In this hidden gem of an urban neighborhood, they are the … well … hidden gems. They are the gardens of Westerwood.
They are as eclectic as the thousand-plus people who live in Westerwood, and almost as interesting.
And now, to mark the neighborhood’s 100th birthday, some of them will be open to the public for the Westerwood Neighborhood Association’s walking tour of gardens, on June 1.
“Four or five years ago, Preservation Greensboro did a historic house tour in this neighborhood,” says Chris Musselwhite, who is helping to plan the tour for the Neighborhood Association. “And one of the things that we noticed as people came through was that they were as interested in the gardens as they were in the houses. Some people maybe more so.”
So a garden tour seemed a good thing to include in Westerwood’s 100th anniversary celebration.
Musselwhite, who lives on Woodlawn Avenue, says that Westerwood is a friendly neighborhood — with “young families with kids and older people who have been here forever. …
“There’s a lot of seeing your neighbors outside on the sidewalks. It’s kind of a very walkable place. But you don’t always see people’s backyards.”
When he got a chance to check out some of the gardens signed up for the tour, he says he was blown away by what he found.
“Diane Peck has sort of a Zen garden that’s very enclosed. Victoria Clegg has this amazing garden; she’s redone her backyard. ... Charlie Heddington has this permaculture garden which is really, I think, one of the more unique gardens. … It’s all about raising food and vegetables and fruit, and utilizing the space as densely as possible.”
Then there’s the community garden next to First Baptist Church. “People have started growing flowers to okra and tomatoes and corn and whatever.”
The tour includes 14 gardens. Here’s a little more about three of them:
Chris and Robyn Musselwhite, 415 Woodlawn Ave.
The Musselwhites have lived in Westerwood for 36 years, and for just that long, they’ve been working on their garden.
“It’s kind of evolved and emerged,” says Chris Musselwhite, who is retired after selling his company, Discovery Learning. “I believe in planting things and seeing what wants to grow there. And if it likes it, let it go. And if it doesn’t, see if there’s some other place it likes to be.”
His fenced garden is very much an urban getaway — private even though there are houses all around it.
In the front is a fountain, surrounded by plants. There was a swimming pool there, when the Musselwhites bought the house. “It was just a round concrete pool that was about 3 feet deep. … We filled it in and built this up around it.” Now it’s one of his favorite spots in the garden.
On the sunny side is the stone-terraced kitchen garden. Musselwhite’s shed is there, too, along with his workshop/studio. In the shade and the partial shade, are a plethora of plants — mostly perennials, but some annuals, including irises, hydrangea, geraniums and lilies that started out as a small Easter plant and divided and prospered.
Musselwhite loves ferns, and the garden has lots of them. He points to the cinnamon ferns. They’re native to North Carolina, he says, “and they seem to love it here. They all came from one or two ferns that we got from next door years ago.”
Then there are the birdhouses, all around the garden. Some are functional and others are works of art, though a pair of bluebirds didn’t make that distinction last year when they raised a family in a yellow piece of outsider art.
Victoria and Neill Clegg, 306 Crestland Ave.
When Victoria and Neill Clegg first moved in, the backyard of their Westerwood home had a peach tree and an apple tree and not much else. Except for the chicken house.
It had been built by the original owner, who eventually converted it into a garage. But when the Cleggs saw it, it wasn’t doing much for chickens or cars.
And now? Their yard is an English cottage garden.
It’s Victoria’s vision, Neill Clegg says, working with a landscape architect and still evolving. “For them, it’s a work in progress for who knows how long.”
And that chicken house? As you might expect from an artist (Victoria) and a musician (Neill), they have made it amazing.
It has been converted to an outdoor sitting area with screened sides, that’s useable almost year-round. It has a sofa, chairs, a very old table from India, that Victoria Clegg found, even a chandelier. They also added a pergola.
Another recent addition grew out of Victoria Clegg’s need for a place to store her gardening tools.
She asked for — and might well have gotten — “the world’s most attractive she shed to put stuff in.”
Diane and Tracy Peck, 512 Woodlawn Ave.
Ask Diane Peck what kind of feeling her garden has, and she answers quickly. Peaceful.
Indeed. The garden invites visitors to stay and relax and reflect.
“I sit here a lot and feed the fish,” Peck says.
The fish are koi — most medium-sized, one huge — in a tiered pond with waterfalls that is the centerpiece of the garden.
Peck — who with husband Tracy provides acupuncture and Chinese medicine at East Gate Healing Arts Center — says she dug the main pond herself about 20 years ago. She hired someone to add the rest 10 years later.
“When we came here, there wasn’t even grass,” she recalls, “and someone said, ‘Well you’re lucky not to have to dig up anything.’ ”
At first, she says, “I tried a lot with stuff that looks nice in the sun, and I realized that it wasn’t going to work here.
“This is what I finally figured … this is what works. And I just keep transplanting.”
Among the plants now are camellias, hydrangea, ferns, a Japanese maple, and hellebores — lots and lots of hellebores. “Around July,” she says, “these seeds are dry, and I used to just shake them. But you can see, I’ve got so many now.”
She points to the euphorbia.
She likes the plant, she says, because it has a bloom that lasts until about September. “And it’s evergreen, so it stays bright yellow over the winter. It’s unusual and when I can find it, I tend to buy them all. …
“It brings a lot of color.”