Lisa Bryant has one less worry because of a perennially loyal group of volunteers. The artistic director of Flat Rock Playhouse knows that during warm months, folks coming to see a play will enjoy a beautiful spectacle before they even enter the doors.
Each Tuesday and Friday, a group of master gardeners, sometimes num-bering in double digits, arrive at the playhouse to work on the landscaping. The North Carolina State Theatre Garden Club has carte blanche to plant what they want, and this season they’ve reaped clematis, ninebark Diabolo (a flowering shrub), pink trillium, double-flowered Japanese yellow rose, poppies, rhododendron, and many others native and exotic varieties.
“It’s lovely to watch our patrons coming in early to walk around the property and enjoy all of the different gardening areas and paths,” says Bryant. “There’s different little surprises to look at all over.”
On July 8, 2008, Tamsin Allpress and Donna Hastie led a group of master gardeners to begin work on the grounds. The hope was that it would take two or three years to complete the project. Instead, it became perennial.
“I was so committed to what we had started and envisioned what we could still do for the Playhouse, that I wasn’t prepared to see the hard work of the previous years go to waste,” Allpress explains. “So I came up with the idea of the garden club.”
“The volunteers are so dedicated. It’s overwhelming,” Bryant says. Their horticultural aesthetic, too, leans toward more-is-more. “I think people are surprised [by] how lush it is, how pervasive.”
The garden club also takes on a special project each year. Once they planted topiaries in memory of the Playhouse’s founder, Robroy Farquhar, and his beloved pets: dog Boots and cat Snodgrass. Another year they built a Free Little Library, after Allpress saw one visiting her daughter in Colorado. Quilting maven and Flat Rock resident Georgia Bonesteel, also one of the gardeners, created two pieces (one for Comedy, the other for Tragedy) that hang in the cafeteria, and choreographed a sunflower circle.
Allpress, who logged 400 hours last year in the gardens, grew up in Zimbabwe with gardening parents. The playhouse’s “Supporting Players” fundraising arm gives the gardeners money for basic supplies, and a yearly September plant sale brings in more funds. But the budget is basic, and the ambition grand.
“It really is very satisfying — though I know I am hard on myself, as I’m always striving for a more beautiful garden,” says Allpress. “It would be a lot easier and quicker to reach my goals if we could afford to bring in professional help and use the equipment that would come with such a luxury, as well as installing efficient irrigation. But that’s not to be, and so we make do with what we’ve got, and accept our slow pace.”