Betty and Jimmy Gasque say, “Inside every garden is a glimpse of paradise,” and their garden is just that. Tucked away in Forest Acres, the small slice of heaven where the Gasques and their dog, Sally, reside simply bursts with flowers. Although the beginnings of the remarkable garden were there upon arrival, such as the now 30-foot tall Camellia bushes and many of the multi-colored azaleas, Heathwood Hall’s renowned English teacher and his wife have been transforming their front and back yards into exquisite gardens since the spring of 1962.
The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth,
One is nearer God’s heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.
“God’s Garden” by
Dorothy Frances Gurney
“If you don’t work in your own yard, you will never appreciate it,” explains Jimmy.
Both Betty’s and Jimmy’s mothers were ardent gardeners, so they claim their passion was just bred into their hearts. In fact, they have irises blooming from both of their mothers’ gardens, and a phlox from Jimmy’s grandmother’s garden. However, a six-week summer trip to England in 1985 inspired them to take their garden to the next level.
The Gasques have organized their garden into a myriad of small “rooms” which flow from one to another. The 4th of July Garden explodes with flowers of patriotic hues, and the South Carolina Garden contains the botanical favorites of our state. The mountain garden is like stepping into the upstate with its beautiful rhododendron and a hemlock tree from Linville; they even have a fountain to simulate a babbling mountain stream. Betty takes much care in the summer time to convince these plants that they are not far from home. She regularly sprays the hemlock tree down to emulate the mountain dew.
They have a section for vegetables as well — arugula and mustard greens, bell peppers and tomatoes. They take pleasure in entertaining dinner guests with edible flowers, like pansies or nasturtiums, to top off salads.
Because there are few straight lines in nature, the Gasques use interesting curves in their garden.
“We try to cultivate every inch of our lot,” smiles Betty. Jimmy maintains that the upkeep on grass is more difficult than flowers, and through the years he has gradually converted most of the grassy areas to rooms of the garden.
In front of their house, the Gasques have a tulip poplar, a great-grandchild from the tree growing at Thomas Jefferson’s grave in Monticello. Remarkably, Sally has never disturbed anything in the garden … well, except maybe digging up a few daffodils recently in order to retrieve bone meal, a dog-delicacy!
Betty also has a passion for ornithology and attracts over 25 varieties of birds to their garden, of which the white throated sparrow is her absolute favorite! This migratory bird arrives just about the time of Betty’s birthday each year in October and typically waits until just after Jimmy’s birthday in April to depart northward.
The Gasques primarily shop at Mill Creek Greenhouses, their “gardening Mecca.”
“We drive up sometimes with no idea of what we are shopping for, but we always leave with a car full!” laughs Betty.
“I have gone there and found things I had only heard about. I was able to find Faulkner’s tall, lemon verbena, which smells ‘stronger than courage,’” says Jimmy.
“My favorite flower is the state fair zinnia,” states Betty, “and last year some grew taller than I am.” This annual flower comes in about every color and is lovely to mix in with daisies.
To Jimmy, his garden is like his classroom — the effort of cultivating each individual and then reaping the joy of their producing is quite rewarding.
“I have encouraged my flowers verbally when they seem to need it, telling them that I know they can make it,” says Jimmy, supporting the popular idea of talking to one’s plants. “Although,” he admits, “I don’t think you would want to hear what I said to the last set of hybrid tea roses that we finally had to get rid of — I was not very nice. I had begged and begged them to grow and they just wouldn’t, so the only roses we have now are old roses.”
Betty laughs, “I don’t know that I have ever indulged in speaking to any of the flowers.”
Instead, when a particular plant is not doing so well, Betty employs George Washington Carver’s tactic of a plant hospital. This entails moving the plant to a new environment with different sun exposure and giving it lots of attention, such as extra water.
Betty admits her favorite parts of gardening range from weeding and just digging her hands into the dirt, to cutting the flowers for the house or to share with friends.
“You just have to share it; it is such a joy!” she exclaims.
It is rare that Betty misses a chance to be in the garden as most days she spends a portion of her time there — sometimes up to five hours throughout the day.
“I just can’t wait to get into it, and it’s always hard to come out of our paradise!” she says. “I am renewed when I am working in my garden: digging, pruning, deadheading, moving, watering. Later, the glory explodes with new life to refresh everyone I know.”
“It is imperative to feel God’s earth in your hands,” asserts Jimmy. “I just love being on the ground. As Dorothy Gurney wrote: ‘The kiss of the sun for pardon, the song of the birds for mirth. One is nearer God’s heart in a garden than anywhere else on earth.’”
However, Jimmy claims, “Nothing puts me in a garden the way that Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem Spring does.”
Nothing is so beautiful as spring—
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden.
The Gasques’ most important success tip is to have a passion and love for your garden: “It can’t be toil to you but should be passion and love, or you won’t enjoy any of it. There is such life in the garden!”