Smithsonian documents South Hills garden for archive

By By Anna Patrick
Staff writer
KENNY KEMP | Sunday Gazette-Mail
Variegated hosta plants line the walk outside Marion Jones’ home. Her home’s garden was recently added to the Smithsonian’s prestigious Archives of American Gardens.
Marion Jones talks with Lynne Schwartz-Barker over her garden design. Schwartz-Barker, co-owner of Flowerscape, has designed and helped to maintain the gardens for over 10 years.
A swallowtail butterfly lands on a double tiger lily in Jones’ patio garden.
Jones has worked to improve her home’s garden for several years.
This plant tower is in full bloom in the summer months.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — If a yard could speak — of its life, its wildlife visitors, its human inhabitants — what would it say?

In the case of George and Marion Jones’ yard, the tales would surely be immense.

It might start from the beginning — when the natural, uninhabited ground was leveled and dirt uncovered in 1949 to build the white clapboard home that would eventually become George’s childhood residence.

And go on to describe how the front yard’s many poplar, maple and oak trees grew and grew to create plentiful shade.

It would relate the noises of cars passing by the pie-shaped, sloping property along Connell Road in Charleston’s South Hills neighborhood.

The transfer of ownership from George’s parents to himself and Marion would, naturally, be included. There’d be scenes of the two placing new furniture on a recently built front patio and Marion retreating to the long backyard deck to enjoy her morning coffee.

If the Joneses’ yard could talk, its most recent chapter would describe an intense series of plantings to transform it from a plain, grass yard into a series of colorful, pollinator-promoting flower gardens. And it would likely boast in pride about how those flower gardens will be now preserved in the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Gardens.

After submitting an assortment of paperwork describing her garden’s planting history and landscape, as well as photographs of it, Marion was informed on July 9 that her garden had been accepted in the Garden Club of America collection, the archives’ largest collection. Sandy Thomas, garden history and design chairman for the Kanawha Garden Club, worked extensively on the project, which took over two years to complete. The Joneses’ garden was the only garden from West Virginia to be added to the collection in 2015.

Because landscapes are easily susceptible to change, loss and destruction, the gardens archive works to “preserve and highlight a meaningful compendium of significant aspects of gardening in the United States for the benefit of researchers and the public today and in the future,” according to the collection’s web page.

With more than 100,000 images, the collection currently documents more than 8,500 U.S. gardens with images from the 1870s to the present. The collection partners with the Garden Club of America, and, since the Kanawha Garden Club is a member club of the Garden Club of America, its members are able to submit applications for consideration to the collection annually.

Joyce Connolly, museum specialist for the Archives of American Gardens, emphasized that selection into the collection “doesn’t confer an sort of special award on a garden. … It’s contributing to our mission to document garden history.”

In fact, the goal is to collect a large variety of gardens — ranging from small vegetable gardens to wildflower gardens to container gardens.

“The misconception is that it has to be a high-end garden. We’re really interested in getting a high range of gardens,” Connolly said.

Other Charleston gardens previously accepted in the Archives of American Gardens are the gardens of Carter Giltinan, Gloria Jones, Mary Anne Michael and the late Clara Thomas, Nancy Chilton and Mary Price Ratrie, according to Sara Hoblitzell, a member of the Kanawha Garden Club.

Connolly said 12 gardens from West Virginia are in the Garden Club of America collection.

Marion said witnessing the flowers in bloom and working in her garden is always a highlight of her day.

“It’s just a wonderful joy to me. … Every day you come home in the spring, in the fall, in the winter — it doesn’t matter — there is something interesting in your garden and it makes you happy. And that’s the way I feel about my garden.”

Marion said she first started tinkering with the idea of improving her outdoor landscape after she spent years to improve and renovate the home’s interior.

“When you looked out the window, I thought, ‘We need a garden.’”

Although she sought out some help initially, Marion first tried to manage her garden alone.

“George would come home from work, and I would have every watering thing on, watering all my little areas. And he’d be like, ‘I can’t take a shower.’”

It didn’t take long for her to realize that if she wanted to reach her garden goals, she needed some professional help.

She first called Flowerscape, located in Sissonville and owned and operated by Lynne Schwartz-Barker and her husband, Jerry Barker; their son, Eamon Barker; and business partner Chris Awaldt.

The first project for the crew was to install a watering system in order to eliminate the mass of hoses snaking across the Joneses’ lawn.

“After the guys came, and I met Jerry and the crew, I realized that I really loved these guys,” Marion said.

Since the irrigation system was installed in 2001, Flowerscape — using Schwartz-Barker’s design ability — has completed a number of planting projects to develop a series of new gardens.

Their first project was to plant a garden on land that sloped from the edge of the driveway down to the perimeter of the patio. Today, the original garden contains a variety of plants from double tiger lilies in deep shades of orange to Korean boxwoods to hibiscus.

Year after year, the projects grew to include a handful of new gardens all with their own distinct names. The white garden, with a variety of white blooming plants — bleeding heart, wood asters, aruncus, tiarella — sits across the expansive front yard to face the home. That particular garden was designed to be viewed at the end of a workday, when white would be a standout color.

Other gardens include the potting shed garden, which complements the Joneses’ small white potting shed that used to be a playhouse when George was a kid.

In terms of receiving the honor, Schwartz-Barker said she couldn’t be more thrilled.

“This is a masterwork for me because of the time that we’ve been here, [not to mention] the commitment that Marion has made financially to the garden and emotionally to the garden and the love that she feels being in the garden,” Schwartz-Barker said.

Throughout the years, Marion and Schwartz-Barker have worked toward many goals.

One has been to always have something in bloom no matter the season.

“I love winter,” Marion said. “That’s why there are a ton of hellebores. They are so fascinating in the winter. They are either rose-colored or white. They bloom in February. The snow will be out and here they come.”

Another goal was to block the view of Connell Road.

And for the most part — based on the comments Marion and George receive from passers-by — they’ve been successful at that as well.

“People always say to me: ‘There’s no white house on Connell Road.’

“‘Yes, there is.’

“‘Well, I don’t see a white house.’

“‘That’s the goal.’

“The goal is that you don’t know that I live back here, and when you sit on my patio, you feel like you are in your own oasis.”

Reach Anna Patrick at anna.patrick@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4881.

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