dutch bulb garden created by Mistress Hannah Howard.” She reports that images and information of this garden reside in the State of Georgia Archives and the Smithsonian Institution. Originally, the property was five-and-a-half acres with a frame construction home built by Peter Carnes around 1780. The Dutch bulb garden parterre is thought to have originated with the second owner, the aforementioned Mrs. Howard.

Some information about Dutch bulbs and parterre gardens is required in order to understand the ingenious and enduring landscape. Sara Van Beck tells us that spring blooming bulbs were called Dutch bulbs (while summer blooming bulbs were called Cape bulbs because they originated from the Cape of Good Hope). Originally, parterre gardens developed from the Medieval knot gardens and are characterized by a symmetrical design of garden beds, aesthetically pleasing and considered an ornament themselves. These gardens originated in the 17th century and then fell out of favor for a time, followed by a rebirth of interest in the beginning of the 19th century, which would coincide with Mrs. Howard’s time. Gardens of this type relied on symmetry in design, color, and form. They were not only a joy to stroll through but also provided pleasure when viewed from a distance.

The centerpiece of the garden is a quincunx. A quincunx is an arrangement of five objects, garden beds in this case, in a square or rectangle, one at each corner and one in the middle. The Carnes-Howard-Thomas-Chafee quincunx is bordered by four parallel rectangular beds on two sides and single rectangle beds on the other sides, making a total of 17 beds. The plantings were planned so there would be a succession of blooming from December through spring. For color, the garden relied upon Butter and Eggs double daffodils, possibly some tulips, Roman hyacinths, and Spanish bluebells. Interior beds were bordered in spice pinks. The side beds contained paperwites, snowflakes, and a white tazetta. The Garden History of Georgia suggests that some of these bulbs were acquired possibly by Cherokee Indians who dug them and used them for barter. Initially, the 17 part parterre was bordered on either side by herbs, vegetables, and fruit trees. Surrounding the property was an informal woodland garden.

Today the house is listed in the National Register of Historic Places in the Summerville Historic District. Over the years, changes have been made to the plantings themselves, but the shape and form of the parterre has remained constant. Some of the older bulbs have survived (although it is not known exactly how old they are) such as the paper whites, tazettas, snowflakes, and possibly the Butter and Eggs daffodil. The Georgia Historic Landscape Initiative indicates the existence of heirloom shrubs and trees on this property that most likely were acquired from Fruitland Nurseries. Beds now have concrete coping instead of the borders of spice pinks and pathways have been replaced with gravel. Other plants on the property include azaleas, dogwoods, magnolias, crape myrtles, camellias, quinces, banana shrubs, tea olives, gardenias, cast iron plants, roses, and fruit trees. The Bowles have done much work in restoring the gardens and continue to maintain the integrity of the existing heirloom plants and bulbs.

Both the Garden History of Georgia and the Carnes-Howard-Thomas-Chafee Place are a significant legacy and treasure to our community, enhancing our understanding of our history and culture while connecting us to the landscape in an artful way. The gardens are also an important resource for other historic structures that do not have well documented environments. Gardens, just like other art forms, are a sort of autobiography, carrying with them portions of those who created, loved and tended them. And for that reason alone they are a treasure worthy of preservation.

This article appears in the May 2017 issue of Augusta Magazine.

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