April 2020

road tripClemmons is just a smidge south of Winston-Salem so we’re well within the geo-ambit of the city, not out in the boonies somewhere.  Far from it — Tanglewood is as much a class act as you could hope to find in a county park.  It has not one but TWO carefully manicured golf courses, full-on stables with horseback rides, tennis courts, a posh aquatic center and a historic house built in 1859 (now a bed and breakfast) with a fantastic garden and arboretum.  The 1,100 acres of the Park also offer plenty of places to wander in native woodland and see things before they got rearranged by the hand of man.  Something for everyone, that’s what I’d say.  This past week I spent the greater part of a day there.  I had visited once before nearly 20 years ago, but my memories of the place are so pallid in comparison to its vibrant loveliness that I think I must have been half-asleep during my first visit.  This time I had my eyes wide open and couldn’t get enough of what I saw.

One of the things I most appreciate about both North Carolina and Virginia is the history they offer — so different from my stomping grounds in the Pacific Northwest where anything from the early part of the 20th century qualifies as “historic.”  The Park’s Wikipedia page (here) gives a good rundown of the history involved with Tanglewood.  I wandered over the extent of the Park but my explorations concentrated on the Manor House with its gardens and arboretum and the natural area nearby.  I had to laugh when later I drove up to the main golf course and found the parking lot absolutely chock-a-block with cars.  I had no idea North Carolinians have such a passion for the Scottish game.  I had the gardens and arboretum very nearly to myself so I’m not complaining — had there been as big a crowd in the gardens as at the golf course I’d have run away.  Lucky me. 🙂

Let’s start with the Manor House.  I have no idea what it looks like inside, it’s not the sort of place you just wander into and in any event it was closed due to the pandemic.  I concentrated on the wonderful trees of the grounds and the interplay between the modest handsomeness of the house — “manor” is an overreach, truth be told, this is no Chatsworth — and its arboreal companions.  To that end, the pics:

Had I read the info on the gardens from the Wikipedia page before my visit I’d have nodded my head in recognition of its truth as I wandered through them:

Mr. Will’s [William Neal Reynolds, brother of tobacco entrepreneur R. J. Reynolds] wife, Kate, a horticultural enthusiast, began the extensive native and ornamental plantings at Tanglewood and employed German master gardener, Mr. Frank Lustig, who continued her plans and his life’s work. He contributed the 800 bush Rose Garden on the Manor House lawn, the Arboretum behind the house, and the nearby Fragrance Garden to the estate. For 60 years, even after the death of his employers, and their gift of the estate, Lustig poured his talents into Tanglewood. He is buried in the graveyard at Tanglewood next to the historic church. The Reynolds couple had no children, and, as a gesture enabling others to benefit from the beauty, elegance, history, and recreation their country estate had to offer, in 1951, they willed the Tanglewood property to the citizens of Forsyth County to share as a public recreational park.

Mr. Lustig’s devotion shows amply in the gardens.  They are a delight to wander and their design affords a wonderful variety of viewpoints and perspectives from which to enjoy both the plantings and the setting in the wooded terrain.  The plantings are divided into several areas, separate gardens really, although the areas involved are very small.  Some of the tree species represented in the garden are astonishing and show that mindfulness has been put into the gardens for a very long time, even before Mr. Lustig entered the picture, one suspects, given the age and size of some specimens.  Particularly impressive is a dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides).  Like the relict species Wollemia nobilis (info here) found in Australia, the dawn redwood was first described as a fossil and then, mirabile dictu, living specimens were found, as the tree’s Wikipedia page describes:

Metasequoia was first described as a fossil from the Mesozoic Era by Shigeru Miki in 1941, but in 1944, a small stand of an unidentified tree species was discovered in China in Modaoxi (磨刀溪; presently, Moudao (谋道), in Lichuan County, Hubei) by Zhan Wang. Due to World War II, these were not studied further until 1946, and only finally described as a new living species of Metasequoia in 1948 by Wan Chun Cheng and Hu Hsen Hsu. In 1948, the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University sent an expedition to collect seeds and, soon after, seedling trees were distributed to various universities and arboreta worldwide for growth trials.

It’s an impressive presence at the front of the garden, jutting up into the sky quite magnificently.  Here are a few pics:

During my visit to the gardens I took over 150 pics.  That’s right, Bridget, I went nuts.  There’s no way I can put the entire lot of them on view in this post so I find myself forced to organize and select – more’s the pity, I’d prefer just to flop them all out and leave you to pick out your favorites.  But as the Germans say, Ordnung muß sein (“there must be order”) so I’ll proceed from the large to the small, having started with something very large, i.e. our friend the dawn redwood.  Next I want to show the lovely structure of the gardens and the wonderful perspectives the hilly terrain affords.  Clemmons/Winston-Salem is in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains — Pilot Mountain is only 22 miles away and the Blue Ridge Parkway is only about an hour’s drive.  So the terrain is low rolling hills, nothing dramatic, and heavily wooded.  The trees grow to enormous heights.  More on that point later.  Since I have no other recourse to hand I’ll just give you some views of the gardens and then comment afterward on particular plant friends I found as I wandered.

Mid-April is a bit early to have gardens in full bloom, even in the South, but that said, there were some lovely things on display in the beds.  There are separate areas named as separate gardens, although their small size and scant number of plants would make the term “bed” sufficient to describe them.  The first one you encounter after entering the gardens is the Hellebore Garden.  The common name “lenten rose” makes clear why April represents hellebore’s dog days.  I’m used to the white variety.  Mango-colored and pink blossoms were an astonishment for me.  I think I like the standard white variety best, actually, the white blossoms are so lovely against the bright green of the foliage.  But the camera records what it sees, not my preferences, so there it is.  Make your own decision.

There were lovely things to see in other areas, as well, and I’ll just show the pics and allow them to speak their thousand words without me adding more.  The only thing I found odd was the so-called “formal garden” in front of the house, enclosed by a metal fence and sporting a small statue at its center.  It was planted with hydrangeas, of all things.  I have no idea who the statue represents, but it looks rather like St. Francis of Assisi.  The hydrangeas were puny, pinched things that looked like they’d been through a hard winter and needed a vacation on the French Riviera.  If the fenced garden was indeed what used to be the Rose Garden, then things have gone seriously off the rails.  I saw no rose garden anywhere else so I suspect that’s the case.  But as a tourist mine is not to question why, so let me move to the pics and keep my thoughts on the matter to myself.

The section of native plants had several clusters of wild iris (Iris cristata) and I’ve included two because the flowers are so gorgeous they bear repetition.  Among the other things deserving special mention are the false-orchid Habenaria, a lovely creature, and the ground cover along the path leading to the bench.  It’s a gorgeous thing but I’d never plant it because I couldn’t bring myself to walk on the path to the bench for fear of crushing blossoms along the way.  All the same, it does make a gorgeous show as a ground cover, so two thumbs up on that account.

There is ostensibly an arboretum associated with the garden.  The arboretum consists of trees planted in the garden areas rather than a separate thing you wander through, which is what I’m used to seeing in something called an arboretum.  But let us not cavil.   I have the brochure for the arboretum and it lists the tree species that live in the gardens.  I recognized many of them — our friend the dawn redwood, Japanese Cryptomeria, a gingko (a baby still, no taller than I) — and met some I’d never seen before such as a particularly gnarly oriental pine.  All good fun, the more the merrier.  But if you say “trees” and the topic is Tanglewood then my thoughts go immediately to the native forest area.  That’s where the Ent-like trees are, the ones that drop your jaw and put a smile on your face.  It’s typical hardwood forest with oak, some maple and tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) and I never tire of being in it.  That may have something to do with the fact that there’s no underbrush as there is in the forest in my neck of the woods, where to walk through the woods involves pushing your way through God knows what kind of shrubbery to make your way forward — hopefully it’s not buckbrush (Ceanothus velutinus) which will slow you down something fierce.  In the Eastern hardwood forest it’s easy to walk in any direction you choose, and there will moreover be enchanting effects of light and shade as you move through the trees.  I’ve never liked any forest better, to be honest.  I never tired of walking through it when I lived in the area and nothing of that delight has diminished over the years.  If ever I met a person who had the same effect on me the only reasonable thing to do would be to propose marriage.  To the pics:

A word of commentary on the last two pics.  The lake comes into view when you cross the woods behind the Manor House Gardens.  One of the golf courses borders it, as you see on the far side of the water.  I parked close to the tennis courts and the Aquatic Center (read: posh swimming pool and play area) and walked down the road to the Manor House area.  As you walk along the newly resurfaced road you look into the undisturbed woodland where I took the forest pics.  This juxtaposition of the humanly-contrived and the natural is one of the special appeals of the Park, in my view.  For someone like me it’s a double treat to have something like the gardens adjacent to so lovely an area of natural woods.  If you asked me to choose a favorite between the two I’d flounder.  They’re both lovely and both worthy of time and attention.  I couldn’t choose one over the other.  Fortunately there’s never any need to do that.

I mentioned earlier that the trees grow to enormous heights.  The last two pics I offer bring that fact to awareness.  The first is a look up the bole of a tulip tree and the second shows one of the buildings on the Manor House grounds with the woods behind it.  The relative size of the car and the house in the pic gives a good impression of just how tall the trees beside them are.  They’re ENORMOUS.

All this for an entry fee of $2.00 — that’s the bargain of the century if ever there was one.  Kudos to Forsyth County and the NC Cooperative Extension Service for a job well done.  I’m happy to be back in the vicinity.  It won’t be my last visit to Tanglewood during my stay in North Carolina, you can rest assured on that account.  To close, a few more pics as a fare-thee-well to a beautiful spot.