Hosting Prince Charles and Other Garden Stories

I had the privilege of hearing landscape architect Chip Calloway speak a few years ago.  He has a thriving practice in Greensboro, North Carolina and his gardens have been featured in a number of magazines, including Southern Living.   Calloway is a charming man and an engaging speaker who has worked on high profile historic buildings, like the Roper House in Charleston, South Carolina, and the Richmond Hill Inn in Asheville, North Carolina.

The audience loved the story of working on gardens for the Roper House, a restored mansion.  The owner told him he could do anything he wanted, except take down trees.  Calloway knew the garden was too dark because the trees were mature, but he did his best and designed a shade garden.

After the garden was completed, Hurricane Hugo flattened all the trees in the garden and the shade garden he’d planted was now in burning sun. To make matters even more interesting, the house owner was hosting Prince Charles just a few months later and wanted a mature, fabulous garden for the visit.

Calloway had to design the garden, get the design approved by all the historic preservation committees in Charleston, find the plants, and have them installed.  Nurseries in the area had been destroyed by the hurricane, so there was little to buy locally.  He found plants in nurseries in Alabama, Florida and Tennessee, but also drove around with a large tree digging machine and when he’d see a beautiful specimen in a private garden, he’d offer to buy it for a handsome price and dig it on the spot.

Mature dogwoods in bloom were shipped via refrigerated truck to the Charleston garden and were held in the trucks until the crew was ready to plant them.  The garden had to be finished a week before Prince Charles arrived so Scotland Yard could check every inch of it.

Calloway showed a slide of the finished garden and it was spectacular: lots of white flowers, white flowering dogwoods, sparkling greenery. It looked as though it had been in place for years. The prince commented that the owner was lucky to have his garden spared by the hurricane. Little did he know what effort went into that garden!

Calloway’s own garden is far more modest and is heavily planted as he had to create privacy on his city lot.  He loves fragrant, old fashioned roses and says he gets dependable, repeat blooms from Eden, a climber with light pink double flowers. He fertilizes the plant heavily.

He loves vines and uses many of them, both annual and perennial.  When he had a dispute with an architect over the design of pergolas attached to a series of new buildings, Calloway told the architect that he would have the last say in the matter.  The architect may have the pergolas built that Calloway considered ugly, but Calloway could swathe them in vines and cover them completely.  He had the power of plants!

Calloway also loves annuals and uses them for constant summer color and to help gardens look mature when newly installed, covering bare ground.  He says that plant snobs turn up their noses at the thought of using annuals and thinks they are really misguided.

Double file viburnums that look very much like dogwoods are another Calloway favorite.  He likes to limb them up, so they are more tree-like than shrubby, and plant under them.  In small gardens, this gives extra planting space.

When a tardiva hydrangea was broken in a storm, Calloway cut the plant back and let it come back the next year.  He said the blooms on the cut back plant were much larger than those on unpruned plants and now he cuts back or pollards tardiva hydrangeas each year for bigger blooms.

Calloway told another amusing story about a woman who was unhappy with the garden he’d designed for her six months after it was planted.  He told her it takes two years for a garden to mature and there was no way she could judge it yet.

He invited her over to look at slides of a beautiful garden he thought she would like and put about 50 slides of her garden up on the screen.  She kept asking him why her garden didn’t look as good as the one in the slides.

At the end of the slide show, she recognized a trellis that was in her garden and he told her that all the slides were of her garden.  Naturally, she didn’t want to change any of the garden now!

He told her she needed to go home and take up crochet, because she was looking for something that she could have complete control over.  As we all know, Calloway told us, gardens aren’t like that.  They’re alive!

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