Wednesday, June 29, 2022 Jun 29, 2022
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A Woman’s Garden At The Dallas Arboretum

A Woman’s Garden at the Dallas Arboretum expresses beautifully, through nature, the feminine qualities of strength and gentleness-traits that are inherently found in all of us.
By Roger Brooks |

The Pecan Parterre Garden, seen here, features a 100-year-old pecan tree. The locale is one of several small gardens designed for quiet reflection in Phase I. Harriet Frishmuth’s “Playdays€VbCrLf sculpture is on loan from the Dallas Museum of Art. Photography by Dave Shafer

A Steel Magnolia

A Woman’s Garden at the Dallas Arboretum expresses beautifully, through nature, the feminine qualities of strength and gentleness-traits that are inherently found in all of us.

(Clockwise from top left) Water runs through the entire garden, symbolizing rejuvenation. Day lilies are one of the many perennials in the garden. Their growth, death, and reemergence each year portray the life cycle of a woman. Intimate touches such as this detailed clay pot make each side garden a spot for exploration. “Everyone says that Agapanthus won’t grow here,€VbCrLf says Warren Johnson, landscape architect behind the plant selection for the garden. “But here they are. They were blooming in January, and they’re still blooming now.
On a beautiful late spring day ablaze with color, the grounds at the Dallas Arboretum are quiet. A strong wind blows across the infinity pool, which anchors one end of the newly completed A Woman’s Garden, which has been more than 20 years in the making. Quietly, a mother mallard makes her way to the edge of the pool, her eyes fixed on something small in the middle of the water. A brave duckling, showing all of the recklessness of a small boy, paddles to his mother in eager abandon. He stops, just out of her reach, and then, showing all the calculated caution of a thoughtful schoolgirl, edges back out-back in, back out-each time a little farther. Each time a little more bravely than the last. All the while, the duckling’s androgynous feathers mimic its duality. Mother mallard looks on as quietly as ever, as sure of herself as she is of her duckling. The baby races back one more time, and this time mother jumps into the pool, quacking and splashing with her young, instantaneously switching from strength to gentleness, woman to girl, parent to friend-the many qualities that tell the tale of a woman.

But before A Woman’s Garden could be built, before the first flower could be planted, a design had to take shape. Members of the Women’s Council of the Dallas Arboretum, who raised the funds and oversaw the project, knew they wanted a garden that expressed the many attributes of a woman; they just weren’t sure how to translate that onto the existing terrain. Enter landscape architect Morgan Wheelock, FASLA, president of Morgan Wheelock Inc. and the man behind the famous International Peace Garden and The U.S. Armed Forces Memorial Garden in Cannes, France.

Mallard ducks swim in the garden’s infinity pool. The dramatic sculpture, “The Neighbor, €VbCrLf is by Joe Rosenthal.

Japanese maples are a prominent feature of A Woman’s Garden. The garden’s collection of specimens is the largest in North Texas.
“I went to the site and saw the area they had in mind,€VbCrLf Wheelock remembers. “I saw one side bow out toward White Rock Lake and another concave side next to it. And then it was clear-ying and yang.€VbCrLf That simple concept would form the genesis of Wheelock’s plan to show the strength, power, and control of women on one side (ying), and the nurturing, spontaneity, and mystery on the other (yang). Although Wheelock’s design has been generally well received, some question whether a man should have been hired to design a woman’s garden, a notion that amuses Wheelock, whose wife, Judith, was his inspiration. “Who better to design this garden than someone in love with a woman?€VbCrLf

Phase I, completed in 1997, is a structured combination of stone, water, right angles, and, of course, plants and flowers. Dominated by water features, which are all connected to symbolize the essence of life, the garden culminates in an infinity pool that seems to pour into the lake below. Joe Rosenthal’s statue, “The Neighbor,€VbCrLf draws the eye up from the water and back into the main chamber. From any entrance, the rigid stonework and linear right angles convey a feeling of strength and presence. As formal and rigid as Phase I is, it still offers subtle reminders of a woman’s allure. “At each entrance to the garden, we have a fragrant plant in bloom, one for every season of the year,€VbCrLf says Warren Johnson, landscape architect and owner of Fallcreek Gardens. Johnson is responsible for plant design and implementation for the garden. He’s also lined the main chamber of the first phase with rows of wisteria, perfumed clusters of grape bunch-like flowers, which are a feast for the eyes and the nose.

TOP: The Rockery, filled with slabs of limestone, collects the garden’s water and sends it back to the Genesis Pools, where the life cycle begins again. BOTTOM: The stone bridge in the Fernwood Fold section of the garden is a popular destination for picture taking.
Johnson’s design blossoms in the many hidden spots designed for quiet reflection. Several tucked away spots, including the Poetry and Pecan Parterre Gardens, are favorite hideaways for regular visitors. Each outdoor room contains quiet areas for sitting and reading, and some of the garden’s most fragrant and unique flowers can be found in the secret spots. The complexity and diversity of the plants in these spaces pay homage to the many facets of a woman’s personality, but they also give Johnson a chance to experiment.

“We try to have 10 percent of the plants be experimental, and in Phase I we introduced cephalotaxus (a plum yew) in the Sunset Garden,€VbCrLf Johnson says. “And almost everyone who goes there asks what they are and where they can find them.€VbCrLf

JUST LIKE YING AND YANG, PHASE II OF THE GARDEN is the polar opposite of the first. Soft, subtle, and mysterious, the second phase conveys the nurturing spirit of a woman’s soul. Lacking the structure of the first, the new section seems to meander along in a celebration of spontaneity. In both, water plays a crucial role in the symbolic story behind the garden.

“Water, curves, and softness are important,€VbCrLf Wheelock says of the newest phase. “The water source [known as the Genesis Pools] is a sort of womb, and the vegetation ranges from saplings to very old growth specimens. It’s all about the cycle of life and regeneration.€VbCrLf The cycle begins with water from the Genesis Pools as it passes perennials and young saplings, winding its way through the graceful Fernwood Fold area. With stunning rock formations, woody landscape, and a collection of Lenten rose at the base of the stone bridge, Fernwood Fold symbolizes the softness and grace of woman.

The Genesis Pools, where all of Phase II’s water originates, offer seating for quiet reflection and feature a stunning collection of dawn redwoods.
Water continues to the Rockery where a stylized collection of limestone slabs break up the water as it is collected and recycled back into the garden-the cycle of life is complete and so begins anew. As different as both phases are, they are connected, just as ying and yang are. Wheelock’s stoned viewing section known as the Pulpit links the two sections at the garden’s highest point, offering visitors a clear view of every facet of a woman-the strength, the beauty, the gentleness, and the magic.

“It’s only from the Pulpit that you can see both the ying and the yang aspects of the garden,€VbCrLf Wheelock says. “And it’s the only place in the garden that that view is possible-it’s the marriage of the two.€VbCrLf Hiding behind that marriage of gentleness and power is, perhaps, Wheelock’s true intent. This garden symbolizes women, yes, but it’s not just for women. Says Wheelock: “This is a universal garden. I invite all men to go through the garden and identify their feminine qualities. It’s a celebration of the fact that we’re all made up of both male and female qualities.€VbCrLf

Watching as mother mallard and her duckling frolic in the pool, it’s easy to understand just what he means.

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