A Cutting From History

Garden event to feature an offshoot of famous Charleston spread

Mrs. Whaley’s Mountain Garden is tended by daughter Marty.
Photo by Karin Strickland

This year’s Flat Rock garden tour picks up where the related historic-home tour stops: the stunning gardens that surround the town’s architecturally significant residences. Event proceeds will support nonprofit Historic Flat Rock, Inc.’s mission of preserving and protecting Flat Rock, inside and out. 

The June 21st evening benefit will happen on the grounds of Hopewood, the circa-1938 home of John and Victoria Flanagan. Victoria is also Historic Flat Rock, Inc.’s president and a passionate proponent of all things Flat Rock. A true summer kick-off, the party will feature food and drink and a silent auction, while garden tours will be offered over three days. Tour stops will include the Saluda Cottages gardens, the enchanted-forest-themed Critikos garden, and Hopewood’s gardens. 

A historic point of interest will be Mrs. Whaley’s Mountain Garden, the Appalachian cousin of the renowned, heavily visited Mrs. Whaley’s Garden in Charleston, South Carolina. The namesake of both gardens is Emily Whaley, author of the cult favorite Mrs. Whaley and Her Charleston Garden. Published in 1997 shortly before her death, the book is as much a philosophical musing on life as a gardening guide. “Mother was as down to earth and DIY as they come,” declares Marty Whaley Adams, Emily’s daughter and a fine artist. “She believed that the more money you spent on making something, the less it said about who you are.” Whaley Adams’ ancestors, like many Low Country dwellers, traded the coast’s oppressive summers for Flat Rock’s comparatively dreamy climate. “My great-grandfather built the home just off Highland Lake in the early 1900s. The setting couldn’t be lovelier,” she says. 

Photo by Karin Strickland

The gardening bug bit generations of women in Whaley Adams’ family. “My great-grandmother’s well-tended garden is immortalized in family pictures, and my grandmother was taken with ornamental gardening and competed in camellia shows. Mother was born loving the dirt. She gardened beside her mother, and her country-doctor father was often paid in produce,” she relates. As a young wife in Charleston, she and her husband retained Cornell-trained landscape architect Loutrel Winslow Briggs, who designed many fine Charleston gardens. According to Marty, Emily was no watch-from-the-distance supervisor type. “Mom worked right there with him,” she notes. 

Emily’s gardening approach was characterized by a mixture of natural instinct, sensitivity to the ever-changing weather, and enthusiasm for trying new things. Whaley Adams maintains the mountain garden with an artist’s eye, and in loving tribute to her mother. “This garden has a delightfully casual, homemade feel. Mom and I laid out the plan 20 years ago and I’ve planted things that take care of themselves, like lots of lovely flowering shrubs that bloom throughout the summer, including mop-head hydrangeas from my grandmother’s garden in Pinopilus, South Carolina. My grandson is now the sixth generation enjoying this place, and it remains an inspiration for my painting.” 

Flat Rock, Inc. Historic Garden Tours and Garden Party Benefit includes a Preservation Gala on Friday, June 21, from 5:30-8pm ($100, with food and drink) at Hopewood Gardens (365 Sherwood Drive South, Flat Rock). Garden tours run Friday, June 21 (1-4:30pm) and Saturday, June 22 (9am-12:30pm, with picnic lunch at the end, or 11:30am-4pm, with picnic lunch before departure). Tours leave from Hopewood and cost $60. All proceeds benefit ongoing preservation projects. For more information, call 828-698-0030 or see historicflatrockinc.com

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