Story and Photography by A.J. Heinsz-Bailey

Eager to leave city life behind, the Quinns retired to the quiet countryside 18 years ago. They followed their dream down a long gravel drive past a scenic pond and horse pastures. They selected a site in full sun bordered by woods and selected a house plan with porches on three sides so they could enjoy the views.

The winding pathways provide excellent opportunities for photographing the garden throughout the year.

A little boy in a straw-hat statue waits to take you on a journey through a “tropical” jungle. He overlooks a pathway that leads you to a cement bunny that appears to be munching on liriope (L. muscari). Past the bunny, the pathway meanders past two cherubs hugging in the shade of a tree. 

Shaded by two hollies, the picnic area is usable even on hot summer days.

African irises (Dietes iridioides) and Louisiana irises (species) are located next to a brick pathway that leads to a bench at the side door of the house. Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) in hues of pinks and purples provide a privacy screen. The trellis is covered with red and pink climbing roses and guarded by two concrete sentries.

Composed of multiple small gardens connected with a series of pathways, each section has its own focal point.

The area has French drains and is subdivided into several smaller squares and rectangles by the pathways. As each small section was completed, it was planted and a pathway was built around it. Trellises, benches, and statuary create focal points in each patch of the “Garden of Organized Chaos,” which is Melba’s nickname for this capricious retreat.

A visit to Melba’s garden slows down time and makes you want to linger and walk down each pathway.

Plants were chosen for their fragrance, reseeding ability, long blooming periods, and brilliant colors. “I wanted privacy and a haven for birds, butterflies and hummingbirds.” I wanted plants that I could share with my friends. Old garden roses fill the yard with color and fragrance. They entwine their way through the trellises and small trees. 

Near the center of the garden is a large Grecian urn bordered with bricks and filled with Salvia for the hummingbirds. A wrought-iron table set is used year round, thanks to the shade provided by two large hollies (Ilex spp.) and a ‘Little Gem’ magnolia (M. grandiflora ‘Little Gem’). As we talked about the garden at the table we inhaled the intoxicating scent of Wisteria shaped into a small tree. 

Purple porter weed (Stachytarpheta frantzii) and milkweed (Asclepias spp.) encourage butterflies to visit the garden.

A picket fence was placed on the outer edge of east side of the garden for a traditional look. ‘Formosa’ azaleas (Rhododendron indicum ‘Formosa) and Confederate jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) are manicured for more formal presentation. The front gate visitors enter between two large crapemyrtles (Lagerstroemia indica) on a path that leads them through the tropical jungle of loquats (Eriobotrya japonica) and mixed ground covers. Mock orange (Philadelphus x virginalis) and sweet olive (Osmanthus fragrans) are two of Melba’s favorite fragrant plants. 

Bright colors, striking textures, and entrancing foliage create a harmonious flow throughout the garden.

Reseeding annuals add color to the summer garden. Several Coreopsis and Salvia come up on their own each year. It is always fun to see where they will pop up next, quips Melba. 

This white picket fence was one of the first features Melba added.

Another stop is at the bistro set for a glass of iced tea and a glance at the birds splashing in the birdbath by the native ferns. Last but not least, we move along to the propagation area, where we find the heart of the garden. Plants are waiting to be shared or added to the organized chaos. Rose cuttings are always on hand for friends that want them. Pink knotweed (Persicaria capitata) ground cover was the treasure that I selected.

Coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides), polka dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya) and Begonia are planted in pots throughout the shady areas of the garden for a splash of color.

Everything is hand watered in the garden. Hose guides are discreetly placed in the edges of the pathways. “I wanted to enjoy and inspect my plants and hand watering gives me the opportunity to do so. Also most of the plants are drought tolerant, so watering isn’t really a chore for me …  it is a pleasure. If it is not raining I will be in the garden during the day. I love being outdoors.”

Red salvia (S. splendens) is a favorite of hummingbirds and butterflies. It is easy to grow and has few insect problems.

A visit to Melba’s garden slows down time and makes you want to linger and walk down each pathway. You want to stop at the table and have lunch or sit in the trellis and read a garden catalog. It is a wonderful place to stop and smell the roses or wisteria or gardenias.

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