Garden tour to offer peek into historic backyard landscapes

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Bill and Patricia Braswell's whimsical personal garden is one of 13 on this year's Secret Garden Tour. Photo courtesy Lower Cape Fear Historical Society.
Bill and Patricia Braswell’s whimsical personal garden is one of 13 on this year’s Secret Garden Tour. Photo courtesy Lower Cape Fear Historical Society.

Behind Patricia and Bill Braswell’s historic downtown home lies a hidden wonderland full of whimsy, wonder and wistful charm.

But it wasn’t until just a few years ago that Patricia discovered her green thumb.

After a lifetime of living at parsonages while Bill worked as a pastor, Patricia began five years ago turning their permanent home’s backyard into a playful landscape with signs of the house’s history and their family roots throughout.

The Braswells garden is just one of 13 featured in this year’s Secret Garden Tour, set for this weekend. The annual event, hosted by Lower Cape Fear Historical Society, benefits the group’s education outreach to area elementary school students.

Like the Braswells’ home, some of the gardens are within walking distance of the Latimer House, 126 S. Third St., the historical society’s headquarters.

The Braswells give a nod to their daughter's love of Harry Potter with their 'Wee Potters' home at the base of a tree. Photo by Hilary Snow.
The Braswells give a nod to their daughter’s love of Harry Potter with their ‘Wee Potters’ home at the base of a tree. Photo by Hilary Snow.

And most, society member Marimar McNaughton said, are private backyard retreats that range from the lush and shady to the ornate and immaculate.

For the Braswells, the garden grew out of the general home renovation process. When they first moved in, Patricia said, there was one pecan tree and three trees along the perimeter, and nothing more.

She got to work planning and designing a layout but, having little experience in the dirt, she hired a professional to get it going. Through their collaboration, a landscape emerged that honors the history on which it lies.

“He chose plants that were mostly used during the Victorian era,” Patricia noted.

And within the dense garden there is a log from a tree, repurposed and potted with brilliant flowers.

“Victorians liked stumperies, so that’s a nod to them,” she noted.

The bricks and slate that serve as stepping stones and decorative pieces were all found along the property, Patricia added.

Over the years, the couple has added some personal character, as well, fashioning a tiny homestead at the base of a tree for the “Wee Potters.”

“Our daughter is a huge Harry Potter fan,” Patricia explained.

There are road signs leading to “Bikini Bottom” (from “Spongebob Squarepants”) and “Hundred Acre Wood,” a reference to the Winnie the Pooh stories. At the foot of the garden, a bullfrog aptly named Jeremiah in yogic pose greets guests and a Buddha statue given the moniker Thelonius Monk adorns a meditative area of the garden.

Gardens along the tour, mostly in downtown Wilmington, range from the lush to the immaculately landscaped. Courtesy  photo.
Gardens along the tour, mostly in downtown Wilmington, range from the lush to the immaculately landscaped. Courtesy photo.

In addition to personal gardens, this year’s tour includes three community gardens, each thriving with produce used as a sustainable food source. And one, behind First Presbyterian Church, is a biblical memorial garden in which all plants grown are mentioned in scripture.

McNaughton said compared to the large annual Azalea Festival garden tour, which takes people across the county, the Secret Garden Tour is primarily confined to downtown, although there are a couple of stops in the Forest Hills area.

“This tour is a little bit more boutique-ish,” McNaughton said. “Azalea Fest brings people from out of town, where this brings more local people to downtown.”

The Latimer House’s own courtyard garden is included in the self-guided sightseeing event, and it also serves as a spot to pick up tickets for those who have not purchased in advance. Kelly Chance of The Transplanted Garden will lead a complimentary container and fairy garden demonstration there at 11 a.m. on Saturday. Latimer will also be the site of a Japanese maple tree sapling raffle and a Japanese maple seedling sale.

At C4, the community garden at Fourth and Castle streets, Evan Folds of Progressive Gardens will lead an urban farming seminar at 1 p.m. Saturday.

A special Sunday-only garden site will lead tour goers to a north end surprise.

Tours run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $20 ($15 for Lower Cape Fear Historical Society members). Click here for in-person ticket purchase locations or to order online.

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at hilary.s@portcitydaily.com.